I get why so many women carry marital doubts alone, wondering should I stay married?
I don’t know about you, but I grew up with the golden household rule ‘don’t chat yuh buziness!’
It’s a story I carried for a long time, keeping struggles and challenges to myself, and sometimes I still do; don’t get me wrong, boundaries are essential. At times it’s been liberating to share. At others, when struggling to communicate but desperately wanting to be heard and feel empathy, I felt desperately isolated.
So, I get why so many women carry doubts about their marriage alone, beset by a feeling of guilt, failure or embarrassment. At the very time, perhaps when they most need support, they often do not want others to worry or have a history of feeling unsupported, let down, judged, and shamed. So why share with anyone anyway?
Sharing your doubts with a friend may only prompt them to make unhelpful suggestions such as ‘just listen to your inner voice‘ or ‘make a list of pros and cons.’ Perhaps you’re left feeling that they just don’t get what you are going through.
And maybe they don’t. Because I’m not talking here about the day to day concerns that most people have about relationships or even the feeling of stuckness. I’m talking about the fear and anxiety about whether the marriage will survive. The very thought of finding yourself faced with making one of the most complex decisions in life and considering whether or not to call it quits is a desperately frightening place to be.
So, your doubts stay buried, coming and going, sometimes for years. Having doubts about marriage is way more common than most people think.
If You Doubt Your Marriage, You’re Not Alone
Should I stay married is not an uncommon question.
About 1 in 5 married people (22%) at some point doubt whether their marriage will survive.
Put another way; if you have doubts about your marriage, you’re not alone. Your disquiet mightn’t be there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but long enough to catch your attention.
Sometimes, your concerns remain static, the familiarity lulling you into a false sense of security. When it’s good, it’s good enough. You feel confident about the future of your marriage. Then something happens that puts you in a crap place, feeling insecure and depressed just thinking about how stuck you feel and how you can’t escape. Despite that, you talk your way back, perhaps after not so good sex or a ‘let’s make up’ present, wanting to feel connected to this person who has been in your life for such a long time.
When in this place, it’s tempting to test your partner to figure out if they are capable of change. ‘If I don’t remind him of my birthday, will he remember?’ Whatever happens, this doesn’t work. If there’s no gift, they’ve failed the test and doubts are fueled. And, this time, even if you get the present, it’s a reminder of your lack of trust.
It feels like being on a roller coaster ride; waiting, anticipation, negatives, positives, exhilaration, and then that neutral time…things go into slow motion before you start again.
Being in relationship limbo is nourishment for anxiety. It drains your energy for the future. For most of us, this is ultimately untenable.
It’s important to know that most marital doubt is, by its nature, a personal emotion. That’s because only you can make a decision.
So, there is no significant public sharing as there may be for your career issues or when a family member is getting a scary medical diagnosis. In these instances, you might turn to a team of people to help you process what’s going on.
But when it comes to your marriage, it’s different. When you fell in love, everybody knew. But now, maybe you have just one friend or a counsellor you’ve opened up to. Paradoxically, the one person you would have shared with before is currently not on the list; your partner.
Because you’re not sharing what’s on your mind, the problem is that your partner potentially has no idea what’s going on. That’s one of the problems, right? They don’t seem to have any idea how you feel.
And even if they sense your dissatisfaction, they may not see any threat to the future of the marriage. They think every marriage has its ups and downs. They may also have concerns, but not about whether divorce is in the future.
They’re not asking themselves should I stay married. Neither are you acknowledging that they don’t mind read.
In the meantime, your anxiety grows from hiding such fearful emotions and worrying about the risks of being vulnerable and exposing how you feel.
Why ‘Help’ For Your Marriage Doesn’t ‘Help’
According to researcher Diane Vaughn, this is when you might seek out couple counselling.
Counselling may be a great idea, but in the same way, it’s been challenging to express your doubts at home; the same often applies in the therapy room, and the doubts about the marriage aren’t explicitly named. You want the therapist to figure out and say it for you, speak aloud on your behalf, ‘should I stay married?’
Because it’s scary.
The conflict you predict and the crisis feel terrifying.
If your partner is reluctant or ambivalent, or you’re not sure they can change, and you feel that you don’t want to waste any more energy on the marriage without the change, couples therapy gets stuck.
I’m always staggered by the average number of couples therapy sessions divorced people report having.
Just four sessions.
Then it stops.
Suddenly, life gets busy, someone gets sick, and someone feels on the spot in counselling and the therapy wilts. There is no real impetus to be curious, keep exploring and work through the difficulties.
Someone argues that marriage counselling is unnecessary or that the time and money are not there, especially if they’re oblivious warning signs about divorce. Then perhaps unsure whether marriage counselling will work, the request to start or stay is withdrawn.
Quick Therapy, Quick Fix
Here in the UK, the average marriage lasts 12 years before a divorce. That’s 624 weeks. While I’m not saying that you need to spend 12 years talking with a therapist, that would be ridiculous, it goes without saying that four hours is not enough time to dig into issues and work on them. The desire to clarify whether I should stay married once again gets buried in the sand.
Whether or not there is any attempt at couples therapy, individual therapy is sometimes a valuable thing to do, especially if the therapist helps you see your part of the problems of the marriage and offers ideas for self-change. This is undoubtedly an essential strand of my approach to relationship counselling.
But be cautious if the therapy becomes a pick and mix of complaints every week, with no real personal growth. Relationships are co-created, and we all need to do our own inner work.
What Happens To Marital Doubt?
When marital doubts hang around long enough, you might start to rehearse in your mind what you would do after a divorce. Perhaps you imagine being single again, thinking about how to prepare for that possibility, just in case. This may mean starting a job, finding separate friends, or not making significant commitments for the future, like upgrading the house.
Unfortunately, this creates more distance in your marriage, something you don’t want, but your dilemma is that verbalising your doubts to your partner can force you into crisis mode when you don’t know how your partner will respond. You now have two people in doubt, potentially bringing their imperfect and hurt selves into the situation.
That said, there are ways to get past doubts about your marriage and get clear about the future of your relationship.
One of the following usually happens:
1. You Decide To Move On From The Doubt…..
Or do you? Maybe you recommit, and maybe you experience the occasional flare-ups of doubt. But generally your doubt is replaced by the routine ups and downs of marriage, without the edge and anxiety about commitment and stability. You may get there on your own or with help.
So why the or do you? Only you will really know whether you are deciding to move on or deciding to settle.
2. You Start Sharing To Initiate Change
And then something in the relationship is disturbed. Doubt inevitably evokes a crisis when you share it with your partner. Sometimes, this leads to real change, with counselling to help you on your own as a couple, and the doubt goes away.
Other times, it leads to divorce, but with enough time, you can both come to understand what’s going on and try to save the marriage if that’s what you want to explore. This is the benefit of sharing your doubts before deciding to divorce. It gives your partner a chance to respond well and a chance for a coming together.
3. You Share To Leave
Doubt is not shared and turns into a sudden announcement of divorce; a kind of ‘Dear John’ discussion: “I am leaving you. I have a solicitor, and I suggest you get one.’ This is, of course, the most heart wrenching and can lead to bitter divorces and troubled shared parenting later. However, it might be necessary if the other spouse is a controlling or abusive person who could cause harm if told in advance.
If you’re having marital doubts, wondering should I stay married there is hope to understand what’s going on, gain more clarity, and get off of the roller coaster of emotions.
Over To You
If you’re asking yourself ‘should I stay married?’ and want a safe space to explore this difficult decision, get in touch for a clarity session. I offer video sessions online via a secure platform.
Or call me today on 07535 864836.
Leave a comment below; I’d love to hear from you.
P.S. PASS IT ON
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© Sandra Harewood 2022
Soul Centred couples therapist, counsellor and Jungian Shadow Work coach Sandra Harewood specialises in working with women and couples stuck at a crossroads in their marriage. Relationships are precious; this is your chance to begin a new journey and experience the connection and intimacy you most deeply desire.
Sandra provides a soulful space for her clients to explore creative solutions to their difficulties and deepen their self-knowledge to discover what keeps them ‘stuck’ in their marriages to create and experience extraordinary relationships