Dealing with the Fear of Leaving My Marriage

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Reader’s Question

I’ve been married for almost thirteen years now and have two sons. Since the third month of our marriage things have been getting really bad, yet we can’t seem to bring ourselves to end it!

My husband cheated on me many times, the first being when I was expecting our second son. When I wanted to leave him he promised not to do it again, yet now we are fighting because it’s his third affair since then…that I know of!

I have suffered from anxiety attacks and depression, and was even admitted into hospital because of this. I’ve been to a psychologist but had to stop because of money issues. Throughout all this I have realised that my marriage is not worth fighting for. In fact, my eldest son, eleven years old, has begged me to leave my husband since we continuously argue.

Deep down I know that I would be better off without him, yet I always tell myself that I won’t be able to manage on my own, I’m too slow to handle a job, etc. I always keep on hoping that he will change.

Is there something wrong with me for not leaving him? My family says that I love punishment and being miserable, and that’s why I can’t end it. I’m not sure what I really want.

Psychologist’s Reply

It sounds to me like you do know what you really want. You recognize that your husband is not going to change and that you would be happier without him. Given this, it sounds as if you are allowing fear to dictate your life rather than doing what you know would be best for you. And this is a legitimate way of living except for one thing: now your children are involved.

Research consistently finds that it is not the dissolution of a relationship that negatively impacts the children. Instead, it is the conflict and tension within a relationship that is the most harmful. Children tend to be extremely sensitive and are very much affected by their environment. Their emotional and sometimes even their academic development can be negatively affected by the stress of a conflictual home life. Most importantly, your son has repeatedly asked you to leave. As such, something must change for the sake of your children if not for your own.

It appears to me as though you have three options. You can continue doing what you have been, you can stop arguing with your husband, or you can leave. The first option does not seem to be helpful for anyone. You’ve tried it and it hasn’t worked. The second option would mean that you accept that your husband will cheat and that he will not be the loving and nurturing partner you deserve. This would be very difficult and would not be a good example for your sons. I doubt you want them to learn that women should be treated poorly or that one partner gets to behave badly without many consequences. Healthy relationships are ones in which there is trust, compromise and loving interactions. Your boys deserve to see this so that they will have healthy relationships when they get older. Thus, the second option is possible but not desirable. That leaves the third option of ending the marriage. Leaving would be a challenge but, at least with this option, you have the chance that things could get better, not only for you but also for your sons.

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The thing about fear is that, the longer you listen to it, the worse it gets. Instead, the way to overcome it is to make a plan, start slow, and then keep plugging away at it. Part of the problem may be that leaving seems so overwhelming. As such, why not figure out everything that needs to happen and then pick one thing to do first? For example, you would need to be able to support yourself, so finding a job and figuring out the money may be the first step. Perhaps your family can help (this is a time to utilize all your resources). Once that is accomplished, figure out what is next that you can do, and so on. After a while, you will see that leaving isn’t so difficult, and that you are capable of living without your husband. Most of all, your sons will see that there is a life out there for them that includes peace and loving relationships. They deserve that and so do you.

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