Leaving a Marriage

Commitment Issues. Psychology Fanatic article header image

Built for love, we need others. Our health and security rely on helpful others. Life is lived within relationships—starting at birth and continuing through old age. Healthy adaptations to life depend on the security of acceptance. When we fear rejection, our minds intervene and create escapes; the escape jolts the body with relief but interferes with growth. Many, if not most relationships, encounter a critical juncture. We face the imperfections, incompatibility, and difficulties and wonder, should I leave. There is no perfect advice for leaving a marriage. The decision is significant, with severe consequences, at the very least, we need to pause and consider other options first.

Dr. Karen Finn explains that every partner, at sometime questions the viability of a marriage and wonders if they should leave. “It’s an incredibly painful question to ask yourself because the only way to answer it is to dig down deep, way past the superficial hurts” (2015). Surrounded by loving people, we develop. The loving acceptance of supportive others nourishes our spirits and encourages growth; we need them. When we lack love, our health suffers (emotionally, physically and spiritually). The essential role of love (and positive regard) creates a powerful cocktail of emotions, pushing and pulling heart strings. We bounce between vulnerabilities, fears, and great joys.

Unfortunately, many relationships lack the necessary connection that invigorates by nourishing our souls and promoting growth. We sense something is wrong; our needs crave what is not being provided and we suffer. Well-meaning outsiders often advise, without sufficient knowledge of the facts, to simply leave; with a comforting, “you deserve better.” Advice is so easy to give.

Relationship Endings Leave Scars

Leaving a long-term relationship, divorcing a partner, isn’t a decision to be made in carelessness. The numerous ties (children, money, experiences) create significant obstacles. There may be fifty ways to leave a lover; but none of Paul Simon’s rhyming suggestions considers the damage of leaving on the heart. Unless you suffer from empathy deficit or some other social disorder, leaving a long-term relationship will leave deep scars, wounds that must be treated and nursed for a long time.​

Our Relationship Insufficiencies

​Before a rash decision to move on, we must consider that no relationship will cater to every need—there is always gaps, insecurities, and personal issues that bother. 

Sometimes leaving a marriage is appropriate, creating the safety and space essential for regaining emotional stability. However, quick and careless escapes from relationships difficulties doesn’t bode well for future attempts at intimacy. The loving intimacy we desire may be just on the other side of the problem we’re afraid to address, something we only achieve through the difficult task of open conversations.

​Abandoning salvageable relationships without examining personal responsibility often fails to address our fractured characteristics that are fraying the bonds of intimacy. In self-righteous flight, we overlook our damaging contributions. Blame obscures our involvement, protecting our broken soul from the shame of insufficiency.

“​If respect is lacking in your marriage, you need to know that it is possible to find respect again.”

~Karen Finn

We leave, blaming the partner, escaping the emotional bumps of imperfection; but our inadequacies typically are not beyond culpability. Left unexamined, we bring the same poison to our next relationship and the cycle begins again—love, dissatisfaction, blame, escape. We never satisfy our underlying need for acceptance and safety.

Ending a relationship, by closing a door, doesn’t create a blank slate. The door always remains partially ajar. The experiences stored, relics from sorrow endured, forms are perceptions, magnifying fears, and eliciting reactions. The past connections often continue to require shared commitments (children) to reckon with. The separation adds more chaos, at least at first. New emotions, fears and guilt must be contended with before healing resumes.

New relationships must include some drama carrying forward from the old relationship—both external issues (finances and children) and internal issues (emotional connections, fears, and hurts). Simply leaving doesn’t make the old relationship vanish—the relationship still exists, just under new conditions.

“We leave, blaming the partner, to escape the emotional bumps of imperfection. Left unexamined, we bring the same poison into the next relationship and the cycle begins again—love, dissatisfaction, blame, escape.”

~T. Franklin Murphy

A Pattern of Leaving and Returning

Many quickly discover the separation worse than the relationship, returning from the darkness of unknown fears to the light of the comfortable old problems. Loneliness haunts the escape and the firm commitment to exit begins to waiver. By doubting our decision to depart, vacillating between two vastly different worlds, we fail to heal, neither repairing the relationship nor building a new life.

“When people explain that they are staying in the marriage to avoid pain or fear, this indicates that the marriage hasn’t much glue, and such marriages aren’t as likely to endure.”

~~Susan Pease Gadoua L.C.S.W.  |  Psychology Today

Discomforting  Emotions Accompany Divorce

Leaving a marriage has a way of sparking guilt. Trust has been broken. Promises of forever were just lies. Guilt from the many lives hurt by a divorce demands solace, driving continued contact.

​Financial obligations, complex child custody arrangements, and emotional separation interfere with forging new relationships. These difficulties give rise to anger, sorrow, guilt, and sadness. Maybe these complexities, often overlooked initially, are worth the pain—but many times they are not.

“There was an unwillingness to change on his part. He couldn’t step up to be the partner that I needed.”

~Lizzy Francis | Fatherly

We originally create commitments because we believe the relationship can satisfy our needs, giving love and providing security. What happens? How did this all change?

Before abandoning ship, seeking better love, we should ask ourselves, “what do I bring to the relationship?” “Do you bear the fruits of love: attention, appreciation, acceptance and affection?” Loving is a perishable skill; proficiency demands constant practice.

We must examine ourselves—critiquing how we practice and express love. All too many self-righteously assume they are right and their partners are dysfunctional. A young woman once lamented to me after her fifth failed relationship, “I sure know how to pick ’em.” She never considered how her drug addictions and emotional instabilities severely limited the pool of men she could pick from.

Healthy Environments and Love

Love can only exist in healthy environments. We can’t the security of trust through manipulation with angry words, harsh accusations and hurtful labels. These avenues never establish intimacy or repair closeness. Some may argue, “But then she’ll never do what I want her to do.” Manipulation do successfully motivate others; in fear, they act. However, the action is to avoid discomfort, preventing nasty looks, cold rejections or violent attacks. But these protective actions motivated by fear come at a severe cost.

“If you find that you have significantly more negative interactions with your partner than positive interactions, it may be a sign that you need a divorce.”

~Racheal Tasker

​Action to avoid harshness spawns resentment; not love. With manipulation, we fill the immediate need but sacrifice deeper connection. The acquiescing partner acted to avoid punishment—not out of love. Eventually, the window of control closes, hidden resentments accumulate, and the shades of love give way to the darkness of hate.

Relationship Skills

​Mastering relationship skills require mindful effort. New behaviors often fail at first. We stumble through foreign behaviors and partners doubt our sincerity. We must continue. Genetically we have the tools to connect; but for intimacy the tools must be developed. This requires study, practice, therapy, grieving, and observing. We must catch our habitual detrimental behaviors that interrupt closeness by skeptically examining our souls and moving in a new direction.

True intimacy requires a life time’s work. We will fall short as partners—our chosen companions will fall short of expectations. We then must rely on our limited resources to trudge through the challenges and create security where doubt was lived.

​By learning to navigate through the natural limitations without blaming or manipulating, we learn how to connect, enjoying the human demands for intimacy. Our partners may join us on this sacred journey; or they may prefer to stay stuck in the mire of reactionary relations. After careful consideration, a step removed from the anger, we then must make a critical and life changing decision of leaving a marriage: “Should I stay, or should I go?”

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Finn, K. (2015) 6 Tough Questions You Must Ask BEFORE Leaving Your Marriage. drkarenfinn.com. Published 10-30-2015. Retrieved 6-2-2021.

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