It is very normal to fear leaving a marriage. If there was no fear of leaving, I think we might see an even higher frequency of divorce. Many of my clients don’t leave an unhappy or unhealthy marriage until they are virtually forced out of it by infidelity, or abusive behaviour.
I planned to stay in my unhappy marriage at least until my only child was 18 years old. Being on the Autism Spectrum, I felt my son had enough hurdles to deal with, and I wasn’t going to subject him to further emotional distress. I wanted to avoid a potential custody battle. I wanted to keep the family together. I dreaded the “domino effect” that a divorce might have – estrangement from my step-children and in-laws. Family was the most important thing to me and keeping my son stable was my top priority.
For over 5 years I sat on the fence, usually having an annual visit with my family lawyer for the most expensive therapy around. He always sent me away and told me if I still felt this way in a week, to call him. I engaged a therapist, invested in yoga classes, and signed up for online courses promising to improve the marriage. I journaled and focused on being the most loving, understanding wife. I tried everything, but in the end nothing worked.
I am a big believer that everything serves a purpose, so I guess staying as long as I did enabled me to know that I gave it my best shot. It gave me a chance to grieve before the actual event so that I was at least semi-functioning when thrust into the role of single mother. It gave me a chance to gather the troops and form my battalion. Most importantly, my lawyer sending me back into my marriage every year enabled my son to get older and be less of a custody risk.
Was I prepared for the hostile separation? No. Nothing could quite prepare me for what lied ahead. I was right to be afraid. I experienced an acrimonious battle that lasted far longer than anyone would have thought.
Here’s what I can offer from my hurricane divorce – if you are afraid to leave, there is likely a valid reason for it. Fear is our brain’s way of alerting us to danger. It could be safety issues, it might be a custody battle, perhaps financial worries. Take heed. Nobody knows what to expect more than you. Fear is not enough to sustain a marriage but it is a predictor of what may occur in marriage breakdown.
Theoretically, if you could abandon your fear, for even just a few moments, perhaps with a coach or therapist, you can objectively have a look at what is going on. The decision to stay or go needs to be based on how you want to think about your life and your marriage. Is the situation tolerable? Would you look back on your life in 10 years and be proud of who you are right now?
If you do decide that leaving is best, the fears can provide you with a framework of the hurdles you will have to face. This is good news, because we can do a lot of advance prep to ease the transition. For example, you can start documenting behaviour and incidents before physically separating. You can interview lawyers and figure out who will be best for your case. You can speak with a Divorce Coach to strategize the exit. You can work with a therapist to examine your role and your choices in your marriage. You can line up financial help to prepare for the upcoming legal expenses.
The thought of separation is definitely fear-inducing for most people. It takes tremendous courage to leave an unhappy marriage. Over time, practicing courage will result in competency at being separated. Eventually this competency will manifest confidence.