(Warning: Raw post coming your way. Research not included.)
Ambivalence In Your Relationship
Have you considered leaving or ending your marriage or romantic relationship? If you want to leave, then leave. Or as Cheryl Strayed writes in her bestselling book, Tiny Beautiful Things, “Go, because you want to. Because wanting to leave is enough.” Those are some shocking words to read, but they are honest. They are true, even if they are tough to read.
You don’t need a reason to leave a relationship, especially not one with a significant other. It may just be a feeling in your gut that says something is not right or this is not the right person for you. A nagging voice in the back of your mind that is telling you to go.
You can want to leave a relationship even when the other person is a wonderful human whom you love very much. You can want to leave a relationship when you have children with that person, even a slew of children as many couples here in Utah have.
You can want to leave because you don’t experience that spark with your partner. Either not now or because perhaps the spark was never there.
You can want to leave even when your partner is smart, kind, funny, loving, and generous. You can want to leave when your partner is a great cook, an excellent parent, and good in the sack.
You can want to leave when your partner regularly says mean things, cannot control their anger, throws things during an argument, is unfaithful, or belittles you. You can want to leave when your partner tries to control you, your whereabouts, your finances, and the children you may have together.
You can want to leave for no reason in particular, or for numerous, specific, and ongoing reasons. If you want to leave, then leave. Don’t wait. Don’t stay “for the children.” Don’t stay because leaving is a sin and Jesus won’t love you anymore (thank you Southern Baptist upbringing). Don’t stay because you’re ashamed or worried about what others will think if you leave. Don’t stay because you’re not sure you can make it on your own (You can!!!! Will it be really hard? Probably. Will it be worth it? Definitely.).
Do not do what I did. Don’t stay beyond what your heart, mind, body, and soul are whispering, nagging, advising, or screaming at you to do. Staying in a relationship that you want to leave eats up days of your life that you cannot get back. You might think you have plenty of time later to find a better relationship. You probably don’t. I now know that I didn’t.
You may think, “Well, I’ll just tough it out until the kids are older or have all left home.” Or “Things will get better. I’ll be happier with this person a year from now.” These are stories we tell ourselves. We hope deep down in our bones that the stories will come true. What we forget or do not connect with is that we only have one precious life to live and with each passing day, there is less and less of that life to relish.
We should not aim to simply survive our significant other relationships, but to thrive in them. We should expect and accept nothing less. Are relationships challenging at times? Of course. But despite the challenges, simply surviving is a deal-breaker. Thriving is the only acceptable answer.
If you feel like you must have a reason to leave or you need a framework for deciding whether to leave, read “Too Good To Leave, Too Bad To Stay” by Mira Kirschenbaum. Dive into it with an open heart and open mind.
Learn from My Mistake
For years after my divorce, I wished I left my first marriage sooner. I knew after the fact that I stayed much too long. Now, I have another more significant reason to regret not leaving sooner.
I’m currently staring down a diagnosis that tends to shorten one’s life, often in the extreme. More testing awaits to better understand the disease’s progression and the damage it has done thus far to my internal organs. I’m crossing my fingers, toes and eyes that the healthy lifestyle I’ve tried to live will mean the damage is limited and additional lifestyle changes will slow the progression. However, most of the medical research indicates decreased longevity awaits me with scant research indicating ways to slow the damage the disease does.
To be frank, I’ve spent the last week pissed off. I’m pissed off at myself that I gave my youngest and healthiest years to a spouse who often didn’t treat me with the love and respect I deserved (he may say the same thing about me). I’m pissed off that I stayed in that relationship because the religion in which I was raised said that doing so was best for the children. I’m pissed off at myself that it took me so very long to realize that staying meant my sons were learning deeply dysfunctional relationship dynamics. That they may have learned it is okay to treat a partner poorly and with disdain, or to let a partner treat them that way. I’m pissed off at myself that I let the last 14 years of my first marriage be primarily about surviving instead of thriving.
Mostly, I’m pissed off that I may not get the 50 years with my new partner that I’ve been aiming for. That instead of 50 years, it might only be 40, or 20, or 10, or even 8 in total. We’ve been together 5 years thus far. That’s some scary, gut-wrenching, change-the-way-you-see-the-rest-of-your-life math right there. I want 50 freakin’ years with this man who I swear I made in a lab. I don’t want to leave him alone or by himself. I want to walk beside him until we’re in our 90s, completely senile, and have wheelchair races up and down the hallway of the swanky old folks’ home (that our children better put us in!). We just found each other, for crying out loud! All those wasted years just trying to survive before we met. It makes me want to throw things.
If You Want to Leave, Do It Now
The pandemic brought more marriages, but also the end of many relationships. When you’re quarantined or locked down with someone you learn how you truly feel about them. If you thought about calling it quits during the pandemic but didn’t pull the plug, do it. Do it now.
Do it now because you don’t really know how much time you have left to find that person who jazzes you, who continually lifts you up, and who smiles or has that twinkle in their eye when you come into the room. Do it now because you don’t know what your health, vitality, or energy will be like next year, five years from now, or 10 years from now.
I wasn’t sure if I would find the right match for myself when I started dating again. There were a ton of hard passes. But I knew I would be happier and healthier if I left my prior relationship.
The last five years of my life, since I met my current partner, have been the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever experienced. My confidence and career have soared to heights I could not have imagined. I’m not a huge believer in FOMO, but now I know what I was missing out on for years and years in my first marriage.
If you want to leave your relationship, stoke those FOMO feelings. Write down what you think you are missing out on in your current relationship. I knew I was missing out on a healthy relationship. I just didn’t know all the other positive, breath-taking, and inspiring things I was missing out on.
Like a partner who grins ear to ear when I talk excitedly about my work. A partner who holds my hand and speaks gently yet fervently when we have a disagreement or misunderstanding. A partner who listens to and values my opinion as much as he values his own. A partner who is a feminist in word and in his actions (e.g., no discomfort or annoyance at me paying on our third date, and taking turns picking up a tab thereafter). A partner who does his share of the household tasks with zero complaints or even prompting (because y’all, he knows I’m not his mother!). A partner who is down for frequent travel and eagerly tackles planning the initial itinerary, booking flights and rental cars. A partner who makes me feel like I can take on the world. I regularly tell him that I wish everyone on the planet could have what we have together. We’re lucky to be that good of a match.
I had no idea what I was missing out on all those years. Whoever you are, I don’t want you to miss out. Life — especially a healthy life — is fleeting. We don’t get it back once the kids leave home or we’ve got a better income or paid off debt. We don’t get a do-over. Life is NOW. You deserve someone who loves you and treats you with the respect you deserve every damn day of the week.
Bottom line: Don’t make the mistake I did. Do not wait to leave a relationship that is not working for some reason, or for no reason. If you want to leave, then leave. Waiting and hoping for things to get better is a slippery slope into the abyss. Those are days, weeks, months, and years that you can never get back. I know I never will.
If you know someone who has considered leaving a relationship, please share this with them. Life is too short to be in a relationship we’re not thriving in. Don’t just aim to survive, but to THRIVE.