This is a difficult post to write and I need to be careful about how I write this. I have long said that the purpose of life is not to be happy; rather, it is to be useful. To have a purpose. To leave a legacy. With that said I think it’s easy to become a martyr in your unhappiness.
There was a discussion on another board about Adele and her divorce and new relationship. There were many people that thought she was selfish for leaving her marriage because she was unhappy. Some even accused her of cheating. I don’t know enough about her or her life to have an opinion but let’s for a minute say she’s telling the truth. She was unhappy in her marriage. She realized she would never be happy. She divorced him. She met someone else. She’s now very happy.
I think that’s very different from a cheater. The biggest reason it’s different, of course, is because if we’re going to take what Adele says at face value, she didn’t cheat on her husband. She was unhappy. She left. That’s completely different from, “I cheated because I was unhappy.”
To put it another way: Cheaters lie. They have to reconstruct history to justify their behavior. So it’s not that they were unhappy; therefore, they cheated. It’s that they cheated, and because they are always the victim and need to save face the story becomes they were very unhappy. The unhappiness did not show up until they cheated and needed a victim-y reason to excuse their piss poor behavior.
I look at Jezebel and her three marriages. She uses people. She doesn’t care who gets hurt in her quest for whatever it is she wants. She helped bring a large church down. Yes, the pastor ultimately was responsible for his actions, but she did not hesitate to engage in an affair, lie to everyone, and honestly believe that when all was said and done, she would simply step into the shoes of the current wife.
She devastated her first husband. Her second husband, no victim himself, gave up everything for her, and in return, she left him for yet another person. I have no doubt #3’s time is coming. If history keeps repeating itself she’ll be onto #4 within the next 5 years.
Each time it’s the same thing. He didn’t understand her. They didn’t communicate. This new person was her very best friend. And each time she completely remakes herself. She’s like Julia Roberts’ character in “Runaway Bride” not knowing what kind of eggs she likes.
I think that’s a lot different from the person who realizes they are in a shitty marriage with a selfish person. Or simply a person who realizes they made a big mistake in marrying the person they did and they’ll never want the same thing.
You can’t have it both ways. You can’t tell a person there’s no excuse for cheating; get out if you’re unhappy but don’t cheat! Then turn around and say being unhappy is no reason to end a marriage.
I think back on all the stories I’ve read in the six years since Jerry Lee’s affair with Harley was exposed. So many of these people detail nightmare marriages. They give and give and give while the cheater takes and takes and takes. So many of them say, “I wish I had known about the cheating sooner because then I would have had an excuse to leave.” Or some variation of that.
Why does it take cheating or abuse or addiction (and you need to be careful of that one because there are those that think you should stand by them and help them through it) before we’re “allowed” to leave a bad marriage?
There is a huge difference between the prima donna that whines her husband is no longer telling her she’s beautiful 20 times a day and is too tired after working all day to wine and dine her, and the woman whose husband doesn’t even bother to hand her a birthday card on her birthday. Relationships are not going to be fireworks and hot sex 24/7 for the rest of your life. Puppy love turns to mature love. That new relationship that gives you butterflies and puts a goofy smile on your face is going to become familiar. You can’t sustain that level of obsession. It will literally kill you. I’m all for comfortable, familiar love. The kind where you can have a ;piece of lettuce in your teeth and your partner can say, “You saving that for later?” The kind where you sit around all day, doing nothing. Maybe he’s off playing video games and you’re playing a game on your phone. Or you’re off shopping while he’s doing a yard project. I’m not talking about bailing when the relationship gets comfortable and is no longer a new, novel thing in your life.
No, I’m talking about the people who spend years catering to spouses that don’t appreciate it. I’m talking about people who spend their lives tip toeing around their spouse’s frail ego. People who are used by the spouse and the spouse’s family. People who have to do things “just so” or the prima donna rages at everyone in the family. People who aren’t allowed to be friends with other people by decree of their spouse. People who are insulted and/or taken advantage of all the time by their spouse. People who put up with years and years of bullshit because they took vows and they take those vows seriously. So even though this is a nightmare marriage and has been for some time they are resolute in staying the course. Maybe the person they fell in love with will return. Maybe if they just love them a little harder things will get better. If they cook better, clean better, wear make-up, lose weight, whiten their teeth, pay more attention to what they like… The list goes on and on.
I was one of those people. I stayed. I would have stayed until one of us died. I took my vows seriously. I never wanted to get divorced. Many times I told myself, “You chose this person. You make the best of it. You choose happiness.” I threw myself into my kids, into volunteering, into my friendships. There was no throwing myself into the relationship because he didn’t participate.
“Date night? Why would we want to do that?”
He was a victim. If he actually did something to make things better then he could no longer whine and complain. And I think he was perfectly happy watching TV, having me cook his dinner and bring him a plate, wash his clothes, take in his dry cleaning, take care of his children, and then spending a few minutes a day with his kids- when it was convenient for him.
There were many times I thought about leaving. But I never did. Because I made vows and he was the person I picked. It was for better or worse and I kept thinking it would get better.
You know what? It doesn’t get better. They never suddenly decide, “Hey! I’m being really unfair to you. You do so much for me and I do jack squat for you. I’m going to change that.” You spend your whole life catering to this person and for what? You don’t get a gold star. No one tells you that you’re wonderful for not leaving them or for putting up with their crap. And it eventually ends one of three ways. 1) You spend your entire life serving them, never being enough, and walking on eggshells. In some cases you support them and they act as though they’re entitled to it. You take care of everything while they sit back and demand you wait on them. Your life is a living hell until the day you die because that person is not going to change. They will suck every last ounce of life and joy and financial support out of you, And then you die. Having never been loved. Having never been appreciated. Having never experienced any sort of reciprocity at all. 2) The spouse cheats and leaves anyway. You put up with all the bullshit for nothing. And no one cares. They’ll go on and on about the other person’s happiness, and how everyone deserves to be happy. Except you, of course. You’re starting over at square one. 3) The spouse dies and you’re finally free to live a happy, authentic life. After years of unhappiness. If you’re lucky you’ve still got quite a few years left to live that happy life. If you’re not so lucky it may only be a a year or two, if that.
I know the mantra seems to be, “Stay together for the sake of the kids,” or, “Think of the children!” While I’m not a big fan of the whole, “Kids are resilient and a happy parent results in happy children,” I also don’t think you do your kids any favor living in dysfunction. There’s a whole lot of talk about generational abuse/dysfunction and I think it starts with what we allow in our relationships and how we model our relationship with our kids’ other parent. If we model to our children that we let people walk all over us then they think that’s fine. If we model that we give tirelessly and never ask for anything in return they come to believe we’re their humble servant as well. If we model turning a blind eye or putting up with ridiculous behavior that becomes something they, too, accept. Sometimes they don’t think it’s fine though and unfortunately they come to believe they can either be the abused or the abuser and they choose being the abuser.
Again, let me be clear. I believe marriage is not something to be taken lightly. I don’t think you should get married with the attitude, “If it doesn’t work out we can always get divorced.” I believe that there are a lot of immature, entitled people out that bail the minute it’s no longer fun and the minute they have to put an effort into the relationship. I think that’s sad. But I also believe that many times we stay far too long with a person who has no interest in having a healthy relationship. We don’t know about “cake eating” and “kibbles”. We believe that what’s important to us is important to them, and because we aren’t disordered we can’t think like the disordered. We don’t yet understand that we are of use to them. And we certainly don’t comprehend that once we are no longer of use to them we will be quickly discarded while they begin a new life.
I like to believe that what Chump Lady says is the truth- that a kid only needs one sane parent. Be that sane parent. Model boundaries and self worth. You cannot do that when you try to maintain a relationship with someone who does not love or respect you. Let’s be honest. If someone loves and respects you they show it; you can feel it. They want to make your life easier, not constantly demand you make their life easier. They don’t act like entitled assholes. They don’t move goal posts. They don’t keep you in a state of constant pick-me dancing. They don’t leave you always wondering, “What happened to that person I fell in love with?” You’re not always thinking, “If only I lost weight, dressed better, wore makeup, worked less,” or “I just need to not complain or not nag or not cry or not ask questions.”
Learn the difference. Accept that you can’t change it. And then get the hell out while before you waste your entire life on this person. There is nothing to fight for in these cases.