While our culture gets criticized for being too pro-divorce, I'd like to counter that criticism and say we are a culture of over-tolerance. We tolerate bad behavior and bad relationships for far too long.
We are rewarded for "sticking it out" and are scolded by our society if we don't. I am often amazed to hear what my clients and readers tolerate in a marriage, and how they feel guilty for even having thoughts of ending the relationship.
Perhaps religion, our childhood influencers or the media interfere with our definition of a good marriage versus a bad one. To me, it's pretty simple. One makes you happy and the other makes you miserable.
But first, let's define a good marriage:
- You are each other's best friend. You like to do things together and enjoy being in each other's company, even if it's the most mundane event.
You feel safe to express any emotion. Whether you're happy, proud, tired, or sad, you trust that your partner will hear you, without negating you. Your partner revels in your joy or empathizes in your pain but regardless, you know you can safely express any feeling. You allow each other the freedom to grow. As you move throughout each decade, your tastes and wants are bound to change. What interested you 10 years ago may no longer interest you now, and your partner encourages you to explore. You both are willing to give each other the space to spread your wings. You find each other attractive. No matter your current age or size, there is still that spark between you. Passion, although you may have less time for it, is still a priority and you make time for intimacy. You argue but you argue well. Even if the disagreement results in a one-day reprieve from each other, you find a resolution to where you both feel heard. You are a couple, but still remain independent. While you both enjoy time together, you allow each other time to be with or travel with other friends, enjoy hobbies, or simple alone time. You divide chores evenly. Both of you maintain roles that will make a successful household, and are equally willing to be flexible should one chore not get done and then work as a team.
No marriage is perfect, but hopefully your marriage reflects some or all of the above points.
But what if it doesn't? How do you know if your marriage is in real turmoil versus just having a few bumps in the road?
Here are some signs you are in a bad marriage:
- You are fearful of rage over the smallest problem. You are verbally abused or worse, physically abused, following an incident that an average person may perceive as minor. Your partner can't handle stress and takes everything out on you to where you walk on egg shells and avoid all conflict.
You are afraid of or avoid sex entirely. You either must be drunk to have sex or you don't want it at all, but you give in just because you're married, and that's what a spouse should do. (And to note: you should never be forced to have sex with anyone, even if you are married to them. It is rape if you say 'no' and are forced unwillingly). You must endure endless passive aggressive behavior. It's one thing to be snippy at each other, but another if every form of communication is a stab at your inadequacy or inability to function as an adult. Should you forget to take out the trash, comments like, "Of course you forgot, you always do" or, "No wonder I have to take care of everything, you can't even do a simple chore," can make you feel devalued and impotent. You keep secrets. You withhold information that you would rather share, but you're afraid of being bullied or insulted. You might have connected with an old friend, bought something special just for you, or attended an event that would be disapproving so you lie and said you were elsewhere. Secrets that shouldn't be secrets become so voluminous that they create profound loneliness within you. You resent each other. Everything you both do results in a negative comment or insult. The resentfulness feels like a constant tennis match of name calling and bickering, and you've lost track of who started it. (Note: you may have noticed that the invitations to dinner parties are dwindling because your friends are sick of it too).
If you find yourself in this latter category, ask yourself, "Why am I putting up with this? Don't I deserve better?" Do all you can to immerse each other in counseling and problem solving, but if your situation does not improve, you don't have to tolerate it, just because you're married. If you feel guilty for ending it, you should feel more guilty that you let yourself be treated poorly.
Over-tolerance of bad behavior is largely ignored by our culture and instead, we are praised for enduring it. You are allowed to set healthy boundaries for yourself and whoever taught you otherwise is just plain wrong. If you find yourself nodding in acknowledgement that your marriage is really bad, get out now.
You are worth so much more.
Lindsey Ellison is a women's divorce and break up coach, and specializes in helping them break free from their narcissistic partners. For more information, click here.