If you cannot live without your marriage, you cannot navigate within it. – Harriet Lerner, Ph.D.
My client is a full-time nurse and her husband is an executive who is both over-working and over-drinking. She suspects it’s his way of avoiding the difficulties inside the marriage and the realities of having three young children.
He begins to under-function inside the marriage and the family, staying at work later and later. As he arrives home, he’s beginning to drink and fall asleep earlier and earlier.
They’re arguing more and connecting less.
In the meantime, she picks-up the slack. They have four children together, so she makes sure the kids’ homework is complete, they have clean clothes to wear, and dinner is on the table every night. She pays the bills, plans family get-togethers, and ensures the lawn is mowed so they don’t become the talk of the neighborhood.
She has her own way of avoiding the troubles in their marriage.
- As he begins to under-function, she starts to over-function.
- As she begins to over-function inside the family, she abandons herself.
- There’s so much to do, her needs aren’t even a consideration.
- The resentment mounts between them, but neither wants to rock the boat.
But since divorce is not an option, she tells herself a story about how there is no alternative.
I’m stuck. I can’t leave.
So she stays. And she suffers.
When Divorce is Not an Option
Sure, she might holler and scream, nag at her husband, and even cry occasionally – but at the end of the day, there are no consequences. Therefore, there is no incentive for him to do anything different than what he knows how to do (which is what he’s doing).
Her boundaries are squishy at best and her deal-breakers are non-existent. So, of course, nothing ever changes.
And they both continue to suffer.
In this scenario, here are her options:
- Put up with it and ignore it or,
- put up with it and argue about it.
Either way, the marriage is screwed and they’re both going to suffer; either suffering in silence or raging out loud.
Divorce as an Option
When divorce is a real option, they don’t both suffer.
- Both partners show up for one another and the family they created together.
- As soon as the relationship goes left of center, they address it.
- They know how to have healthy, loving boundaries (and even a few deal-breakers) that are expressed and honored between them.
- When they argue (as all couples do), it’s productive and they work toward a resolution.
- They don’t take one another for granted.
When you cannot face the idea that the relationship may need to end, you lose all ability to set healthy and loving boundaries for yourself and you suffer needlessly.