I’ve been unhappy in my marriage for several years and have tried everything to save it. My husband, Jacob, is very controlling and won’t allow me to further my education or pursue interests outside of our home or my kids. I’m close to finishing an undergraduate degree in graphic art and this would boost my chances of getting a good job. Currently, I work part-time at a print shop and I don’t like it.
Before we wed, I was a college student, an intern with a graphic designer, and had a busy social life. I loved to travel and hike with my friends since we live in New Hampshire where there are many hiking trails. Jacob used to like hiking and traveling too but he works a lot and is too busy to do these things.
The problem is that I have two kids, Kayla and Tyler, who are two and five years old. I can’t imagine leaving them on weekends with their dad or co-parenting. Our views of raising them is very different and we argue a lot because he is very strict. We come from different religious backgrounds and I worry that he will not allow them to continue to go to the church that we agreed would work for our family.
Please help me because I’m at the end of my rope and feel like I’m drowning in this marriage. Jacob and I are very unhappy but he doesn’t want to admit that we have serious problems. He refuses to go for counseling and doesn’t want me to go because he worries I’ll bad-mouth him with a therapist.
Letting go of a toxic relationship or marriage is never easy. Yet with self-awareness and tools, you can begin to value yourself enough to set better boundaries with your husband or decide to divorce. If things do not improve over time, it is possible to end a marriage that is self-defeating, abusive, or self-destructive but it sounds like you need time to prepare for a transition. You seem worried about your children’s well-being and I recommend that you read my blog “Do I Stay in an Unhappy Marriage for the Kids?”
If your marriage brings out your fears, causes you to mistrust your own judgment and give up too much of yourself, it might not be the best one for you. Many people become involved or even obsessed with the wrong partner – someone who is emotionally unavailable, controlling, romantically involved with other partners, addicted to substances – or who cannot love them back or support them.
I always ask clients: Is there something about the way your partner treats you that makes you a bigger and better person? If the answer is no, ask yourself: Am I settling for less than I deserve in the relationship? Research shows that one of the main reasons why people stay in bad relationships is the fear of being single. If this is the case, gently remind yourself that you are a worthwhile person regardless of whether or not you are in a romantic relationship or marriage.
In Mira Kirshenbaum’s book “Is He Mr. Right?” you can read more about compatibility. One of the central premises of her groundbreaking book is that chemistry is the best way to figure out if someone is right for you. Surprisingly, she’s not just talking about sexual chemistry but also the feeling that you enjoy being around your partner and have fun together.
5 Dimensions of Chemistry according to Mira Kirshenbaum:
- You feel comfortable with each other and it’s easy to get close. In other words, you feel that you can be yourself.
- You feel safe in the relationship. This means that your partner doesn’t have significant mental health issues, can take care of himself, and you feel free to express your thoughts, feelings, and desires openly. You are comfortable being vulnerable and honest with your partner.
- It’s fun to be together. Kirshenbaum writes, “Couples who do have this dimension of chemistry going for them have a shortcut to intimacy and a buffer against the stressful times we all face.”
- You have real affection and passion for each other. This is where sexual chemistry comes in and it should go hand and hand with affection.
- You feel there’s real mutual respect. You accept, admire, and respect each other for who you are. According to Kirshenbaum, if you don’t have respect for your partner, it will eat away at chemistry until you have nothing left.
Ways to Let Go of a Toxic Relationship:
- Gain self-awareness about your former partner’s personality and willingness to meet your emotional and personal needs. Counseling, blogging, and/or coaching can help you with this.
- Set an expectation of mutual respect. In a healthy relationship, you can accept, admire, and respect each other for who you are. If you don’t have respect for your partner, it will eat away at chemistry until you have nothing left. But if they value you, give you compliments, and encourage you to do things that are in your best interest, your friends and partner will be a boost to your self-esteem.
- Don’t compromise your values. Figure out your core beliefs and stand by them. Ask for what you need and speak up when something bothers you.
- Be more assertive (not aggressive) in relationships. If you want to enjoy a relationship based on trust, you need to speak up when you have a concern or a request. In a healthy relationship, people can be vulnerable when sharing their thoughts, feelings, and wishes. In other words, they don’t feel they have to walk on egg shells – they can be authentic and transparent.
Keep in mind that emotional intimacy is not emotional dependency. If your relationship causes you to be anxious or causes you to question your sense of self, it may not be the best relationship for you.
Many women stay in toxic relationships because they consistently put their partner’s needs before their own. Girls are often raised to focus on others and defer their own needs. This can lead to a pattern of co-dependency. Too often women are left with a depleted sense of self and they look for their partner to validate them.
Unless you have self-acceptance and self-love, you cannot believe you are worth loving just as you are. You might try to prove your worth through giving too much to others and being overly tolerant and patient. Author Jill P. Weber writes: “The more you view others’ mistreatment of you as something you have the ability to fix, tweak, or amend, the harder it is to develop a positive sense of yourself. Seeing yourself exclusively from the eyes of others disconnects you from the day-to-day, moment-to-moment experience of your life.”
Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.
I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry