Wendy's Blog

Will this be your future?

A Perspective on Healthy Love

by Wendy Keller

Have you been thinking about leaving your marriage or your relationship?  Lots of people suffer for years and years before they make the incredibly difficult decision to get out.  I’ve been single-again for nearly 18 years, so my perspective is that of someone who has watched endless friends go in and out of marriages, love affairs, adulterous affairs, and live-in relationships.  I’ve observed their mistakes, challenges and (to me) blindly foolish decisions.  This is what I see:

1. People often get into relationships for the wrong reasons, consciously or unconsciously.  Perhaps it’s to stave off loneliness, perhaps it’s to prove to a recent ex that you’re lovable, perhaps it is to make your family proud.  Sometimes it’s about money, or getting help with little kids – or a baby on the way.  To me, this just seems sad.  To enter into anything without being clear about your own motives, the other person’s, and the character traits of both parties just seems like a waste of tears and time.

2. People stay too long in sick, dead and irreparably damaged relationships. I did.  Lots of friends are right this very moment enduring cruelty, unrelenting fighting, extreme sorrow, fear, guilt, pain and trauma.  It breaks my heart to say this, but fully half of my friends are miserable in their relationships, but lack the courage, wisdom, resources, vision to leave.

The Great Theory that counseling can save a relationship is not supported by the statistical outcome of marriage or relationship therapy.  In some cases, when both parties are ready, willing and able to work at it, yes, counseling can help the broken parts not be so painful. But if the relationship is already gone and marriage counseling is a last ditch effort – and one partner doesn’t want to go or thinks the problem is all the other person’s fault – the chances of change are really, really slim.  It’s hard work to change long-held patterns. 

In my opinion as an unqualified, untrained person without a degree in counseling, but a heck of a lot of years of observation, here’s what I believe:

A. If you’re already in a committed relationship and share children, a business or other assets, it’s in your best interests to fix it if it is fixable.  That is, if YOU and the other person can admit you are creating this negative dynamic together and that it is going to take two willing people to fix it.  There’s always the addict and the enabler; there’s always the abuser and the abused.  Am I saying you “deserve” to be stuck with a drunk, an abuser or an addict? Of course not.  But the fact that you stay means so far, you’re agreeing to his or her game.

B. To get things fixed, both parties have to be willing to look at their contribution to the problem, including you.  This is usually under the supervision of a qualified therapist.  That doesn’t mean one forces, threatens or bribes the other into counseling – it means both say “This relationship is important to me, as is your happiness. Let’s work on this together.”  Only in that situation is counseling a viable option.  The old joke comes to mind: “How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?”   The answer: “Just one, but the light bulb has to really want to change.”  Do you?  Or are you stuck in “I’m a victim!  I’m suffering!” mode?

C. If you or your children are in bodily danger, leave now.  No two ways about it.  There are shelters, there are friends, there are churches, there are organizations that can help you.  Go to Google and type in “Battered Women’s Shelter”.  If someone is hurting your kids in any way, leave at once. You will perpetuate the cycle of abuse if you do not.  Do it today.

D. If you want to get outside help and your partner doesn’t, write down in neutral language (that means, without emotion or accusation) the logical, calm, clear reasons you believe therapy must be sought.  As in “We spend much of our time when we’re together arguing over things that happened in the past” and “The amount of time we spend arguing could be spent on other things that enhance our life together, our economic base, our home maintenance…” (whatever).  The reason you are writing this down as unemotionally as possible is so YOU don’t get hysterical or mean and so the other person can hear you like a judge would listen to an attorney make a case for her client – rationally and based on facts.

E. If the situation is painful to you, and your partner refuses repeatedly to seek outside help (over the course of, say, six months of asking), or even to listen to your rational facts about why intervention is beneficial, you have to make a choice.  Will you continue to pour energy into this relationship or will you decide to cut bait?  Being a grown up is all about making choices.  Don’t abdicate your power with wishful thinking that things will magically get better. Most abusers and users go through “honeymoon” periods where they are on their best behavior…until it happens again.

Often, people use money and children as the reason they don’t leave a toxic situation.  As for money, I can say only this:  reducing your standard of living is a VERY small price to pay for peace of mind! I did it when I left my husband and I would do it again in a heartbeat to get away from the life-draining marriage I endured for ten years.

And as for the children, this is where I want to SCREAM at the friends I see in awful marriages!  Most of them are victims of homes where their own parents fought, cheated, hated.  C’mon!  It’s so obvious that if you were raised watching a bad marriage that your chances of re-creating a bad marriage and considering it normal or at least tolerable are very high!  SO WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO YOUR CHILDREN?  Why pass on your parents’ sick legacy? Let the buck stop here, right now!  Tell yourself you are saving your children and your grandchildren from repeating the family legacy.  GET HELP OR GET OUT!  I know thousands of single mothers who will tell you, as I will, the worst day out of their marriages is better than the best day in them. 

I can’t tell you specifically what to do, but I can tell you why this is so hard for you to decide. A secret little part of you is worried that you’re not lovable enough, that this is all you deserve, that you can’t do better so you may as well tolerate the intolerable.  “Put up or shut up”.  So you live your life wounded, hiding it from your conscious mind how bad it really is – for you, for the kids.  To get out, you have to take  a leap of faith. You have to work up your courage to say, “THIS IS IT! I am not taking it anymore!”  When you change, the relationship changes, because you are half of the relationship.  Fake it til you make it! Pretend you love and care enough about yourself to want the best for yourself! Pretend you had perfect parents and are thus perfectly capable of choosing what’s best for you. 

When the pain is great enough, you’ll leave. Stop complaining about your relationship. Stop wondering secretly if this is all you should have in life.  You were made to seek happiness – that’s why you notice when you’re miserable!  That’s proof right there that you have a moral duty TO YOURSELF to take care of yourself, to love yourself – even if no one else in your entire life ever loved you the right way.  It begins with you!

Only you can make the right decision in your specific relationship.  But look in the mirror this afternoon, when you’re in the bathroom and have some privacy.  Stare into your own eyes.  Ask yourself, “Is this really how I want to live the rest of my life?”  If the answer is no, take action now.

  1. Heya Wenda, yep ahgree whole heartledly, especially the part where you say you dont want to pass on your parents sick legacy. There is nothing worse than seeing your mom benig psychologically/emotionally abused over decades and decades.
    That ultimateley is in part the resason i am still single. I dont ever waht to make those mistakes. You know my history being alcoholic and all (by the way today is 11 moths sober). Part of that reson is the addict behaviour selfishness and selfwill , in other words my way or the highway. I would rather stay single and have brilliant female frienships than a damaged relationship. Yeah sounds illogical but its a choice i made years ago which in part led to me turning to booze for comfort, which in turn was a huge mistake. Again thank you for sharing this.

  2. I have to disagree. I think the statistics show people give up way too easily anymore. And it doesn’t take 2 to start to fix things. Marriage is work, it’s hard. It’s not supposed to be easy. Even the Bible addresses this. Most people nowadays keep their expectations way to high. You can’t be perfect for someone else so expecting perfection isn’t fair. People will make you unhappy sometimes, that’s life. They will hurt you. Unless the person is repeatedly cheating, abusing or maybe certain circumstances of substance abuse then I think happy or not you took a vow. Try changing yourself. More often than not we are a huge part of the problem ourselves and unwilling to see that it’s not all the other person making us unhappy. Check out the book Divorce Busting. It’s amazing and offers practical advice to do the right thing and keep your marriage together. I’m not disagreeing with everything you say here but just being unhappy is not a reason to divorce unless you don’t value your word at all. Lower your expectations and look for ways to change things yourself and more often than not the other person will eventually start to do the same, even if they didn’t want to in the beginning. Lowering our expectations is a HUGE part of things, that alone might bring happiness. If you want someone else to love you UNCONDITIONALLY doesn’t that person deserve the same from you?

    • Hi Kristin,

      Thanks for sharing your viewpoint. It certainly does reflect the truth that we all make choices in life – how much pain and suffering we will endure in a relationship is just one of them.

      All the best to you,

  3. Thank you so much. I know sometimes these views are hard for some to accept but I have truly believed we should all be able to live happy lives, free from abuse in our relationships. I watched my parents go through it and I recently saw it repeat in my own marriage, which I took action on and filed for divorce almost a year ago. It was really scary at times both in the marriage and thinking of leaving. I am a single mom now and I think that it was the best decision I could have made for my daughter too. She was learning to talk to me and treat me in the same way her dad did and she needs to learn that it isn’t acceptable to treat other people like that. She was my main reason for leaving. I had spent the last few years asking him to go to counseling with me and I was told he would rather sign papers than go to counseling and when I told him I was going to go for myself then, I was accused of having an affair. In his mind, that is why you go to counseling. (shaking head) So, this week in fact, he gets to sign those papers. I am happy most days and certainly have found a peaceful existence in my home again. I also have learned to feel good about myself for loving myself enough to stand up to the hateful words and actions of others. I am teaching my daughter to do the same. Thanks again for sharing this. I hope it will help others who are suffering to make decisions to better their lives.

    • Stephanie,

      Thanks for sharing your story – it’s amazing to me how common it is! When I told my ex I was going to file, he stood in front of me and called local psychiatric hospitals and asked them, one after the other, if he could have me committed! Really! Like the 40s! Some of them must have asked him why he thought I needed to be, and his answer was “Because she is saying she wants a divorce.” Needless to say, none of them took me in. The amount of denial people of both genders bring to relationships is shocking, isn’t it? Sounds like you went through something very similar. Congratulations on your escape! I think we have to face the fact that some people are just irreparably damaged – and avoid them.

      Sending you and your daughter wishes for love, joy and peace from here forward,

  4. I agreed 100%. I was in a relationship with someone that was abusive, toxic, selfish, and (if you ask me ) crazy. I knew that it wasn’t what I wanted before we even got married, but like you said I didn’t think I deserved better. I stayed for 6 years and I finally got up the courage to leave. We tried therapy after I left, but I was already gone, when we started. I had to admit where I screwed up. She still hasn’t. I have been out of that relationship for almost 2 years and can say that even my worst days now are better than the best days in my marriage. Thanks for your words.

  5. I found that as I read this, it didn’t feel like you were only speaking to those in abusive situations, but also those that just aren’t “happy”. If I’m incorrect, ignore the following. Otherwise, IMHO: In the case of abuse, absolutely…get out! You aren’t doing anyone any favors…yourself or kids. However, if things just aren’t “perfect”…get over yourself. People are too quick to jump ship. There’s no accountability for our own actions. Marriage isn’t a movie. It’s, at times, not easy to be with the same person day in and day out. Same goes with family, it’s not always perfect but you don’t leave them in the dust! You ride the ebb and flow. To me it’s the same with marriage: If you aren’t being abused, remember to make time for each other, to help keep things fresh. Be kind to your spouse: don’t be sweet and go the extra mile for your friends and then be disgruntled with your spouse because they need something. It’s take AND give, two way street. You do it for others, give the life partner *YOU* chose the same courtesy. No relationship, this one or the next, is perfect.

  6. I just wanted to say. I left almost 2 years ago. It was the most painful thing I have ever done. I still love my ex-husband Michael BUT, I wanted a normal functioning life and he wanted to continue partying and seeing other women. I am strong. I am in college. Our daughter Grace (8) is still with my sister in other state. I am rebuilding my life. God is good. Having a peaceful and calm life is worth all of the lonelessness. I am working toward a new career in nursing. Too other women it is possible to have a life and all the pain. I go to counseling and lot of church. I think I found the BEST church on the planet. People smile and are kind and seem to enjoy my company. I pray alot a God has richly blessed me in many many ways. My family is there for me…I do NOT speak to my ex ever. He would just lie to me anyway. I do pray for him. I believe that God is working on him BUT that is in God’s hands. Good luck and be safe.

  7. I’ve been considering divorce for quite some time…I love my husband but I don’t like him anymore. He’s an alcohol abuser and is drunk every night and every weekend. This has destroyed our life together. Of course he doesn’t think he has a problem…I just need to give him a break…..really??? It’s not like I haven’t given this a chance either…we’ve been married almost 32 years…the past 8 yrs. have been rocky but the past 2 yrs. have really made me realize I am not happy and things have to change. Now to just be brave enough to do it. Please offer a prayer for strength!!

    • I have just left my husband of 28 years. He is an alcoholic and quit drinking two years ago, but guess what? His personality did NOT get better. I prayed for years that when he quit drinking things would get better, but they didn’t. Just got worse in my mind because there was no longer an excuse for him being mean and abusive (mentally, not physically, but worse cause the scars are invisible?)It’s only been a couple weeks and there will be lots more battles, but already I feel stronger, and daily it gets just a little bit better. I’m sticking with my decision, no matter how much he begs. For me….and MY sanity, we deserve it!!!

      • rr, when an alcoholic stops drinking, if they do not get support (like AA) they become what they call ‘dry drunks’. They become very frustrated b/c they do not have the alcohol to release their frustrations. AA supports people who quit drinking and helps them work through their issues. I went to Al-Anon for years, it was very helpful. It helped me understand myself and my part in the relationship. Al-Anon helps us not make the same mistake b/c we create patterns for ourselves. Ex: if we’re used to always arguing with a spouse we may fall into another relationship that may be similar b/c we haven’t changed ourselves yet.

  8. I’ve bn wit my man lik 11yrs now,we ve twins together but not married,the abuse is just too much and we don’t trust each other,I still can’t take care of myself and kids alone cos of my job,d kids re just 6.I cry almost everynite cos of his abuses lik hitting me,cursing,etc.he suspects averytin I do,I just no wot to do cos he sed if I tak d kids he won’t send any money for them.I just wish for happiness.

    • Gold, I wish for your happiness, too. There are places and organizations to get support and to get out if that’s what you really want.
      The choice will have to be yours. When it hurts enough, you’ll leave. You deserve better than the situation you describe.


  9. Hi, i’m just married only 5 months over.In your blog i’m not finding my issue, so i’m telling my story.My hubby will not talk if i ask he will answer thats its & we dont have any kind of relationship,we dont go out. He will not fight with me but he drink after drink also he will be normal only. I dont know what to decide. Before marriage he told to stop the marriage but since his mother told he has some problem with father so he said like that so i dint take it series and dint tell to my parents also.This is the short story.

  10. I was in a marriage for 18 yrs. My husband was an alcoholic. He was dry for many years but never went for any group support. Our lives consisted of mostly arguing. Of course I was part of it, I had been caught up in this life of negativity. He admitted that he grew up that way b/c his parents were alcoholics. I loved him which is why I stayed so long but I realized after years of attempting counseling that I had to move on to a more positive and higher level of living. In counseling there was mostly blaming being done. Also, some counselors (not being educated in alcoholism) would even say that he wasn’t an alcoholic b/c he was not actively drinking. It was very frustrating. I left the marriage for my daughters. I wanted them to learn that if ever they were extremely unhappy and things no matter what were not getting better in a situation to move on and always make decisions in life that are happier and more positive for them. Strive for the best that you can in your life. I went back to school when they were young, we struggled but my life has been so much better. It’s as if a weight has been lifted. My daughters have resonated with the divorce and are making very healthy decisions in their lives. Life is good..God is good.

  11. Preethi,
    I am so sorry for what you’re feeling. I too hid my problems from my family. Try not to keep it inside. This may prolong the situation. When you are ready, talk to someone who you think can give you some good advice. Also, ask God to give you strength and guidance on what to do. Keep your good friends around you. You may want to wait before thinking about having children.
    Stay well, Jul

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