One of the reasons I stayed so long in my first marriage, was that I didn’t let myself to see the depth of my unhappiness.
It’s what’s called being in denial.
When I looked back with the benefit of hindsight, I saw that there were five areas which affected my unhappiness.
1. My physical health
Before I was married, I was perfectly healthy yet a few years into the marriage I started experiencing a wide range of conditions, some more severe than others none of which appeared to be related.
I suffered episodes of clinical depression. What made it all worse was my stubburnness in not letting anybody know and pretend everything was OK. The effort this took felt super human but I succeeded. Nobody guessed so, for a long time, I struggled on my own with no idea there was help.
When the effort of pretending became too much and I finally went to my GP, he prescribed the antidepressant Valium, the miracle drug at the time. Over time, all I had to do was walk into his surgery and the repeat prescription was there, ready and waiting.
The real miracle was that I didn’t become addicted!
But depression wasn’t the only condition I suffered from.
I started comfort eating and put on a huge amount of weight. I struggled for years to lose it – a see-saw of weight loss and gain – mostly gain. Can you even begin to imagine what that did to my self-image and self-confidence?
And then, when my parents came to visit us for a month, I put on another stone so, the minute they left I went on a diet. To my surprise and delight, in contrast to previous diets, this time it was really easy. I didn’t have any cravings and was hardly ever hungry which is why I lost quite a few pounds very quickly.
But then, to my distress, I started feeling hungry again and began a very dangerous road that led to the eating disorder bulimia.
It was a male friend who urged me to go to see my GP. I didn’t listen to female colleagues because I ‘knew’ they were just jealous.
Amazingly (because bulimics tend to not ask for help nor follow advice on how to stop making themselves vomit) I listened to him. It was my GP who diagnosed this eating disorder and warned me that, unless we dealt with it immediately, it could prove fatal.
I’m convinced, to this day, that the only reason I came through this ordeal was because I didn’t want to die.
There are all kinds of studies that show that unhappy marriages affect health and well-being by the release of the hormone cortisol which causes both physical and mental health problems.
2. My emotional state
On the emotional side, I went through periods where I was unable to keep the denial in place, my true feelings forced their way to the surface – feeling hopeless, helpless, frustrated, angry, anxious and resentful are just some of the feelings that would, at times, overwhelm me.
Studies carried out by various researchers and published in a variety of medical journals have uncovered the extent of emotional distress suffered by people staying in an unsatisfactory relationship.
My ex-husband Jim’s detachment, inability or unwillingness to express his feelings and show me the love I needed made me feel unworthy of being loved which damaged my sense of self-worth, self-confidence and self-belief.
3. The environment
As your relationship deteriorates, it’s not only you who suffers. Your children, the rest of your family and, yes, your partner too – you all suffer. Even your friendships may become affected.
This didn’t apply to me because we didn’t have children or joint friendships but couples with children might like to know that the family law organisation Resolution has researched the reaction of children in families where there is a high level of negativity and they found that most young people do not believe parents should stay together for the sake of the children.
And research carried out by Scientific American has found that, although divorce affects most children in the short run, they recover quickly after the initial shock.
In a study carried out by psychologist E. Mavis Hetherington of the University of Virginia and her then graduate student Anne Mitchell Elmore, they found that, while many children experience negative effects from divorce in the short term, especially anxiety, anger, shock and disbelief, these reactions typically lessen or disappear altogether by the end of the second year.
4. Our finances
In my case, Jim hadn’t worked since he reached the age of 49 when he was made redundant. He was reluctant to face the challenges – and rejections – that go hand-in-hand with job searching so it was left to me to support us both.
Self employment is hard enough – it’s not called feast and famine for nothing – but to be responsible for us both nearly broke me. The stress, fear and resentment was a heavy burden. Fortunately, I eventually found a well-paying job which eased the burden though the resentment continued to simmer in me.
By the time I was ready to contemplate divorce, I was faced with a series of financial challenges – solicitor’s expenses, the loss of joint finances (when Jim reached 65 he started to receive his pension which eased the financial limitations. Now the costs mounted: selling the house, looking for a new place to live, it all added up and affected the next stage of my life in the form of new financial challenges and increased levels of anxiety.
Jim dealt with the upheaval in a more pragmatic way. He moved to another country and changed his lifestyle tin such a way that would allow him to easily live on his pension.
Although I was lumbered with new financial burdens, the sense of freedom and possibility hugely outweighed any financial hardships.
I would have done anything and undergone any financial hardship for the sake of leaving behind a relationship where I felt rejected, dismissed, unimportant and unworthy of being loved.
Just knowing that I was finally free and able to create my own future was a heady feeling.
5. The social consequences
Joint friendships are also affected. They’re forced to wonder whether they should they take sides or or withdraw altogether.
In my case, not everybody welcomed the changes in me (confident enough to leave a 37 year marriage and face the future in an optimistic way) and several so-called friends dropped me. Others welcomed the new me and supported me.
But for some women this can lead to social isolation and loneliness, albeit temporarily.
If you fear being lonely and isolated should you decide to leave your marriage then I would encourage you to start straight away to widen your social circle long before you actually go through with it. There is a lot that you can do to make this happen.
Leaving the relationship can sometimes be a very positive thing to do but, if you don’t know what went wrong, there’s a very real danger of recreating the same difficulties all over again in your next relationship.
So I have a question for you:
If you’re currently in an unhappy relationship where you’ve forgotten what it feels like to be loved, cherished and appreciated, doesn’t it make sense that you need to not only change what you’re doing now, but also try to understand exactly what that ‘different’ is?
Or, if you’re currently single and have been in unhappy relationships in the past, doesn’t it make sense that you learn how to build relationships that are loving, solid and durable?
Believe it or not, the foundation to build strong, loving and durable relationships starts with you. If you’ve been in an unhappy relationship – or more than one – then your self-confidence will have hit rock bottom – as a person and as a woman.
My own journey to becoming whole again was the most important thing I ever did; it not only enabled me to rebuild my self-confidence and self-respect; it also enabled me to build the kind of relationships that I had yearned for all my life.
With love and gratitude