One question I’m often asked is why I stayed in my marriage as long as I did.
37 years is a long time by any measure so why did I stay?
As I’m sure you know, there are no simple answers but I’ll try.
The first thought that comes to mind was that I was unable to admit to myself just how unhappy I was and so I fell into denial which was the only way I could cope with my unhappiness at the time.
Denial is a psychological defence mechanism used by those of us who are unable to face a painful reality despite all evidence to the contrary, in my case the deep loneliness and unhappiness of feeling unloved, taken for granted and unimportant.
My way of reinforcing the denial was by making excuses (“it’s not so bad, he didn’t mean it, he really does love me”, and so on) or going to the other extreme by playing the victim, not only blaming him for my unhappiness but also by telling myself I was helpless to change anything.
On top of all that I would also tell myself that everything would be OK if only he changed.
I interpreted his unwillingness to change as evidence that he didn’t love me and, as a result, my self-confidence dived – not all at once but slowly, over time with pretty devastating results, mostly on my health (severe random pains, clinical depression and the eating disorder bulimia).
Nobody would disagree that this was a horrible period.
So when the journalist asked me why I stayed as long as I did, I was forced to take a deeper look at the question, “why do we stay in unhealthy relationships?”
Here are some of the reasons I managed to unearth over the years.
While I always wanted to have a relationship like the one my parents had I’d never been in a relationship before.
Being in a relationship, I discovered, is very different from observing someone else’s.
Expressing my love for Jim the way I saw my parents do it may have worked wonders for them but it didn’t work in my own marriage.
As a child, I was an outsider at school and I came to believe that nobody would ever want to be friends with me.
That belief later came to include boys as nobody seemed to show an interest in me.
Years later my Mum told me they did but I’d never noticed because the voice of my Gremlin or negative inner critic in my head (“you’re not attractive enough, good enough, loveable enough”) was louder than what was actually happening.
The belief that I wasn’t attractive enough became so ingrained that, when I first met Jim, I decided I would see if I could make him fall in love with me.
Jim had never been in a relationship before so he was totally unprepared for the onslaught of a young woman like me who was prepared to use use every trick she learned from reading women’s magazines or watching Hollywood films on how to catch a man.
The main thing that initially attracted me to him (apart from his cute dimples) was that he didn’t expect me to make interesting conversation.
This was something I believed my Dad expected of me and was something I’d always dreaded.
Unfortunately, I never got the hang of it which led me to believe that my lack of witty conversational skills was the reason for my loneliness.
And then Jim came along and I discovered I didn’t have to prove anything.
Once Jim and I got married, other factors came into play.
It gradually became clear that my way of expressing my love for Jim was not appreciated.
Unfortunately, instead of backing off and figure out what would make Jim feel loved I re-doubled my efforts effectively doing more of the same.
When that didn’t work I became angry and resentful, blaming him for my unhappiness.
That was probably the beginning of a vicious cycle where I focused on all the things that irritated and frustrated me about him.
I then made the conscious decision that I didn’t like feeling unhappy and that I would pretend to be happy instead. That was, I believe, the trigger for sliding into denial which kept me going for many years.
One of the things I learned from my Mum was that other people’s needs and wants came ahead of mine.
She even insisted that wanting anything for myself was selfish and the one thing I dreaded the most was to be seen as selfish.
Sadly, whatever I gave wasn’t always wanted, appreciated or reciprocated which is what I wanted from Jim but that never happened.
Although that made me feel taken for granted and resentful I never stopped giving and didn’t understand why it wasn’t working. In fact, I blamed Jim for being thoughtless, unloving and selfish.
Despite all that the idea of leaving him never once crossed my mind.
And finally, though there were probably more reasons, I stayed because I believed I wasn’t worthy of being loved and happy.
This was a subconscious belief until it became conscious in 2002 when I finally was able to see the emptiness in my marriage.
This was a split-second event when something Jim said or did that I’d excused in the past felt as if someone had torn down the curtain in my mind that had shielded me from reality. And, once I saw it, I could no longer pretend it wasn’t so.
Even then I was unable to just walk away.
For one thing, I had nowhere to go but the real reason was that seeing the truth and doing something about it were worlds apart.
It took me another year and a lot of coaching before I felt strong enough to tell Jim I was leaving.
So this is what I learned.
The hardest part of the whole process was making the decision to leave because it required me to do a lot of inner work before I was able to move forward. But, finally, there came a point where the momentum just carried me forward.
Fast forward to today.
A few months ago I teamed up with the wonderful Nikola Howard.
Nikola’s passion is health, wellbeing, helping women ditch excessive weight and keeping it off.
Mine, as you know, is helping women really know, like and respect themselves so they can develop great relationships.
Together we’ve been running a successful series of webinars which is culminating in a half-day workshop called ‘Why loving self + good health = great relationships’.
This is a “can’t afford to miss it” opportunity so click here to find out more.
Look forward to seeing you there.