I had someone come to me last week for advice. His relationship with a woman – a married woman – recently ended and he was reeling from the breakup and associated revelations.
“I don’t understand,” he wrote, “How can she tell me her marriage is so bad and then choose to stay in it?”
I groaned. I couldn’t help it. I have never heard from anyone who had a relationship with a married partner who was not told that the marriage was bad. In fact, I think that pronouncement is a prerequisite for infidelity.
And it drives me crazy.
First, I see this as an excuse. It’s a convenient way to lessen guilt and shift blame to the unsuspecting spouse. It’s basically saying, “I’m not cheating because I’m a bad person; I’m cheating because you’re a bad person.” By painting the marriage as bad, regardless of the veracity of the claim, the actions become justified.
I also read these statements as a cry of insecurity. In essence, “My husband/wife never appreciates me so I need you to fill in the void.” But when we seek validation outside of ourselves, it’s never enough.
The assertion of a bad marriage to an affair partner is also manipulative. It’s a sob story that can used to spur rescuing behavior. “I’ve tried so hard to be a good spouse but I’m a victim of my spouse’s actions.”
Ugh. Just no.
If you’re on the receiving end of these stories, listen between the claims. Watch actions, not words. Think about what this person has to gain by telling you about their bad marriage.
And realize that reality may be very different than the picture they are trying to paint. After all, most people that have affairs claim that they are happy in their marriages.
Yet they say otherwise.
Now of course, marriages can go bad. Some had signs of mold from their inception while others slowly rot over time. If you’re in a souring marriage, you have three choices:
Not by changing your spouse. But by changing yourself and your reactions. Instead of blaming your responses on your partner’s actions, dig deeper to uncover why you are upset. What is being triggered? Address that.
Your spouse isn’t perfect. And neither are you. Marriages have seasons of growth and periods of drought. Are you looking to your spouse to fill a void within yourself? Are you expecting your marriage to magically heal your childhood wounds? Are you assuming that your partner should meet all of your needs?
And if the defects are fatal? End it. There’s no reason to keep a marriage on life support forever.
Choosing to stay in the marriage while complaining about it is a form of passive acceptance. Yet it’s an acceptance that will keep you (and your marriage) miserable.
It’s really that simple.
Three choices – fix it, accept it or end it.