Marriage: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

marriage: should I stay or go

From time to time, I have people contact me with a description of their marriage or their thoughts about filing for divorce. After describing the situation, they often conclude with the following question: should I stay or should I go?

I have yet to encounter an email which prompts me to answer that question directly with the advice to divorce or to stay in the marriage. After all, barring the extreme cases of physical threats and violence, that is not an outside observer’s call to make. Instead of offering a verdict, I instead pose questions gathered from the shared information.

I have found that often the inclination to stay in a marriage or to leave via divorce is often rooted in some assumptions or thoughts that have not been fully explored. These are common statements that I receive and some of the questions that I pose in response –


The following are not always a good reason to leave a marriage:


I miss or crave the independence and freedom that comes with being single.

Specifically, what does freedom look like to you? Feel like? How would being independent change how you move through life and alter the decisions you make? Are there ways to find more space and agency within your marriage?

What are some of the downsides that come with the freedoms of single hood? What are some of the positives you only gain from a long-term relationship? Is the grass actually greener, or is it because of your current perspective? Are you putting energy into watering your own grass?

How much of this feeling of being tied down can be attributed to your marriage and how much is because you’re feeling the pressure of being an adult (and maybe missing the freedoms of your youth)?


I have a crush on somebody and it makes me feel so alive.

Isn’t that feeling of early infatuation so powerful? What do you like about yourself when you’re with this person? What do they see in you that makes you feel desired? How are you different with them than you are with your spouse?

Are you seeing this crush in their entirety, or are they only presenting their best selves? Does the crush have the traits that would make them a good long-term partner or possible parent?

What was it like when you first met your spouse? Do you put as much energy and intention into the relationship now as you did then? Are there times when you still see your spouse through that lens of infatuation, excitement or curiosity? Do you struggle to see them apart from their role as parent or caretaker or are you taking on a “parental” role with them?

When are other times or situations that also make you feel alive?


I’m bored in my marriage; it’s just not exciting anymore.

Are you bored or are you boring? What are you bringing to the marital table to bring excitement or interest? Do you tend to respond with “yes” or with “no”? Are you curious about your spouse?

When was the last time you and your partner did something new together? Do you ever ask your spouse questions that you do not know the answer to?

What do you do as an individual to keep from becoming stagnant? When was the last time you did something that scares you or that you struggle with? Are you taking responsibility for your own stuff?


I’m feeling restless. I want to make some major changes in my life.

Have you brainstormed areas of possible change? Have you approached your spouse with some of your ideas? Are you assuming that they aren’t interested in your propositions before you’ve asked?

Are you living a life that feels purposeful? Do you have any feelings of emptiness? Do you feel like you can be yourself around others? Have you been living the life you want, or the one that someone else decided for you?

Are you uncomfortable with some area(s) of your life and you’re hoping to leave them behind? How do you envision life being different after you make these major changes?


I feel like my life has gone off course. This isn’t what I imagined.

Has your destination changed or is it more that the path isn’t as straightforward as you pictured? What adventures and sights have you enjoyed that you wouldn’t have if your life took the expected course?

What role did you expect your spouse to play in your life? How did you think marriage would look? Do you struggle with the contrast between the partner you imagined and the one you have?

Have you strayed from your core values and beliefs? If so, what can you do to recommit to your guiding principles?


My partner has changed. They are no longer the person I married.

What are some of the life events that have impacted your partner or your marriage since you met?  In what ways has your partner changed for the better? Can you find a way to reframe the other changes in a more compassionate or understanding light?

Can you respond to these changes with curiosity? Have you tried to get to know your “new” spouse? Have you talked to someone who likes your spouse as they are to gain their perspective?

Would you be upset with a child for not being the same person at high school graduation as they were in preschool? How have you changed since the beginning of the relationship? How have these changes in your partner challenged you to grow?


The following are not always a good reason to stay in a marriage:


Leaving would break my spouse’s heart.

Do you feel like it’s your role to protect your partner’s feelings and/or to take care of them? Is it fair to your spouse for you to withhold important information from them? How might they feel if they find out later that you wanted to leave?

Are you underestimating your spouse’s strength? Have you explored this thought with them? Do you know with certainty that your partner wants to stay in the marriage? How can you broach this topic with them in a kind and compassionate manner?


It’s easier just to stay.

If your friend described this same situation, what advice would you give them? Have you ever gone through something difficult that was worth it in the end? Is there energy required to stay?

Do you feel like you have a realistic idea of the effort needed to divorce and start a new life? Have you talked to somebody who is a year or more out of divorce to gain insight into the process? How do you think you will feel about this decision ten years down the road? Twenty?


I’m scared to leave. I am intimidated by starting over. I’m worried that I’ll be alone forever.

Fear can be so convincing, can’t it? What scares you the most about leaving or starting over? Are you trying to look at the whole big picture at once? Have you broken it down into smaller, more manageable steps?

What is a time in your life when you overcame a fear? How did you feel leading up to your action? How did you feel after?

Which is worse for you – the idea of feeling alone in your marriage or the idea of being alone? Is it possible that your fear is lying to you?


I’m staying for the kids.

Are you and your spouse able to maintain a loving and peaceful environment for the kids? Do your marital tensions impact how you interact with your children? Have you seen changes in the kids that may be indicative of their stress at home?

Will you stay after the kids leave home? How might their parent’s divorce impact them when they are older?

Have you talked to divorced parents and/or adults of divorced parents to learn more about what it’s like from someone who has experienced it? Did you have a traumatic experience from your own parents’ divorce? How could you make divorce less harmful for your children?


I’m hoping it will improve.

If you for certain that your spouse and/or marriage would be the same in five years, would you decide to stay? Have you communicated your wants and needs with your partner in a way that they can understand?

Are you putting up with abusive or cruel behavior? Would you want your child to be in a marriage with somebody like your spouse?

Are you in love with your partner’s potential? Have they promised to change? Have they made any efforts? How long are you willing to wait for promised change?


I’m staying out of obligation.

Do you feel trapped by your marriage? Do you feel contempt and/or frustration for your partner? If so, how might that impact the energy in your home? If your spouse gave you permission to back out of your vows, how do you think you would respond?

Are there situations when it is okay to change your mind? Are there any “dealbreakers” in marriage for you? What are they?

If you discovered that your spouse was only staying out of a sense of obligation, how would you feel? Does divorce feel like failure to you?


And for those of you seriously considering divorce, here are twelve questions you MUST ask yourself first.


8 Years Ago Today

8 years ago today

There’s something about the tangible signs of the passage of time that makes it all the more real.

I had a precious visit with my dear friend and her daughter last Sunday. This was the friend who took me in during that awful year between the tsunami and the legal cessation of the marriage. And she welcomed her daughter into her home only months before she also welcomed me in.

Her first birthday corresponded with my court date. And when I saw her, now nine and quickly catching up with me on height, I remembered that Sunday was the anniversary of my divorce.

I took a moment, took her in, and reflected on all of the growth we have both experienced these past eight years…


Eight years ago today, I awoke afraid of seeing the man who had abandoned me eight months before. And when he passed me in the courthouse hall, I didn’t even recognize him.

Eight years ago today, I was ready for the divorce I never wanted from the man I thought I knew.

Eight years ago today, I sat in a courtroom with the man I had spent half of my life with. A man I once considered my best friend. We never made eye contact.

Eight years ago today, I looked at his face for any sign of the man I had loved.  I saw none. After sixteen years, he was truly a stranger to me.

Eight years ago today, I sat alone in a hallway waiting for the attorneys to decide his fate and mine. Hoping that the judge saw through his lies and would not fall sway to him charms. She didn’t, even asking my husband’s attorney if he was “psycho.” The lawyer could only shrug.

Eight years ago today, I cried and shook with the realization that it was all over. It was a relief and yet the finality was jarring.

Eight years ago today, I felt a heaviness lift as I cut the dead weight of him from my burden. I believed I couldn’t begin to heal until his malignancy had been removed.

Eight years ago today, I laughed when I learned he hadn’t paid his attorney. I had warned the man my husband was a con. Maybe he believed me now.

Eight years ago today, I held tightly to that decree, still believing that its declarations had power. I felt relief that he would have to pay back some of what he stole from the marriage. The relief was short lived.

Eight years ago today, I took my first steps as a single woman. Steps I never expected to take. The first few were shaky. But I soon started to find my stride.

Eight years ago today, I sat around a restaurant table with friends and my mother. A table that had held my husband and I countless times over our marriage. We celebrated the end of the marriage that night. I had celebrated my anniversary there the year before.

Eight years ago today, I read my husband’s other wife’s blog for the last time, curious if she would mention anything about the court date. She did not. I erased the URL from my history. It no longer mattered.

Eight years ago today, I sealed the piles of paperwork from the divorce and the criminal proceedings into a large plastic tub. As the lid clicked in place, I felt like I was securing all of that anguish in my past.

Eight years ago today, I started to wean myself off of the medication that allowed me to sleep and eat through the ordeal. I was thankful it had been there, but I no longer wanted the help.

Eight years ago today, I fell asleep dreaming of hope for the future rather than experiencing nightmares of the past.

And now, eight years on, I could not be happier with where I am.

Not because of the divorce.

But because losing everything made me thankful for everything.

Because being blind made me learn how to see.

Because being vulnerable created new friendships and bonds.

Because being destroyed made me defiantly want to succeed.

And because losing love made me determined to find it again.

I am happier than I’ve ever been.

And I could not be where I am without eight years ago today.


21 Important Repercussions of Marrying Young

marrying young

When I married my first husband at the age of twenty-two, I certainly didn’t think I was marring young. We had been together for six years, lived together for four and had even moved across the country as a couple. I felt grown. Capable. Confident.

And so sure that I was making the right decision.

And for the ten years we were married, I never questioned that decision. It was only after the marriage ended that I became aware of some of the repercussions of marrying young:

1 – Independence isn’t fully developed.

I felt independent because I was paying my own way and out from under parental control. But the reality is that I was still relying greatly on my boyfriend turned fiancé turned husband. I never had to make decisions completely by myself because I was never completely by myself.

When we’re young, independence can be confused with the ability to stay out without a curfew or to eat cereal for dinner for week straight. It’s only later that we realize that independence also means being willing to accept full and complete responsibility for your choices and being able to make major decisions based upon what is right for you, not because of what is the easiest.

2 – You can be blinded to changes in your partner.

I had a false confidence in my perception of my first husband. I thought that since I knew his mother’s maiden name, his childhood friends and even the location of his preschool, that I knew him. What I didn’t yet know was that the sixteen-year-old I fell in love with had morphed as we moved into our twenties.

We are all prone to confirmation bias, yet there is a surety that accompanies young marriages that doesn’t happen when we’re older. And when we see people as they were, not as they are, we can be opening ourselves up to some very rude awakenings.

3 – You’re afraid to change or grow because it may threaten the relationship.

Youth is characterized by growth and change. Yet, if you’re already in an established relationship, you may find yourself hesitant to explore your beliefs and interests because of the threat that personal transformations may have on your relationship.

This restraint can easily morph into resentment and a feeling of being “held back.” This dissatisfaction (and the fear it can trigger in the other partner) can become a major threat to the health of the relationship.

4 – The family of orientation and the family of procreation become muddled.

The family of orientation is the one you grew up in. When you quickly move from this family to the one of procreation (or choice), you often finalize your growing up within the second family.

This overlap means increases the chances that you respond to adult situations in a childlike way and that you carry your roles from childhood into your adult life without reflection and adjustment.

5 – Boundaries between self and the couple become blurry.

It was an eye-opening moment for me when I realized how many of my now-ex husband’s beliefs I had adopted. Assimilating his views wasn’t intentional; it was simply a matter of proximity and laziness. I simply found it easier to agree than to examine my own preferences.

When you’re together from a young age, “I” and “we” can become synonymous. I see a healthy relationship as an overlapping Venn diagram where each person has significant autonomy as well as the shared life of the partnership. In marrying young, the overlapping region often dominates the others.

6 – Ending the relationship is seen as overwhelmingly terrifying.

Before my divorce, I could not imagine life without my first husband. In fact, the thought of losing him (either to death or divorce) was enough to send me into a panicked mess. And that overwhelming fear was a contributing factor in my inability to initiate the difficult conversations or to see the reality of what was happening.

There is a balance between being willing to call it quits after the most minor of road bumps and being so afraid to leave that you’ll put up with anything. When you marry young, you can end up accepting or ignoring behaviors because of an overwhelming fear of being alone.

7 – You may feel a sense of being repressed or restricted.

I will never forget the strange sense of mania that possessed me during my divorce. I was a woman unleashed.

Many people that marry young have a feeling of being held back by their marriage or their spouse. They can feel frustrated or restless within the bounds of their marriage and they may look for ways to act out or push for more freedom.

8 – Both partners may obsess over what they missed out on.

The grass on the other side isn’t greener, but you don’t know that if you’ve never explored other pastures.

When you marry young and settle down at the time when others are stepping out, you can believe – either accurately or not – that you’ve missed out on important experiences and milestones of youth that others have enjoyed. These thoughts can be persuasive and even become all-consuming.

9 – Adulthood becomes synonymous with couple hood.

When my ex husband left, I realized that I had never dated men before. Only boys. It was a strange feeling, realizing that I had never been an adult without him. There was childhood…and then there was couple hood. Nothing in between.

Growing up doesn’t mean that you have to be married or even partnered. There is a benefit to learning how to adult before you learn how to be married.

10 – The false confidence of youth may leave some questions unexplored.

I knew everything when I was sixteen. Now, twenty-four years later, I feel like I know less than I did then.

The unchallenged certainty of youth means that you’re less likely to challenge your assumptions or consider alternate ideas. And as I’ve learned over the years, being sure often correlates with being wrong.

11 – Major decisions can be made with an “I’ll show them” attitude.

We all know that the best way to ensure that a teenagers will do something is to tell them not to do it. Many young marriages begin as a way of asserting independence over parental or community control. This is especially true for those who have grown up in very conservative or repressive environments.

It’s natural for teenagers to want to break free and to explore their own ideas and desires. Yet when those urges are combined with a serious vow, the consequences of the commitment may not be fully realized until later.

12 – There are fewer data points to analyze when evaluating a potential partner.

I hope to never be judged by the person I was in eighth grade. Yet I married a man larger based on who he was in high school. When you marry young, you have less information about your partner. You don’t yet know how they are at sustaining friendships over many years or how they handle being passed over for a promotion at work.

When relationships develop later in life, you have more information about how the person handles life’s challenges and you have more data points to connect to determine their character.

13 – The power of “firsts” can increase emotional intensity.

Do you remember your first kiss? How about your third? Or tenth? Firsts, based solely on their novelty, have inflated power and importance. When you marry young, you are naturally going to experience many of these first with your partner.

There is a beauty in sharing your life with the person with whom you shared many firsts, yet the added importance and power of memory can also make it more difficult to let go when it is necessary.

14 – Insecurities around career launching can lead to poor decisions.

In modern society, we often define ourselves and our worth at least partly through our careers. Marrying young means that you’ve entered into a commitment before your place in your career is fully realized.

There is often an insecurity that tags along like an insistent little brother while you’re navigating those formative adult years and trying to find your niche, not to mention your purpose. And insecurity often leads to poor decisions.

15 – A naive conviction in a “life script” can lead to marrying for the sake of marrying.

I often see young people more in love with the idea of being married than they are with their partner. At some point, they decided that they needed to be married by a certain age in order to fulfill their ideas about what adult life should like.

And so they say “I do” before they consider what comes afterwards. Marrying young often accompanies an idealism about how life will unfold. And when reality fails to follow the script, it can lead to some major doubts and uncertainty.

16 – The immature communication habits of youth may become ingrained.

When I was in middle school, many “conversations” with my boyfriends occurred through third parties, three-way calls or passed notes. Very little information was exchanged through direct one-to-one communication.

When marrying young, those inefficient and ineffective communication patterns can easily become habit and develop into the normal way of conveying information within the marriage. Considering how critical open and honest communication is for a relationship, this can develop into a major problem.

17 – Both partners are more likely to have an idealistic view about finding their soul mate.

The teenage fascination with the Twilight series offers a glimpse into the romanticized viewpoint of the teenage mind. The young are more likely to believe in a soul mate and may be more likely to view marital strife as an indication of choosing the wrong person instead of a sign of needing to learn how to work together.

Age brings with it an acceptance of imperfection and allows for more realistic expectations of self and others.

18 – The intensity of adolescent feelings can overwhelm rational thought.

There’s a reason that the characters in Romeo and Juliet are teenagers. Adults would rarely respond with such impulsive passion. Every teenager I’ve ever known (which, after seventeen years of teaching, is in the thousands), has believed that they are the first ones to ever feel so intently.

Especially when you’ve only felt the initial and overwhelming neurotransmitter cocktail of early love once, you can falsely attributive to your partner rather than your biology. Marrying young arises from an emotional response whereas sustaining a marriage requires more of a rational approach.

19 – There is a lack of peer-based marital support.

There is a marriage support group that meets every Friday morning at the Starbucks near my school. The youngest members look to be in their late twenties. When you marry young, you’re in a different world than that of your peers. And it’s difficult to get emotional and relationship support from people that can’t relate to your situation.

Marriages exist within a larger community. When that community consists of singles trying to hook up or bouncing from one path to another, it’s easy to feel like you’re stranded on a marital island with no one to turn to.

20 – Financial stressors are pretty much a given from the beginning.

I remember feeling rich the first time I earned more than minimum wage. That extra $.15 per hour meant that budgeting for the weekly grocery trip was just a little bit easier. Like most young people, money was a struggle from the very beginning. There was never enough coming in and it was challenging to prepare for the unexpected – yet inevitable –  expenses.

Money stress is relationship stress. When marrying young, you are going to experience financial pressures from the beginning and you may not yet have the communication skills and experience to successfully navigate them. Don’t underestimate the emotional power that money has over us; fights about money are often about so much more.

21 – Your sense of self is intertwined with your partner.

This is probably the biggest repercussion of marrying young. It may be cliche, but it’s true – your twenties are all about figuring out who you are. And when you cannot see yourself without your partner, you never really get a chance to fully develop who YOU are apart from the relationship.

Ultimately, marrying young doesn’t doom a relationship any more than it guarantees a happily ever after. The age in which you enter into a relationship is only one of many factors that determines its longevity and success.

And if you use this post in an attempt to persuade some young ones to wait to marry, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. After all, they know everything. 🙂

The Biggest Mistake I Made in My First Marriage: The Argument For Arguing

My ex-husband and I never argued.

We never disagreed on where to go to dinner. We didn’t fight about what color to paint the kitchen. There were no quarrels over where to go on vacation. We didn’t even engage in debate over politics or religion.

We either agreed about everything or made the decision to acquiesce (often made without any conscious participation) in order to avoid any conflict.

I thought this was a sign of a good marriage, an indication of a well-matched pair. I would listen to my friends detail their frustrations with their partner’s dissenting viewpoints and breathe an internal sigh of relief that I didn’t have that predicament.

And then he left.

Without an argument. Without confrontation. Without a spoken word.

He simply stated his plans via text and pulled out of the garage and out of my life forever.

And I had the strangest feeling. For the first time in my life, I wanted a fight.


When I chose my second husband, one of the traits that drew me to him was his comfort with conflict. Not only did I want that in a partner, I wanted someone that could help me become better at acknowledging and addressing points of contention.

It hasn’t been easy to go from never arguing to becoming comfortable (or at least not feel threatened) with disagreement. Yet, even as I’m learning, I’ve come to appreciate the value of marital discord.


Promotes an Environment of Honesty and Transparency

I walked into the house and saw a Kindle box on the kitchen island. This was in 2008, when the devices were still far from cheap. And our coffers were far from full. Surprised at the purchase, I turned to my husband. He began to lay out his (rehearsed) justification for the acquisition (something about travel and book prices… never mind the fact that he never visited the public library two miles down the street).

I didn’t buy his reasoning. The device seemed frivolous and indulgent and, in light of the fact that we had just dropped major money on the house, stupid.

But in the interest of marital harmony, I bit my tongue, swallowed my words and allowed a silent agreement. Which according to the financial records I recovered after the divorce, he perceived as an invitation to continue to spend recklessly and secretively.

When arguments are allowed, it’s harder for the truth to remain tucked away in clandestine omissions and calculated lies. An environment where dissenting opinions are routinely shared encourages transparency and honesty, both healthy qualities in a marriage.


Allows Practice Having the Difficult Conversations

I really didn’t like mums. Yet when he professed his affinity for the autumnal blooms, I readily agreed with his assessment. It was stupid of me, pointless even.

Everyday disagreements provide opportunities to listen to dissenting opinions without feeling personally attacked or threatened. The low-stakes arguments become a practice ring, where the delicate footwork of negotiation and compromise can be practiced and improved upon.

Because at some point, in every relationship, there will be a major disagreement. The kind that potentially alters how you view the person and may even threaten the very core of the relationship. And you don’t want to go into that fight as a rookie.


Provides an Opportunity For You to See Your Partner at Their Worst 

We often choose to form a relationship with someone because of how they are when they’re at their best. But a clear picture of their character won’t emerge until they are stressed, emotional and maybe even responding to a verbal barrage.

In other words, people show you who they really are when you’re in a heated disagreement with them.

This is an opportunity to see how they respond when the going gets tough. Do they accept responsibility or deflect it? Do they easily admit mistakes or lob attacks in defense? Can they maintain control of themselves? Are they able to find humor amongst the tension? Do they retreat and if so, is it temporary or long-lasting? Once you’ve seen the worst, you know what you’re accepting with your vows.


Encourages You to Recognize Your Partner as an Independent Entity

When you’ve been together for a long time, the edges can become a bit blurred. As you share experiences, your opinions and views have a tendency to become more similar. But no matter how like-minded you are, your spouse is an individual with his or her own perspectives, beliefs and conclusions. And an argument is a great time to be reminded of that.

One of the cruel truths about marriage is that we are excited by and attracted to novelty. And there’s not much opportunity for the unfamiliar in a long-term relationship. Yet when you hear your partner say something surprising (and in opposition to your stance), it allows you to see them in a new light.



Presents Opportunities for Problem-Solving and Early Intervention

My favorite arguments are the ones that end in my husband and I working together to problem-solve a solution. We may have started on opposing sides, but we transition to working as a team to defeat the issue (instead of trying to defeat the other person).

Disagreements act as flashlights, shining light on the problems that potentially threaten the relationship. When these issues are brought into conscious awareness, they can be addressed and potentially resolved before they grow too big to root out completely.


Serves as a Reminder For You to Own Your Stuff

It usually takes me some time to recalibrate after an argument. Some of this stems from my residual anxiety about abandonment (if my ex left without a fight, what does a fight mean?) and some is just from my overly sensitive and analytical nature (if I take this disagreement and crosscheck it with what happened four years ago…). And none of this has anything at all to do with my now-husband.

Disagreements are a (sometimes painful) reminder that we are responsible for our emotions, our own reactions and ultimately, our own well-being. At the end of the day, all that stuff that’s in your brain is yours. So own it.


And while we’re on the subject of arguments, here’s some pointers on how to fight fairly with your spouse.



Walking the Narrow Line Between Seeking to Understand and Making Excuses

The Netflix series Mindhunters takes a fascinating look at the early days of the FBI’s research into profiling serial killers. At that time, the overall viewpoint of the bureau was to expend all of their resources on catching these killers after they had committed their crimes. Once they were apprehended and restrained, they were to be ignored, dismissed as aberrations.

Yet the investigators at the heart of this series had a different perspective. Instead of waiting until multiple murders had been committed, they wondered if, by interviewing convicted serial killers and analyzing data, they could instead gain some insight into the conditions that lead people to become monsters.

The powers-that-be were horrified. Why would any attention be paid towards these men? Why would any empathy (even feigned in attempt to gain trust) be extended?

Yet, often behind the brass’s backs, in dark and desolate barred rooms, these men-turned-monsters revealed their stories to the investigators. Watching these scenes unfold, I was filled with alternating revulsion as they described their crimes (and the motivations behind their actions) and compassion as their own abuse and trauma was revealed.

What they did was horrific. And in most cases, what they had endured was horrific. The latter certainly doesn’t excuse the former. Yet it does help to provide some understanding, some context, of how those men could do those things. And that understanding can help to both provide some healing for those impacted and also recognize and sometimes intervene when someone seems to be following a similar pathway.

We all have a tendency to ascribe our failures to external (and often malleable) causes and assign other’s shortcomings to their own internal character flaws. In fact, this propensity is so common, it has even been assigned a name: the fundamental attribution error. In normal life, this can be seen by a student justifying their failing grade by blaming the pencil that kept breaking or because they believe the teacher has it out for them. While at the same time, they may attribute their friend’s poor grade to their lack of preparation and inherent laziness.

(Interestingly, this trends the opposite way with positive outcomes – while you chalk your promotion up to your abilities and performance, your coworker’s promotion may be described as “lucky.”)

Of course, the reality is somewhere in between. We are all a product of our internal selves and our external environment. We are both nature and nurture. Our own actions are born both from within our character and from what we face in the world beyond. And the same is true for those around us, even those that behave in incomprehensible and reprehensible ways.

In our long weeks of convalescence at our home, we have been devouring the Marvel universe shows on Netflix (Daredevil and the like). I’m not always a fan of comic-based entertainment; much of it feels too simplistic and filled with one-dimensional characters. Yet these series are different. The heroes have their demons and the villains have their virtues. No one is all-good or all-bad, just variations on shading between.

And the longer I’ve lived and the more honest I’ve been with myself, I think that’s generally the way things are. And I believe that we can make ourselves better by accepting the responsibility for our own choices and we can make the world better by striving to understand why others make the decisions they do. Not in an effort to excuse them from the consequences, but in an attempt to see the connections and possibly be able to recognize trouble before it becomes destruction.

And this is where I am now when it comes to those that have affairs.

It certainly hasn’t always been this way. When I first learned of my ex’s betrayals, I was livid. Enraged. I blamed him for putting me in that mess and all of my energy was directed towards that end. His pitiful excuses made for his behavior (I can just hear his voice whining to the police, “But I just wanted to be happy.”) only served to feed my ire. After all, he had acted without concern for me. Why should I have any concern for him?

This anger filled me for years. By extension, it carried over to anyone that admitted to ever stepping out on their relationships. Just as foretold by the fundamental attribution error, I ascribed all of their actions to the cold calculations of a malignant soul.

All that anger never altered what he had done. All that condemnation never altered the actions of any cheaters I encountered. All that blame never made me feel any better.

And then, ever so slowly, as my personal pain began to fade, I began to listen.

Not only to those who had experienced betrayal. But also to those who had perpetrated it upon their partners.

I found that some of my anger had been replaced by curiosity – Why are some people compelled to cheat? How do they rationalize the pain that this causes their partners? Are they running towards attention or running away from pain? How do they view their marriages, their spouses? Do they feel guilt or regret? Would they make the same choices again? (If you haven’t read or listened to Esther Perel, she has amazing insights into infidelity. Highly recommend!)

And often their explanations rang flat, mere excuses for selfish behavior. Yet, I also uncovered important information about the pressures we put on marriage, the isolation of mental illness, the anxiety around conflict and the fear of being alone.

And it is only by listening that we can begin to gain some understanding.

Not to excuse. (No matter the reasons, cheating is both a selfish act and a coward’s way out.)

But to gain perspective and insight. (Even in those cases when we can never grasp the why or the how behind the actions.)

So that hopefully we can recognize it before it’s too late and maybe even stop it from occurring in the first place.