Marriage: Should I stay or should I go?

Q Over the past few months, I have been seriously considering leaving my husband. We have been married for 14 years and we have three children but somewhere along the way, we have grown apart. I am torn between doing what’s “right” by the children and what is “right” for me. I don’t know how I feel anymore and don’t want to open up too much to my friends, especially if I decide to stay. How do I start unpacking this more in my head before making my decision?

A My first instinct is to ask, have you discussed your feelings with your husband? Fourteen years ago, you and your husband committed to starting a life together but the way forward no longer seems clear. As much as you are making a decision for your individual wellbeing, to make a decision that is right for you, you really need to have all the information. That includes knowing how your husband feels about you and your relationship. Assuming you do not feel unsafe within the relationship, talking to your husband could give you helpful food for thought as to whether your relationship issues can be addressed and enhanced. Imagine making a decision like this without his input and then wondering later, “What if”? How would you feel if he told you he had made a similar decision without your input?

Relationships are hard work, and after 14 years together, it is quite “normal” to grow apart. The question now is: what do you want to do with these feelings? It is a good idea to take the time to process what is going on for you and speaking to a counsellor could also be very helpful. A counsellor is a neutral person who will explore in depth, and in a neutral way, all possibilities and beliefs, and also whether relationship counselling could be an option for you both. A counsellor can also help you work out how to talk to your husband if this is something you are not sure about.

You could use the following in preparation for counselling, or to explore on your own:

  • If there was the possibility of things changing in your relationship, would you stay? For example, if both you and your husband committed to working on the relationship, would this be enough motivation for you to feel positive about the future? If the answer is “yes” or “maybe”, then it is worth exploring.
  • What are the things that are working well in your relationship and what are the things that are not working well? When you consider what isn’t working, are these areas where skills can be enhanced or learned? For example, many couples who attend counselling struggle with skills such as dealing with conflict, committing time to be together or showing love and affection towards each other. Think about some of these aspects:
    • Affection
    • Intimacy
    • Conversation
    • Recreational companionship
    • Honesty and openness
    • Financial support
    • Domestic support
    • Family commitment

Everyone’s needs are different and it can be helpful to consider how well your partner meets some of your needs in the above categories, but also how you meet your partner’s needs. It is surprising how individual needs within a relationship can both differ and coincide.

This is just a starting point and there is much reading you could do on relationships, but start somewhere and know that when you do make a decision, it is well-informed. Two books I recommend are 10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage by John and Julie Gottman and The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. 

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Tanya Russell

Tanya Russell is CatholicCare's Assistant Director and a registered psychologist.

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