When we’re young and single, the idea of marriage is absolutely inspiring. It symbolizes true love, companionship, intimacy, and fun. But it doesn’t always turn out to be all sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes, unfortunately, we find ourselves in bad marriages. From the outside looking in, it appears simple and straightforward to end a bad marriage. But relationships are often anything but simple and straightforward. I’m writing this article to shed some light on the reasons why people stay in bad marriages.
But first, what is a bad marriage?
I would describe a bad marriage as a relationship that feels unsafe, chaotic, abusive, empty, and/or one-sided. Constant arguments and fights, a lack of intimacy, zero security or support, and manipulation are but some of the many terrible qualities of a bad marriage.
In a bad marriage, a person can feel trapped, depressed, apathetic, cold, hopeless, and anxious. There isn’t room for true expression of emotions, nor is there space for open dialogue and change.
Conversely, a good marriage is everything else. It is loving, supportive, safe, empowering, freeing, trusting, and joyful. It also offers genuine friendship, understanding, peace, and space for growth.
Sometimes, marriages dissolve into bad relationships at no fault of either spouse. A string of misunderstandings, a breakdown of communication, external problems, and a fear of abandonment can infect and destroy an otherwise healthy marriage.
Blindsided by what has happened, both spouses may have no idea how to deal with the bad marriage, let alone fix it.
It’s genuinely heartbreaking to see a good marriage turn bad, especially when it could have been avoided.
In other cases, one or both spouses are terribly incompatible with each other and have played a significant role in creating a bad marriage.
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Why Do We Stay In Unhappy Marriages?
Reason 1: Fear of change
What causes most people to stay in bad marriages is the fear of change. The unknown can be scarier than the bad marriages we have grown used to. That’s the problem with normalization. It tricks us into accepting subpar or bad situations while catastrophizing change.
As much as we have the capacity to be logical about marriage and divorce, even the thought of change can present overwhelming feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression.
And the more time we spend thinking about change, the harder it becomes to embrace it. We can concoct daunting and detailed scenarios of what divorce looks like until we end up emotionally and mentally crippled.
I believe that this behavior is known as paralysis by analysis.
Just like the loss of a loved one, you can never be fully prepared for divorce and what comes after.
You just have to be in a position to accept change in whatever form it comes. That’s where the problem lies for people who feel trapped in bad marriages.
Reason 2: Remorse and guilt
Have you ever heard of the term “dumper remorse” before?
It’s a term coined to describe a feeling of deep remorse and guilt for breaking up with someone.
Ultimately, the dumper feels bad for abandoning the relationship and putting their partner through pain and suffering.
Even in a bad marriage, there’s bound to be feelings of concern and care for your spouse. If you’ve been codependent or a people-pleaser, an exacerbated feeling of remorse and guilt may even accompany the thought of leaving your marriage.
To avoid these feelings, a person may opt to remain in their bad marriage in the hopes that something will change or that their spouse will initiate a separation someday.
Reason 3: Cultural and religious beliefs
Marriage is a prized union in many cultures and religions around the world, and divorce is considered an extremely drastic decision that has certain stigmas attached to it.
It’s not uncommon to remain in a bad marriage out of respect and commitment to a cultural or religious belief.
Granted, divorce is still an option, despite the aversion to it.
One could argue that all marriages go through a rough or bad season, which requires faith, commitment, hard work, and patience from both spouses.
In a time when people are trigger-friendly, there’s merit in encouraging couples to work through their problems before calling an end to their marriage.
Reason 4: Children
A loving parent will always do their best to create a loving and happy life for their children. Some parents are willing to go so far as to suffer for the well-being of their kids.
It may not be the best decision to remain in a bad marriage because children are incredibly intuitive and can sense when there’s something fundamentally wrong with their parent’s marriage.
But it is certainly true that the desire to keep the family unit together and maintain stability is one of the main reasons why people avoid divorce.
Good parents feel a lot of guilt for putting their kids through trauma and suffering over marital issues.
Understandably, they would want to avoid this, even if that means a lifetime of suffering in a bad marriage.
It’s noble but unfortunate and possibly misguided.
Reason 5: Lack of financial support
Financial dependence makes it incredibly difficult to consider divorce.
This is only worsened if an individual is unemployed or lacks the necessary qualifications to find a job that can adequately provide security for them.
In certain cultures, women are encouraged to marry for money and to stay at home. In a healthy marriage with a supportive spouse, this can be a wonderful set-up for both partners.
In an unhealthy and bad marriage, it can be a prison for the spouse who is stuck at home without any financial independence.
Related article: The pros and cons of marrying for money
Reason 6: Hope for change
Just because a marriage is bad doesn’t mean both spouses don’t love each other.
In fact, during times of hardship or loneliness, most of us have the ability or propensity to escape reality through the intoxication of nostalgia.
We think of a time when the relationship was full of hope, love, joy, and happiness. These memories flood us with hope while we entertain a vision of rekindling what has been lost.
Holding onto that slight chance that the marriage will improve can encourage people to stay in bad marriages for years, if not decades.
Reason 7: Low self-esteem
You’d be surprised at the disbelief someone with low self-esteem has when it comes to the prospect of having a good partner or a good marriage.
Even if they tried to imagine a better future, disempowering and critical thoughts inundated their minds, casting a huge shadow of doubt over their desire for a good marriage.
Until someone develops a healthy amount of self-respect and self-esteem, they will always grapple with poor boundaries and less than what they want or need.
Related article: The reason why self-esteem is important for relationships
Reason 8: External pressure
In some cases, there is loads of social pressure that forces people to remain in bad marriages. Parents, siblings, friends, or general societal expectations may trap them through guilt and shame.
It’s extremely stressful and scary to deal with the judgment, criticism, and expectations of everyone around you.
People have the habit of making you feel like an emotional wreck who isn’t seeing things clearly while having a logical and rational perspective.
For a decision like divorce, external pressure and opinions can heavily influence your decision-making process, especially when you’re vulnerable and lost.
Couple this with a lack of support from loved ones, and you can understand why many people struggle to leave a bad relationship.
I’m a proponent of working through problems and honoring marital vows, but I also understand the detrimental effects a bad marriage can have on one’s physical, mental, and spiritual health.
Granted, you shouldn’t just jump to divorce your spouse because the marriage has turned sour. But there are many steps you should take to try to resolve the issues in your marriage. If all else fails, then it may be time for you to consider ending the marriage.
Seek professional help, speak to your spouse, gain strength, and develop a belief in yourself.
Nowadays, I always turn to God because the guidance and strength I get from Him help me navigate trials and tribulations with dignity, compassion, and honor.
You deserve to have a good marriage, and you deserve to feel good.