One of the most arduous decisions you may ever have to make is whether to stay married to someone who has cheated on you. For many people, the decision to not stay in the marriage is pretty straightforward, most often due to moralistic views about infidelity and the covenant of marriage. More often than not it’s complicated, and deciding whether to divorce or salvage a marriage can be heartbreaking and confusing. Marriage is a huge investment for many people, and as with anything in life, the greater the investment, the greater the loss. Marriage is tied up with many dreams, expectations, and fantasies, so divorce is a hugely difficult decision that should be taken very seriously.
Here are some issues that can get in the way of making a sound decision about whether to divorce:
Fear is at the core of most bad decisions. When we make choices in life based on fear, we are using the most primitive part of the human brain, a part designed to help us respond to dangerous situations for survival purposes. Human beings are the only species with a more evolved part of the brain that allows us to assess, reflect, and consider a situation before acting on it. This is the part of the brain we want to be using when making decisions about whether to divorce. Slowing things down, not acting hastily, and talking with a professional will help you achieve this goal.
Many divorcing couples base their decision to stay in a marriage on their children. While it is extremely important to consider the impact of divorce on your children, it is helpful to not make them the determining factor. Children can easily be used as scapegoats to help parents avoid looking at all the options, even if those choices do not offer the most ideal consequences. There are many divorced households in which the children actually do better, so staying together for the children is not always the only and best solution. Meeting with a child therapist and reading up on the impact of divorce on children will help you make an educated decision.
Staying in a marriage because you are afraid there is nothing better out there is an issue of low self-esteem. Not feeling worthy of something better leads people to stay in bad marriages at the expense of their own happiness. Working on building your self-esteem and being clear about your value will help you make a proper decision about staying or leaving. Feeling empowered and complete with yourself is a valuable goal regardless of where you are in life, so use this opportunity for personal growth.
Thinking in terms of right and wrong is the most obvious form of black-and-white thinking. It is easy to slip into a moralistic or righteous place after an infidelity, but it’s just a way of coping with the painful truth. Black-and-white thinking is very limiting and can lead to making a decision that is not founded on the whole truth. It is important to approach the decision to divorce with flexibility and openness to all options. Staying in the gray, as opposed to rigidly clinging to the black or white, allows for a more efficient and genuine decision.
Anger, not unlike fear, is not the best state of mind to be in when making a decision about your marital situation. Anger is a defense mechanism we use to gain control in a powerless situation, and it can cause us to make rash decisions that are not based on fact. If you respond to the circumstances of your marital conflict with anger as opposed to a calmness and clarity, you become blind to the possibility of potential solutions or answers. While the anger you feel may be justified and expected, it does not serve you in dealing with this important decision.
Uncertainty breeds the tendency to cling to what we know. When it comes to the unpredictable future that is inherent in divorce, the first instinct is to hold on to the past because it’s familiar. The decision to stay or leave a marriage can be clouded by the unpredictable nature of your future without your partner, but the truth is that your future is unpredictable whether you are married or not. However, it is important to remember that the best predictor of the future is the past, so use your past experiences, successes, and failures to provide you with an accurate assessment of what you are capable of doing going forward. This will help you make a choice that is founded on the realities of who you are.
Deciding to stay in or leave a marriage can be torturous. Often, the heart and mind are conflicting when it comes to marriage and divorce, so it is normal to feel confused and uncertain about what to do. It can also be confounding to make a decision about something that doesn’t appear to have any positive consequences. Consulting a professional, becoming aware of your thinking and feelings, and taking the proper amount of time and space is integral to making the best possible decision for your future.
© Copyright 2010 by Andra Brosh, PhD, BCHN, therapist in Pasadena, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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