"I just want to be happy."
We hear that regularly from people who want to end their marriages. The premise is simple: I am not happy in this marriage but I will be happy if it ends. Typically, they believe that when freed from this marriage they will develop a new and blissful relationship with someone else.
Sometimes a marriage should end. For example, it may be necessary to leave if a spouse or child is in danger. However most of the departing spouses I work with are not seeking safety; instead, they pursue an anticipated different life in which a new companion will make everything wonderful. More than twenty years working with marriages in trouble teaches me that typically the belief is a delusion. Unfortunately, for most of them, their anticipated "happily ever after" eventually evolves into "what was I thinking?"
There are several reasons that occurs.
A Faulty Assumption
People seem to have an underlying assumption that after divorce they will fall into the arms of the lover of their dreams.
Sometimes I think that I could motivate people to salvage their marriages if I could get them to understand some of the underlying reasons that 44% of the adult population in America are single. The rapidly rising ratio of singles to marrieds does not indicate that most people do not wish to be married; it more clearly represents the difficulty in our self-centered culture to develop a relationship with a person who genuinely cares about you.
It is easy to find someone who will use you; it is difficult to find someone who will selflessly love you.
I know many beautiful, intelligent women with great jobs and dazzling personalities who are alone, though that is not their preference. They have no lack of men who wish to take advantage of them, but cannot find the one who will love deeply and commit to a long-lasting relationship. I know many handsome, brilliant men with solid incomes and sparkling wit who dread going home to empty houses at night. They are tired of the single life. Though surrounded by women, they live in loneliness because they cannot find the one with whom they wish to share their future.
Before you end your marriage, consider how likely it is to find a solid, loving relationship. Is your future more likely to be happy by competing with the masses of singles searching for true love, or by working things out with the person you already know intimately? Every relationship carries risks. Solving your problems with the person who wants to be with you is far easier than sorting through strangers hoping to find one who will love you more than him- or herself.
An Unexpected Future
If you are thinking, "That doesn't apply to me. I already found the person I will be with for the rest of my life," perhaps you should think beyond the present. You are not nearly as secure as you think. I do not have the statistics at hand, but twenty years' experience working with marriages teaches me that relationships that begin through cheating have a very, very poor chance of success.
You likely think you are the exception.
Everyone does...until the terrible day they discover that they are not.
When one woman told me she and her lover were leaving their spouses for each other, I asked how they developed their emotional bond. She said they met on Facebook, eventually creating secret accounts their spouses did not know about so they could communicate freely. Her face fell instantly when I asked how she would know for sure he would never have another secret Facebook account. Or, for that matter, how she could be sure she would never have another. She indignantly replied, "He would never cheat on me. He loves me. I would never cheat on him. I love him." I gently reminded her that she surely felt the same way about her current husband when she married him, yet she now was cheating on him. Similarly, her lover must have felt the same way about his current wife when he married her.
I pressed, "Each of you have demonstrated that what you feel at the moment is more important to you than vows you made. Emotions change. They did before; they can again. What happens then?"
She scowled, "I thought I was in love when I married before. Now I know what love really is and this love will last a lifetime."
Against the advice of many who cared about her, she divorced her husband and married her paramour.
It lasted nearly two years.
Now she is alone. She left a man who loved her, though they had severe problems, for a man who made her feel loved beyond anything she had ever imagined. As happens so often, her fairytale love turned out to be just that, a fairytale. She gave up so much for a short-term elation. If she had decided to get the help she and her first husband needed, she would still be married – happily married once they worked things out - to a man who truly loved her.
Now, she is alone. Her life will never be the same.
A Fact of Life
In the beginning of a relationship, two people tend to be on their best behaviors as they try to make the best impression on each other. They tend to listen more, be more generous and giving, and are more attentive to the other's wishes. My friend Willard Harley calls it the Mother Teresa phase of a relationship. He says that in this phase each person feels "I want to do what makes you happy and avoid anything that makes you unhappy."
However, as time passes, we tend to listen less, become less giving, and are more attentive to our own wishes. Willard says we can evolve to what he calls the Attila the Hun phase where each feels, "I want to do what makes me happy and avoid anything that makes me unhappy."
When one relationship goes bad, it is easy to assume that we will find another that will be much better. However, assumptions have a way of leading to disaster. Things do not always work out the way we plan.
Every relationship has its problems. They start with rainbows; they eventually experience thunderstorms. While leaving one person may seem to be a solution to current difficulties, developing a relationship with a new person always leads to its own difficulties. Every relationship – even the birth of a child – carries the potential of pain over time. An advantage to fixing problems in a current relationship is that you know what the problems are. In any new or relatively new relationship, problems will come; however, you do not know what they will be.
Many have realized that the problems they left paled in comparison to the problems they encountered. Working things out with a current spouse minimizes risk of even greater pain lurking over the horizon in a new relationship.