Marriage is often held up as the most sacred of institutions, so the question, “Is it better to divorce or stay unhappily unmarried?”, is hardly uncommon. There are, of course, consequences of staying in an unhappy marriage, but given stringent social norms and the fear of being ostracized or talked about, many unhappy spouses are often left wondering things like, “Is staying together better than divorce?”
Things get especially difficult when you’re leaving a marriage with kids, forcing you to contemplate, “Is it better to divorce or stay unhappily married for kids?” It’s easy to say, “Be brave and walk out”, but there’s a lot to think about since you’re not just leaving a relationship but an entire life you’ve built with your spouse. Finances, custody of children, where you might live – all of these come into serious consideration, making it rather knottier than your average breakup.
To get some insight into this conundrum, we spoke to psychologist Nandita Rambhia (MSc, Psychology), who specializes in CBT, REBT, and couples counseling. If you’re wondering, “Is it better to divorce or stay unhappily married?”, or know someone who is, read on.
Is It Better To Divorce Or Stay Unhappily Married? Expert Verdict
Is it better to divorce or stay unhappily married? This is a painful and complex question. Take the case of Iain and Jules, both in their 30s and married for seven years. “We’d grown apart for a time, and I knew for a fact I wasn’t happy in the marriage,” says Jules, a professor of cultural studies in Colorado, “But, I had to ask myself, “Is staying together better than divorce?” I knew I’d be giving up a lot if I left the marriage.”
A study shows that long-term, low-quality marriages lead to lower levels of happiness and health. There are very real consequences of staying in an unhappy marriage, warns Nandita. “An unhappy relationship can lead to depression, anxiety, psychological issues, and social issues. These may also manifest as physical problems and medical conditions such as high blood pressure, sugar, and so on. Any unhappy relationship will make you depressed, and therefore, staying in one means you’ll be harming yourself physically and mentally.”
- What about when you have kids?
Do you stay in an unhappy marriage for the kids? “There are various levels of unhappy marriages. Some may be repairable, and others may have become toxic relationships beyond repair. Maybe you’re thinking, “I hate my husband but we have a child.” In that case, does it really make sense to stay on, fooling yourself into believing that you can offer your child a sense of security and well-being in a chronically unhappy home?
“If a marriage is truly unhappy, it makes no sense to stay for the children because the kids will also feel the negative vibes of the relationship and assume that this is how normal life feels – constantly sad and tense. Later, they too will develop unhealthy relationships with partners because that’s what they grew up seeing,” Nandita says.
Is it better to divorce or stay unhappily married for the kids? We’d say if a marriage isn’t making you happy, it’s doubtful that staying in it will make your children happy either.
- What if the marriage is abusive?
Let’s be clear. An abusive relationship has no place in your life. Even if it’s emotional abuse and there are no physical signs showing, you do not deserve to be in an unhappy marriage where you are constantly being belittled or mocked. Of course, it’s easier said than done to walk away from an abusive marriage, or even an emotionally abusive relationship but do not blame or beat yourself up over it. If you can, walk out. Stay with a friend, look for your own apartment, and find a job if you don’t already have one. And remember, it is not your fault.
- My partner has strayed, do I stay or leave?
This is a tough one. Whether it’s an emotional affair or a physical dalliance, infidelity in a marriage causes major trust issues and may become an irreparable breach between spouses. Again, it’s really up to you as to whether you think it is better to divorce or stay unhappily married.
You can work things out, seek professional help and slowly try and rebuild trust in your relationship. But, it’s a long, hard road and will need a lot of work. So, if you feel like you can never trust them again, and that the marriage is over, there is no shame in leaving. And again, remember that infidelity was a choice your partner made, and it wasn’t because you aren’t enough or are lacking in some way.
Related Reading: When To Walk Away After Infidelity: 10 Signs To Know
How Long Do Unhappy Marriages Last?
“It all depends on the personalities of the people involved. Many people will leave an unhappy marriage, while others will try to convert it into a happier, more functional marriage. There’s also the question of social pressures. Even today, there are many who will remain in deeply unhappy marriages and make them last to save face and avoid the onslaught of questions and scrutiny that ensues when a marriage ends,” Nandita says.
“I’ve been married to my partner for 17 years, and, well, I wouldn’t say that we’re in because it makes us overwhelmingly joyful to be together,” says Sienna, 48, a homemaker, “I’ve thought about leaving many times, and even told myself that I deserve more, that I deserve to be happy, even if it’s by myself.
“But there’s that dread hanging over me of how people will react. The skepticism over whether I’ll make it on my own. Will people blame me for not working harder to make my marriage work? Also, we’ve sort of become a habit for each other, so here we are.”
Is it better to divorce or stay unhappily married? It’s really up to you and what you value most. The happy marriage checklist is different for all of us. It would be great if we could all walk away from things that don’t make us happy, but there are realities and social structures, and hierarchies that get in the way.
As we’ve said, there are certainly consequences to staying in an unhappy marriage. But there are also consequences to leaving, and you need to be prepared to face them, one way or another.
Is It Selfish To Leave An Unhappy Marriage?
“It is not selfish in the least,” says Nandita, “In fact, it’s better for both people involved since they’re unhappy. It makes a lot of sense to leave the marriage for one’s own mental and emotional well-being as well as your partner’s. Even if it seems selfish to the outside world, put yourself first and leave if the situation is not bearable.”
When contemplating, “Is staying together better than divorce?”, it’s natural to think that staying and making things work is the kinder, more mature thing to do. After all, things in any relationship can become difficult and it’s up to us to do the work. And maybe it makes you wonder “are you the selfish one in the relationship” if you don’t.
While this is certainly true, let’s also remember that we all deserve to be happy and expect a certain degree of joy from our relationships, too. So, yes, leaving a marriage might be seen as selfish, leaving a marriage with kids even more so.
But you’re hardly going to be a good partner or parent if you’re always miserable. In fact, studies show that single parents are more open to helping others and being of assistance than partnered ones. In other words, if you’ve helped yourself be happier, you tend to want to help others.
So, go ahead and get your feelings about “I hate my husband but we have a child” out there. Let the doubts come, rather than stashing them away at the back of your mind. And then, with a calmer mind, think about what works best for you. That’s self-love, not selfishness.
How To Cope With An Unhappy Marriage, And When Is It Time To Leave
“The most important thing is to make sure you’re self-sustaining and not dependent emotionally, financially, mentally, or physically on your partner. Before you leave, see if you can change the status of your marriage. Only once you’ve both tried and realized that it’s not working, make the decision to walk away. See if you can sustain and survive independently.
“Focus on financial stability and financial independence as a married woman and an unmarried one. See that you can survive alone emotionally, mentally, and medically. Also, it is imperative to have a support system of your own outside of your spouse and their family. As social animals, we need other human beings, so don’t forget that.
“There’s no ‘perfect time’ to walk away. You’ll know when you’re in a situation where you can no longer live well or enjoy life as long as you’re in the marriage. That’s when the answer to “is it better to divorce or stay unhappily married” will come to you,” explains Nandita.
You could also start with a trial separation before opting for a divorce, just to see where you stand. Taking some time apart is invariably beneficial to a troubled relationship and especially when you’re contemplating, “Is it better to divorce or stay unhappily married?”
“Is it better to divorce or stay unhappily married for the kids?” “I hate my husband but we have a child.” These are some of the questions and doubts that will plague your mind when you’re contemplating walking out of an unhappy marriage. Maybe you married young and you were very much in love but now you’ve grown apart. Maybe you live in a society where beady eyes will turn on you the minute you even broach the question, “Is it better to divorce or stay unhappily married?”
- Staying in an unhappy marriage is as tough a choice as deciding to walk away
- An unhappy marriage may be one where your partner has strayed, that has become abusive or that’s just not fulfilling your needs
- Staying in an unhappy marriage for the kids isn’t necessarily healthy – you’ll be setting the example of a miserable relationship for them
Honestly, it’s never going to be easy, no matter how liberal your views or how enlightened you think you are. We’re conditioned to see marriage as sacrosanct and its dissolution as a very serious matter. Maybe it’s time we also saw individual needs and happiness as sacred and worked towards those. We hope you find your way to whatever path brings you the most happiness. Good luck!