by Judy M McCutcheon MBA
Ours is a culture of over-tolerance; we tolerate bad behaviour and bad marriages and relationships for far too long. We get praised for sticking it out no matter how bad the situation becomes, and we are criticised if we even have a thought of separation or divorce.
Religion, as well as our early socialisation play a big part in defining for us what a good versus a bad marriage or relationship should be. To me, it’s quite simple – one makes you happy, the other one makes you miserable. Why do we stay? There are many reasons and we talk ourselves into staying when we know that we would be much better off if we were to leave. We stay for the sake of the kids, we don’t want to leave the house, we have a fear of being alone, not wanting to part with our money, it’s too late, we are in it already why not just stick it out. The list is endless and for each of us our main reason is different. It has been found however, that the fear of being alone and staying for the kids trumps all the other reasons. But are those reasons really valid? The cost of staying in a bad marriage/union may just be more that you bargained for.
A recent study found that people in an unhappy marriage are at a much higher risk for heart disease and that the negative effects on cardio vascular health were more pronounced in women and older adults. Are you surprised? Being in an unhappy marriage can cause stress which has a direct link to heart disease, and a bad marriage can cause you to develop unhealthy habits, such as drinking and smoking as well as overeating. Women tend to internalise their feelings and because we are emotional and relational beings we are more sensitive in relationships than men. Thus, when we stress and internalise our negative emotions it affects our heart and when our heart is affected, the quality of our marriage further deteriorates. We keep rewarding bad behaviours in our wives, husbands & partners, thinking that things will get better – some cheat repeatedly, they have several kids outside of the union, they belittle and demean you by the things they say and do and yet still we remain. This break-down does not happen overnight it takes time; thus, the effects of an unhealthy union are more noticeable in older people, as our immune system weakens with age. Your body will remember the effects.
While divorce or leaving a relationship is especially hard on kids, it is a much better option for them than staying in an unhealthy union. When you stay in an unhealthy marriage the kids are exposed to daily arguments, negativity and even violence. There is added pressure because the kids have to learn to cope with a revolving door of disputes, sadness and resentment. There are lots of research that talks about the devastating effects of divorce on children; your pastor and community of family and friends may even be telling you about it, but what they forget to mention is the permanent emotional damage that kids suffer from being exposed to the toxicity from an unhealthy relationship. Living in a volatile environment, even if it’s not violent is neither loving nor nurturing for all the parties. A separation frees everyone and offer many benefits to the children:
A conflict free environment – While the initial period following the separation is going to be difficult for them, they do not have to work around and cope with complex negative emotions.
A steadier emotional state – Children no longer have to cope with the constant daily battles between their parents. You and the children find your new normal, things eventually level off and become calmer and less combative.
Two happy people – Happy people make better parents and they create happy environments too. This happiness rubs off on your kids and affects their emotional state in a positive way.
Showing them what matters – When parents choose happiness over what society thinks or the need to have a nuclear family, it sends a powerful message to their kids that it’s ok to do the same. Children learn that compromise matters and that it’s important to choose happiness, because everyone deserves to be happy and that happiness is a significant consideration in their life plan.
I know that our religious beliefs play an important role in who we are and that, based on those beliefs we stay in an unhappy union for “better or worse.” Well folks I am sorry, I am choosing the “better” over the “worse,” as the research proves that the “worse” is not good for my heart, it is also not good for my self-esteem and my confidence. I am choosing “better” over “worse” because it has a positive effect on my kids. An unhappy, unhealthy relationship affects our mental health and depression is no joke. All these resultant consequences from choosing “worse” also have an adverse effect on your money-making ability. Walking away, allows you to set boundaries about what is acceptable and what is not, and it gives your kids the permission to set limits about the things and people in their lives that they will or will not accept. Did I mention that walking away is good for your heart health?
Judy McCutcheon is a partner in the firm Go Blue Inc, a Human Development Company. www.goblueinc.net