Does your spouse treat you with indifference or worse? Does it make you feel invisible? Have you been asking yourself whether you should stay or go? Do you wonder if you have done enough to make the relationship better? People with abusive partners, ask themselves these questions more often that you might imagine. These are some of the questions that keep them stuck in unfulfilling, unhappy and sometimes abusive marriages.
You may think that any kind of abuse is a clear-cut reason to leave, and there should be no question. Unfortunately, I know too many women and men who stay in marriages in which they are treated in ways that many others would not tolerate. Not only have I coached people in these circumstances, but I used to be someone who stayed in dysfunctional relationships too long.
For most of my twenties and thirties, I was on what I call “automatic pilot”. I had a knack for attracting and falling in love with men who were insecure, overbearing, and who treated me in disrespectful ways. Each of them convinced me that I was not enough. I don’t blame them. The fault was in my psychology. I’m not saying that they have no responsibility, or that unkind behavior is okay, but I allowed them to treat me the way they did. I didn’t believe that I was enough, so I attracted the perfect men into my life… Each one held an imaginary mirror up for me. That mirror reflected my own beliefs about myself. Those men did what I “hired” them to do. Thankfully, I woke up and realized if I wanted to be treated better, I had to treat myself better first.
When we don’t know that we are loveable, worthy and deserving of the best life has to offer, we go about our lives behaving as if we are less than everyone else. The unkind way that others treat us, is likely to pale in comparison to the unkind way we talk to ourselves. The thoughts that tell us we are unworthy, are often so deeply embedded in our being, that we don’t even realize they are there. The proof that thoughts of unworthiness exist in our psyche, can often be found when we start to notice what kind of people we surround ourselves with, who we are in relationship with, and how we allow others to treat us.
Sometimes, when we begin to treat ourselves with love and respect, and set clear boundaries with our partners, relationships can be improved. This usually happens because the person who has been abusive, finds himself up against firm boundaries and discovers a newfound respect for his mate. If your goal is to stay and improve your marriage, be prepared to set firm boundaries and to clearly communicate to your spouse, the behaviors that you will no longer tolerate. As in all relationships, communication is key and follow-through is even more important. If you continue to tolerate abusive behavior, your words of warning, mean nothing.
Sadly, based on my personal experience, and my experience working with my clients, what happens more often, is that the person who undertakes the task to treat herself better, begins to see that her spouse is not willing to change his behavior. She also comes to the realization that life is too short to live it in a state of sadness, frustration and resentment, or with someone who demeans or physically abuses her. She wants a better life, and the only way to get it, is to leave the relationship that no longer serves her highest good.
I don’t know if your marriage can be healed, and at this moment, maybe you don’t know either. Often time, most people in troubled marriages, try to talk or manipulate their spouse into treating them better. This rarely works, or only works for a short time. My suggestion is that you start with the only person you can really control. That person is you. Begin to treat yourself better. Pay less attention to the fearful thoughts that tell you that you can’t stand up for yourself or that there is nothing better for you. Question the thoughts that tell you that setting boundaries is somehow selfish or unloving. Setting boundaries is one of the most loving things you can do for yourself and others. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that it is up to others to respect your boundaries… respecting your boundaries is your responsibility.
Should you stay or go? At some point, you are going to “know” what is best for you. Until that time, be kind and forgiving toward yourself. Look for the areas where your boundaries are weak and take small steps to make them stronger. Unless you are in serious physical danger, gradual change is usually better than trying to change everything at one time. Listen for the inner guidance that is in each and every one of us. Lean on family members or friends that you know you can trust to be supportive and not critical of you.
When we do nothing, and settle for less than the best life has to offer, we are making a choice.
Make the choice that honors you.