Why some people stay in marriages that should never have happened

The other day on Starts at 60 when we were talking about regrets, we were floored at the response we

The other day on Starts at 60 when we were talking about regrets, we were floored at the response we had, particularly from women who had gone through horrible divorces.

It seems like we were reading these stories on a loop, and it showed us that our generation has largely had some very distressing marriages that at the time, we felt like we couldn’t leave.

Many years ago, it was a sin to get a divorce, and in some cultures it still is. There was a lot to be said for a couple who stayed in a marriage when it was tough. Regardless of fights, regardless of mental and physical abuse, and regardless of emotional scars, people stayed.

It’s clear that getting a divorce was, in the end, not the easy way out, but the right thing to do for everyone. Some stay for the kids and wait until they’re 18, while others cheat and find other methods of escape just to kept the facade that everything’s OK.

According to Fredric Neuman M.D., his patients really do want to save their marriages.

“They repeatedly run through the reasons they have for leaving, as if they have to remind themselves of how serious they are. But they would like not to break up their marriages. They would like to hope that things are not so bad and that their married life is salvageable.

He says the range of reasons for staying in marriage were:

  1. For the sake of the children. (In one case, the child whose interests were being considered was 29.)
  2. An unwillingness to give up money in a divorce action.
  3. An unwillingness to move away from a house into which so much care and effort has been invested.
  4. An attachment to in-laws, or mutual friends.
  5. Pessimism about any possible alternative.
  6. Too much trouble. It is too late, too expensive, etc. The inability to afford a divorce is mentioned frequently.
  7. A fear of loneliness.

Dr Neuman M.D. said while some psychiatrists have said divorce should only be contemplated under the most dire circumstances when children are involved, he doesn’t agree. “Sometimes growing up with parents that hate each other is worse”.

When it comes to money, couples believe (rightfully so) it costs more for them to live separately than together. And the divorce itself costs money.

Other reasons people stay in a failing marriage have more to do with their inner self and perceptions than anything else. Some think divorce is shameful and embarrassing and makes them look like a failure, others feel they are now too old and are less attractive to a new partner. Some can’t imagine being anyone other than the person they were in their relationship. And some think they’ll never be worthy of love again.

Female marriage expert Susan Pease said “Too many couples hide behind these misguided reasons to remain married believing they are “doing the right thing.” While I agree that they are important considerations and should be seriously pondered, I do not believe these reasons, alone or in combination, are enough to warrant remaining in a marriage that is based on anything short of true happiness and mutual fulfillment”.

Here are some of the comments we had from our community on our regrets story:

“My biggest regret was waiting 46 years to leave my husband. I should have done it the first Xmas day when he went out after lunch. No row, all fine; he went to a party we were supposed to go to and came back in the early hours with no explanation. I should have learnt then what I was in for. We had been married 3 months”.

“I left after 15 years. Wasted 15 years of my life, it’s hard when you have kids. When I told my mum, she said “that’s terrible” because divorce was taboo in her world. I said “NO mum it’s GOOD” and thought pity you don’t do the same”.

“Know how you feel, I stayed in an abusive marriage because of 5 sons. I finally left him while he was at work. Should have left the first year of being married, not 29 years. I wasted all those precious years on a scum bag”.

“I recall when I first made the decision to leave my marriage, it was as though a huge weight had lifted from my shoulders, it still took a while after that decision was made, should have done it sooner”.

“Yes my biggest regret is putting up with a really bad relationship and not leaving sooner. Now I’m free – I have travelled the world and I am content”.


Tell us, did you stay in a marriage for too long? Why?