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?

  1. JT  

    My marriage was short, but produced a son. When I think back I can’t comprehend why I ever married him, he had been married three times and most people told me he was abusive etc etc. But he was such a different person to my family and to me until we married. However, since divorcing him, getting a University education and moving across the country, I can’t believe I am the same person. I have my own house, have travelled to 25 overseas countries and couldn’t be happier. I am about to retire and when I look at his present life compared with mine…. I am the winner.

  2. I shouldn’t have married him in the first place but was young and silly and wanted to get away from my mother, he was not a bad person not violent or abusive but an alcoholic who constantly binge drank and was unpleasant and embarrassing while under the influence.

  3. Against a friends advice, I married & remained in love with a man I should have walked away from before we were engaged. Of course hindsight is 20/20 but over the years I had little happiness with him. We had 3 beautiful children & they were ( still are) my life. When I did finally get the courage to leave, he talked me into going back with promises to ” sort himself out” that never happened. I finally left again after 37 yrs & have been separated for 16 yrs. we have not divorced. I felt I owed him for my life as I had a terrible childhood that he took me away from. I still have ambiguous feelings for him & a deep sadness that things are the way they are.

  4. Frank  

    I have read that people who grew up in abusive households often absolutely want to avoid such partners – so they choose super-romantic partners who shower them with flowers – until they are committed, and then turn abusive.

    So the cycle continues – they say 65% of abusers grew up in abusive households.

    It seems people who grew up in abusive households often find ‘nice’ partners ‘boring’ – so unconsciously select ‘exciting’ partners like their parents were – then find too late they’re getting bashed up. Habits are hard to break.

  5. marilyn willson  

    I have stayed in a marriage that is really sad and empty emotionally for 52 years, although we had 9 separations, I was always encouraged to let him back because of the children, he’d changed etc,. I married at 16 pregnant, such a sin in them days, I had 2 babies under a year old by 18. but you do not know any different, raised with ÿou made your bed, now lay in it”so I did, traditional, he worked I ran the home bills and the kids, 10 yrs on had another child, then it just went pear shaped, I raised my eldest girls child whilst still raising my own, then raised my 2nd girls child whilst raising the older grandchild, just finishing off now and I am almost 70, I lost my home that I had had built, now we are worn out, no money, and do not how to live our own lives let alone together, very sad,would never have believed my life would end so empty.

  6. Kris  

    We were total opposites but it worked because I found myself “comfortable” with the life I had. He looked after me, I gave birth to a boy and a girl and life was good. I had a feeling he strayed but it didn’t come to a head until our 23rd year and by then all I had been thinking about is “I can’t grow old with this man”. He planned his exit for a year and in the end I got everything and he got his new girlfriend. I have never said a bad word against him with the kids because I didn’t want them to lose the relationship with their father but he continues to treat them like children even though they are 26 and 24 respectively so he’s losing their respect real fast. Now I have a new house, a new life, I don’t need the added responsibility of another man in my life and I am extremely happy with my life. I have learned to get along without him and I realise that this is the life I have been waiting for. I’m ready to live my life the way I want to.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *