I have seen it many times. I have heard it. I have witnessed it. The story going around of success. Of not giving up on a marriage where one spouse has had multiple affairs and is addicted to pornography. Do not get me wrong, there is no shame in staying in a marriage and making it work. What I do not like is the message that accompanies it, usually from people who comment and praise the person who is sharing their story that is full of hope.
The problem is with statements such as: such a strong woman, so faithful, so forgiving, how wonderful she didn’t give up, and so forth. What this does is send a subtle message that the person who walks out on a marriage like that is weak and that they gave up. It puts all of the pressure on the spouse who did nothing wrong. If they walk away from the damaging relationship they are thought of as weak and unforgiving. I cannot tell you how often I was blamed for not making it work, as if I was the one who had control over my husband’s actions. I cannot tell you how much I heard about how I needed to be more forgiving, kind and understanding. I felt shame. I felt guilt. I felt bad for being fooled by my spouse. I felt like I was a failure for not being able to make it work….I left.
I left a bad marriage and I do not feel guilty anymore. I allowed chances for change, I “forgave” all the many times I caught him cheating. I put up with lies and so much more. I got out before I was destroyed. I make sure to let people know that there is no shame in leaving a marriage where you are not respected, loved, or treated properly. Just as it takes strength to make it work it also takes strength to walk away. I am an advocate of marriage, but I am also an advocate of freedom.
There needs to be a release of responsibility from the spouse who was trying to make things work, the spouse who didn’t cheat, lie, or break the marriage promise. Why do people put such pressure on them to make things right? Why is there no pressure on the cheating spouse to make things right? From most of what I hear or see in others’ comments is that the only thing the offending spouse needs to do is say sorry and then it is up to the innocent spouse (I am not claiming they are perfect) to be forgiving and make sure that the marriage works. There are a number of people who have that pressure put on themselves or by others. If the marriage does not work they are still blamed: “well, if she would have just been more forgiving,” or “if he would have tried harder.” Bull. Just Bull.
You want a successful marriage it takes both people to make it successful. Staying married does not make a marriage successful. “Oh look, they stayed married for fifty years, through thick and thin.” However, nobody realized that one of those spouses was abusive while the other was trapped. But hey, they made it fifty years. They must’ve been happy. I have met people who have tried hard to make it work past infidelity and porn, even other abuse, and they feel a huge sense of responsibility to make it work. They are told by their spouse and society that it is their fault if they do not make it work. So, they try and they grow tired wondering why it is not working.
Some marriages become successful past these problems because the offending party has changed and they are doing what they need to do. The offending spouse is the one that needs to change, and even then it does not guarantee the marriage will last because the other spouse will still need to do some things that are difficult–but they shouldn’t be faulted if they cannot.
This brings me to forgiveness. Whether someone is religious or not, forgiving someone of their offense to us is helpful for us and them to move forward. News flash! It does not mean you dismiss their actions and the consequences associated with those actions. My ex-husband accused me heavily of not being forgiving. It had nothing to do with forgiving. To him, and many, forgiveness is when someone says, “sorry,” and you say, “ok. I forgive you and I will pretend that it never happened.” No, that is not how it works. I call that dismissive forgiveness. Forgiveness, for the most part, is more like, “I forgive you, you hurt me very much. I will not allow you to hurt me anymore. I cannot let myself be hurt this way again. I hope you find happiness in your life without me.” See the difference?
It is great when people are able to make their marriage work, but it does not make them failures or weak when one decides that they are tired of being hurt. The success of a marriage is not to be only in the hands of one person. The success of a marriage requires both parties. Sadly, it only takes one of those parties to destroy a marriage.