Ask Abdi: Should I stay in or leave my marriage?

QUESTION:  About six months ago, I purchased Shadows on the Path. It inspired me to adopt a daily meditation practice and seek some personal therapy. Since that time, my life has turned upside down.

It tuns out that a good portion of my underlying anxiety stemmed from feeling stuck in a relationship (a marriage) that, for whatever reason, just isn’t working for me. What makes the situation more complex is that I have two young children with my spouse. Three years ago, we reached an impasse. There was an opportunity to walk away, but it was the fear of going off alone that kept us together. I realize this only in hindsight of course. Our response to the initial relationship crisis was to double down on the relationship and start a family, maybe because we foolishly believed that would bring us closer together. We should have walked away before kids were in the picture, but we didn’t.
The deep digging I’ve done has led me to a place in which the problems in our relationship are undeniable. My wife is a great person, I respect and love her, but something in me feels unserved. More important, though, I feel unable to serve her. I’m entirely unfair. I’m not sure if it’s solely due to my own blockages or the chemistry just isn’t right. Either way, at this moment, despite wanting to have it, I just don’t have the desire to even work on it anymore. I’m exhausted from lying to myself.
I grew up in an unhappy household, so I know that my parents staying together “for the kids” did me no favors, but I’m terrified of putting distance between me and my children. I feel like my whole life is ending, like I’m losing everything. Obviously, I’m deeply depressed. I go back in forth in my head: is divorce really the best thing to do or isn’t? Can I muster a fight to somehow save this relationship? It drives me crazy. I fear my future regret, the potential loneliness, the feeling that I was a fool. I’m sad. I’m depressed. More than that, though, I’m just so tired.


ANSWER:  In situations such as the one you find yourself in, it is best to go deep within to find what the next step is. Regardless of whether you stay or go, first and foremost you have to learn to tolerate your own feelings. To jump into or leave any situation to get relief usually does not alter the feelings. They will come right back up, sometimes immediately, sometimes much later. But feelings can not be punked, they need to be faced and understood.

It is common to have old repressed issues come up and disrupt our lives initially when they are probed. That is part of the healing that can start with therapy, as unpleasant as it may be. The focus has to stay on you at this juncture, regardless of your decision. The fact that there are children involved obviously brings more gravity to the situation. The going back and forth about leaving or staying that you describe is you trying to get relief from your self, not from the marriage. It is a sure bet that if you leave with out fully examining what is happening you will repeat this with another person. It really might be that this is not the right person for you. I get the feeling that you have never really been fully in this relationship with both feet in and neither has your partner. That holds true for many of us.
Do understand that much of our behavior comes out of unexamined and unconscious fear. Relationships we start or stay in fall squarely under that category. We have to start with becoming conscious and then couple with someone else that is willing to do that. It is not some perfect ideal that we reach first before we find the right person, what ever that means. It can come out of a conscious relationship if our intent is for it to be that. To say that a good portion of your underlying anxiety comes from feeling stuck in your marriage is not taking responsibility for your anxiety. Our anxieties tend to be our own and we can and do project it on all sorts of situations as a defense mechanism. It would be an interesting exercise for you to honestly take an inventory of the anxiety feeling and trace it to its root.
Ultimately and at the end of the day, we carve our own path. What do you really want in life? Are you just trolling around or do you really want to dig deep? Just because you have started therapy and meditating does not mean you are automatically healing your wounds. That healing is a long and arduous process. I do hope that you are bringing this issue into your therapy sessions every time you are there. Regardless of what you decide to do, take responsibility for where you are. That will set the course for where you will head.
We come here alone and leave here alone, how do you want to fill in the middle? There is no right or wrong answer here. Set your own house in order and allow the compass of your heart to advise you of what the right course of action is.