Friday, June 5, 2009

Should I stay or should I go now?

You know sometimes when you find yourself surrounded by similar situations and conversations and wonder if there is a message in all of it? This week I heard firsthand about two dramatically different personal stories from two girlfriends. In both cases, each friend has a husband that a experienced a major dramatic life changing crisis resulting from unresolved issues or new revelations. One friend chose to stay with her husband while the other chose to leave him. For each story, I can understand wanting to leave and I can understand the desire to help their partner through their crisis. It could totally go either way. I feel no judgment about their decisions and there is no right or wrong here. So, what makes the difference between leaving and staying? At what point does your overwhelming misery and unhappiness override the "for better or for worse" vows?

It is obvious that my girlfriends deeply love their husbands and regardless of whether they stay or leave it is very painful and heartbreaking for them to face. When I think about my two friends and their situations, I can't help but wonder what made the difference? Both men are good people with big hearts who are going through a tough time and both women are strong, smart, and caring. Is it their family culture, experiences, and support? Personal needs or limitations? Financial security or fear? Their partner's willingness to get help? There is obviously no simple answer. Life is extremely complicated.

When I was in my early twenties, things were more black and white. I went through a few important relationships - I made hard choices about boyfriends and toxic friendships with no regrets. I did what I felt was best at the time. I remember thinking that a deal-breaker in a marriage would be infidelity. I thought I could tolerate many things, but if my husband cheated on me that would be it - the absolute worst. Without hesitation it would be goodbye cheater and hello singlehood! I could never trust him again and would never forgive that violation of our vows. Only, well, now that I'm approaching twelve years of marriage and have two children and a good life together and hopeful future, I'm not sure I would choose to walk away from that without a fight. The world as I see it is no longer so black and white, but mostly different shades of gray. Would I be really really pissed and hurt if I found out my husband cheated on me? Of course I would be. But, honestly, I just don't know how I would react or what I would do. It's more than just the two of us now and I no longer view divorce in the same way. I'm not saying "hey, go out and cheat on me because I'll still stay with you", but realize it's much more complex than I ever imagined.

One thing I know for sure is that you just never know what life will throw your way and how you will handle it. Many years ago a friend of mine was getting divorced and someone said to her "That will never happen to me" and I remember how much my friend was hurt by those words. I don't know if it's karma or life being what it is, but that same person who hurt my friend is now teetering on the edge of going through the same thing herself.

I also know that when someone I care about is going through a difficult time, in most cases they don't want you to tell them what to do, but instead need to feel loved, supported, listened to, and not judged. And, now that I realize this, I do my best to treat people who are struggling with that basic courtesy and care. I can only hope that when it's inevitably my turn to be in a rough life situation, that my loved ones will treat me the same way.

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