My marriage feels more like a duty than a partnership. Here’s why I can’t leave.

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Before my walk down the aisle 20 years ago, I had envisioned marriage as an equal partnership, a shared journey of love, respect, and mutual growth. But fast forward to today — two kids, countless sacrifices, and many unspoken feelings later — my marriage feels more like a duty than the partnership I had dreamt of.

I’m a 45-year-old mother of two young children. My days are filled with school runs, soccer practices, and endless household chores. My nights? They’re spent trying to keep my marriage afloat for the sake of my children. I can’t bear the thought of them growing up in a single-parent family or amidst parental conflicts. So, I swallow my feelings and soldier on.

On the outside looking in, it may seem like I’ve got it all together. But deep within me, something stirs — a whisper of discontentment that grows louder with each passing day. It’s an insistent voice that questions if this is what I truly want or if there’s something more.

This isn’t to say I don’t love my family. In fact, it’s the opposite; It’s my deep love for my children that propels me to suppress these unsettling feelings. The thought of disrupting their lives with a potential separation keeps me locked in this cycle of duty over desire.

But here’s the catch: the whispers within me are not just about discontentment with my marriage; they’re also about the growing realization that I need to learn to love myself first. A novel idea for someone who has spent a good part of her adult life putting others before herself.

I don’t have all the answers yet. I don’t know if I’ll file for divorce or continue to stick it out for the kids. What I do know is that I need to start moving towards more self-care and self-respect.

So here’s my story — a tale of a marriage that feels more like a duty, a mother’s struggle to keep her family together, and a woman’s journey towards self-love. Despite the uncertainty, one thing is clear: I’m on the brink of change. This is my journey, and I hope it resonates with others facing a similar crossroads.

Staying for the kids: The decision that binds me

My decision to stay in my marriage stems from a deep-rooted belief that my children deserve a stable family environment. I grapple daily with the internal conflict of wanting to be true to myself and the fear of turning my children’s lives upside down.

Each morning, when I wake up next to my husband, the man I loved enough to promise a lifetime to, I feel the weight of our shared history, our shared children, and our shared responsibilities. These aren’t just ties; they’re chains that bind me to this life that feels more like a duty than a loving partnership.

But then, I see my children. I see their innocent smiles, their carefree laughter, and their unwavering trust in us as their parents. It’s then that I make the conscious choice to suppress my feelings, hide my discontentment, and play the part of a loving wife and mother.

It’s a decision driven by love for my children, fear of societal judgment, and an ingrained belief that it’s better to suffer in silence than disrupt the status quo.

But here’s the thing — there’s a common assumption about this situation that many people buy into. It’s an idea that has shaped many of our decisions and actions. And it’s something that I’ve started to question deeply. In the next section, we’ll explore this assumption and why it prompted me to reevaluate everything.

The fallacy of staying together for the children

The common assumption, or rather, the myth that I’ve been adhering to, is that staying in an unhappy marriage is the best thing for my children. It’s a belief that’s deeply ingrained in our society — the idea that a two-parent family, no matter how dysfunctional, is better than a single-parent household.

But the more I reflect on this belief, the more I find it flawed. Yes, stability is crucial for children. But isn’t happiness equally important? In staying in a loveless marriage, aren’t I teaching my children that it’s okay to settle for less than they deserve?

And then there’s the fact that children are incredibly perceptive. They pick up on the underlying tensions, the forced smiles, and the lack of genuine affection between their parents. So in trying to shield them from pain, am I not inadvertently exposing them to a different kind of hurt?

Challenging this myth has been a significant turning point in my journey. It has made me question whether staying in my marriage for my kids is genuinely the best choice or just the easy way out.

As I grapple with these questions, one thing has become increasingly clear: something needs to change. The next section will focus on how I’ve started taking steps towards embracing this change and learning to prioritize myself in the process.

Taking steps towards self-love and change

The realization that my marriage felt more like a duty than a partnership was a wake-up call. It forced me to take a hard look at my life and the choices I’ve been making.

The first step I took was acknowledging my feelings rather than suppressing them. The unhappiness, the dissatisfaction, the longing for something more — these were all valid feelings that I had been ignoring for too long.

Next, I started prioritizing self-care and self-love. This meant setting aside time for myself each day — whether it was a quiet cup of coffee in the morning, yoga sessions to calm my mind, or simply reading a book alone in the evening. It also meant seeking professional help to navigate through my feelings and make sense of my situation.

If you’re reading this and find yourself in a similar situation, know that it’s okay to prioritize yourself. It’s okay to acknowledge your feelings and seek help if needed. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Your happiness is just as important as anyone else’s in your family.

As for what lies ahead in my journey, only time will tell. But I’m learning to be okay with that uncertainty because it means I’m finally allowing myself to explore possibilities outside of the confines of duty and expectation.

Stepping back and reclaiming my power

As I navigate through this journey, I’ve come to realize the importance of taking responsibility for my situation. It’s true that my current predicament isn’t entirely my fault, but accepting it as my own has empowered me to seek change.

I’ve also learned to question societal expectations and norms. Most of our beliefs come from what society, our parents, or culture have deemed “normal.” But is it really normal if it’s causing us distress?

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • It’s okay to acknowledge dissatisfaction and struggles.
  • It’s crucial to face the reality of the situation, no rose-colored glasses.
  • External influences and societal conditioning often shape our desires.
  • Pursuing personal ambitions is more fulfilling than chasing externally imposed ones.
  • Breaking free from societal expectations is a path to self-empowerment.
  • Question societal myths and expectations that limit potential.
  • The journey of self-exploration is a transformative one.

There’s a resource that I recently came across that has been helpful in reframing my perspective on relationships – the Love and Intimacy Masterclass at The Vessel. It aims to help you build an effective relationship with yourself before you can improve your relationship with others.

Lost Your Sense of Purpose?

In this age of information overload and pressure to meet others’ expectations, many struggle to connect with their core purpose and values. It’s easy to lose your inner compass.

Jeanette Brown created this free values discovery PDF to help clarify your deepest motivations and beliefs. As an experienced life coach and self-improvement teacher, Jeanette guides people through major transitions by realigning them with their principles.

Her uniquely insightful values exercises will illuminate what inspires you, what you stand for, and how you aim to operate. This serves as a refreshing filter to tune out societal noise so you can make choices rooted in what matters most to you.

With your values clearly anchored, you’ll gain direction, motivation and the compass to navigate decisions from your best self – rather than fleeting emotion or outside influences.

Stop drifting without purpose. Rediscover what makes you come alive with Jeanette Brown’s values clarity guide.

 

Ava Sinclair

Ava Sinclair is a former competitive athlete who transitioned into the world of wellness and mindfulness. Her journey through the highs and lows of competitive sports has given her a unique perspective on resilience and mental toughness. Ava’s writing reflects her belief in the power of small, daily habits to create lasting change.

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