“As long as we looked and played the part of the perfect family, that was all my mother was concerned about”. This from a client in her 50’s who is still trying to escape from the compelling desire to do the ‘right thing’ and stay in an intolerable marriage, even if her current partner is verbally and emotionally abusive. Divorce is not an option because it would be really badly frowned upon by everyone, including herself. The shame and humiliation of a broken marriage is much worse for her than living with daily torment.
It’s not for me to prescribe what to do or how best to move forward, my clients need to draw their own conclusions, but it is interesting to me to witness how many people remain in chronically unhappy marriages. There are a number of reasons for that; some might even see it as a noble thing to do if it is for the sake of the children, or another ‘selfless’ reason but I have spotted one recently that shows up more often than I ever imagined. It is the marriage and family that stays together for the sake of maintaining a certain status. That is people who love the IDEA of marriage, just not the REALITY of it.
Being an attentive, considerate spouse is more about keeping your mouth shut when you would rather speak your mind, finding words of encouragement when you have none to give, showing up and sharing roles and responsibilities when you don’t feel like it and being there for one another when you would prefer not to. That’s what working together as a team looks like. It’s about co-operation and collaboration. The same is true for parenting. Being an attentive, participative parent is the toughest job on the planet. It is the relentless neediness of children that makes it exhausting and sometimes even unbearable. It’s not all fun and games, Kodak moments of awards and smiling faces. Most of the time it is the mundane routine and efforts of feeding, cleaning, educating and disciplining that makes up the majority of parenting. Maintaining happy marriages and families require participation. It requires involvement. They are not a part-time jobs that you can visit when you have the time and energy for it. Even when you are in a bad space, you need to show up and do your best. Even when you are dying from exhaustion, you get up and get involved. When you commit to being a parent you give up the privilege and luxury of doing what you want, when you want to do it – unless you can afford to pay for another fulltime caregiver to take over in your absence. Functional thriving children, families and partners are dedicated to each others well being, even when circumstances are against them.
I know that we all have different levels or ranges of how much we are willing to put up with in relationships and I was beginning to think that those who had very high tolerance for what I would describe an unbearable/ intolerable/ unacceptable behaviour were suffering from EMOTIONAL anorexia (spoken about in a previous post). It seems that is not the case. I am observing more and more a different kind of suffering. A lazer focus, mind boggling hypnotic addiction to the status of specific labels. Labels of ‘married’, ‘loving husband’, ‘family man’, ‘adoring mother’, ‘devoted father’ hold more appeal than authentically being any of those. It’s like cheating at golf to improve your handicap, the only one you are cheating is yourself. Everyone else can see you don’t have the swing, the talent or the commitment to be a scratch golfer, you are fooling no one.
We all see the many facebook uploads of ‘happy family’ images, but what is going on behind the social media is the exact opposite. These are not happy families. They are neglected and abandoned families. Often one parent, breaking under the weight of trying to do it all. They are not the ‘amazing couple’ you think, despite the hundreds of likes. They are feuding, vile and bitter spouses with nothing nice to say to each other or about one another. It is all a façade. A thin veil that they cling to because they have been trained into believing that the approval from their community, their clan, their tribe is more important than a real home where people work really hard to be there for each other.
Much of what is going on behind closed doors is not love. It is not even like. It is distrust, disinterest, dislike, dismissive, disengaged and disconnected. But, it does not appear to be that way and that seems to be the most important thing.
It is sad to watch. I feel disheartened, appalled and even angry at times that keeping up with appearances is more sacred than providing oneself and one’s children with an environment of sincere like and love for one another. What are we teaching our children? Apparently, to stay married even if your husband is abusing you!