Deciding to walk away from a relationship is usually difficult and painful, so when Carla came to me to talk about exiting her marriage with her sometimes sober husband, she was experiencing uncertainty and fear as well. She was exhausted with all the unfilled promises, out of control behavior, and mercurial mood swings and now felt her only healthy option was to throw in the towel and make a dramatic, earth-shaking move.
She told me that her children were both relieved and frightened. They agreed that their lives had been fraught with angst and insecurity, but maybe Dad could be given just one more chance? She quietly and lovingly recounted all the times when he promised things would be different and sometimes they were, but, sadly, not for long. The important concept that Carla imparted to her family was that none of this was their fault and no one was to blame. This decision would not change the love they had for their father or the love their father had for them, but everyone's world would surely collapse if things didn't change.
She realized that it would be difficult at first, but with the strength and love of the family unit, they would get through it. Dad was not being punished for his actions, but he had a disease and needed to get serious help (either for the first time or once again) before it would be healthy to have him be a part of their lives again, and this would probably take a long time.
Having been through a similar situation with my husband and children years ago, I could empathize with every emotion that Carla was experiencing. I couldn't help but relive some of the ache and guilt that I went through as she recounted these heartbreaking exchanges with her family.
What motivates one to stay in a relationship with an alcoholic/addict longer than they know they should? Here are 13 reasons for continuing to hang in.
1) Being gripped with fear as to the uncertainty of the future.
2) Feeling that children are better off with two parents rather than one, regardless of the discomfort and tension in the household.
3) Fearing loss of income when the alcoholic/addict is the chief money maker.
4) Fearing retribution/retaliation.
5) Fearing being alone.
6) Hanging on to the few shreds of normal behavior that the alcoholic/addict randomly shows (and continuing to hope that one day it might stick).
7) Social, family and peer pressure that you should keep trying to stick it out.
8) Believing that if you "do this" or "change that" things will be different.
9) Lack of option to fail in your marriage
10) Embarrassment and shame.
11) Judgment from others.
12) Having made a commitment; religious constraints.
13) Poor reflection on self and self-esteem.
Here are 12 reasons that might propel you to make that difficult but life saving decision.
1) You are mentally and physically exhausted dealing with the alcoholic/addicts out of control behavior.
2) You can no longer trust what they say or do.
3) They continue to bully, ridicule, disrespect and blame you for their short comings and failures.
4) You are weary of the constant merry-go-round of rehabilitation attempts that don't seem to stick for long.
5) You are becoming physically ill.
6) You are unable to recognize yourself anymore and are wondering where you went.
7) You realize that you deserve better.
8) You are no longer fearful of being alone, since you realize that you are already alone, as the alcoholic/addict is living a life apart from you with his or her drug of choice.
9) Everyone's world is revolving around the alcoholic/addict and consequently other family members may be suffering.
10) You are fearful of any communication and find yourself walking on eggshells in an effort not to engage the alcoholic/addict's anger.
11) No matter how hard you try, the alcoholic/addict keeps challenging you to "do your part" in the relationship. The bar of satisfaction is never reached as it continually gets higher and higher.
12) You no longer care how it looks to others, what anyone says, or what the ramifications may be of your decision; you have the exit gate in your sights.
I reminded Carla that she shouldn't beat herself up for not having acted on this resolve sooner and that people stay in unhealthy relations substantially longer than they should or know that they should. It is very hard to blow out the candle in the window that might represent hope, but in fact doesn't. A few years of discomfort, uncertainty, and fear are better than years and years of an agonizing and miserable commitment.
Carla couldn't help but feel like a failure for abandoning this relationship; yet coming to this conclusion was actually quite empowering. She should take some comfort in knowing that she is finally in control of the situation encompassing her and her family's future. Though it may seem like a crash and burn scenario at present, lessons will be learned for a better, healthier go around the next time.