‘I was married for three decades. Why did I stay when I was so unhappy?’

Tell Me About It: I was married for 30 years and I wonder why I allowed myself to remain sad, unhappy and pretty much unheard for so long


I was married for three decades and in that time there was an affair (him), a pass at another woman, constant drinking, “easy life” not pushing himself beyond his comfort zone, blame for my loss of libido and mystification as to why I was unhappy.

I wanted to leave three times but didn’t due to self-esteem issues and lack of family support. I ask myself why I allowed myself to remain sad, unhappy and pretty much unheard for so long. He isn’t a bad man, he is a great father and he said he supported me, but, boy, do I feel like I was mistreated, and this is continuing now with negotiation about his pension and my share.

It’s over now. He finally gave up and so did I. I probably gave up about three years before he finally ended it. Before that, he never engaged with dealing with our problems. I shouted (yes, not great). I dragged him to therapy. He wasn’t on-board. It was always very (very) hard to make joint decisions. All the time he said he loved me. Is that love or abuse?

I had depressive episodes, but got through and no longer have them. I do have my own stuff. I brought it into the relationship, but I did lots of therapy too, I tried, I worked at it, I never stopped trying to sort us and myself out. We constantly had issues around joint decision-making and joint action due to control and power imbalances, and I found that very, very hard. I’m up for my (older) next chapter.

But my big question at the end of this rant is, why did I stay when I was so unhappy?




Two things jump out from your letter. Firstly, it is worth asking ourselves the question as to why we behaved in a certain way, but only if this leads to more freedom, more choice and more self-compassion. It seems from what you say that you stayed because you really thought things could improve, and you implemented plans for change.

However, three decades later you see the effect the relationship had on your self-esteem and on your ability to take on challenges. Maybe the intensity of your fighting (shouting, and so on) was a substitute for intimacy, and this also kept the two of you focused on each other, even if negatively. When we have given up on a relationship or person, we become uninterested in anything about them but even now it seems you have very strong feelings (perhaps driven by a sense of injustice) about your ex-husband.

If you really want freedom, you need to pay attention to your own life and needs, and not allow yourself to be sucked into even more recrimination and resentment. Blaming him for your unhappiness can lead you to believe he has power over your life and what you really need now is a sense of freedom to create a life that is more enriching for yourself. Of course, you need fairness and so the financial issues following separation need professional attention so that you do not end up in old patterns of poor decision-making. Mediation (which is free and Government sponsored) would be ideal, as an objective professional can steer you both through the emotional ground that includes financial and asset separation.

You can begin your new sense of power by instigating this yourself and, regardless of his participation or not, you will have taken action on your own behalf and this, in turn, will lead to increasing self-confidence. The second, and more important, thing arising from your letter is the need for you to invest some time and energy in yourself. When a relationship has been in the doldrums as long as yours has been, your sense of attractiveness and desirability can take a hit, so now is the time to start working on this. Attraction is all about being happy in your own skin, keeping your attention outwards and being able to enjoy your body and being good to it.

Perhaps take up dancing classes, yoga or some exercise that you enjoy – the most important thing here is that you do not do something that increases your self-criticism or sense of shame. Feeling bad or shamed about why you stayed so long in a relationship is something you can investigate with your therapist but make a choice now to stop any further suffering by giving attention to this question only in the safety of the therapy room.

Outside of this time, all your attention is needed to build a life that gives some joy and delight to you – spend time with people you like, allow yourself some recovery time and develop interests that demand your attention. We cannot take action in the past, but we need to learn from it so that we do not repeat habits and patterns that have caused us pain. Your future is unwritten so take charge and approach it with optimism and determination.