When you are in an unhappy marriage, you may tell yourself certain things, using them as an excuse to stay because you are scared. Such myths may include, “I have put too much time into this marriage for it to end,” or “I have sacrificed way too much and invested way too much time into this relationship. I’m not just going to walk away from it.” Viewing your marriage as a time investment, when that relationship is no longer a healthy or loving one, serves no purpose but to prolong your suffering. If you find yourself in this situation, there are five lessons you must embrace so that you can give yourself the chance to move on.
1. Quit viewing your years of marriage as some sort of investment. It’s not.
The time you have put into your marriage is not a non-refundable down payment, so do not treat it like one. When people justify staying in an unhappy marriage, they usually justify it through the lens of time spent, not through the lens of actually being healthy and happy. In a healthy and happy marriage, time spent together is beneficial– you have good memories, the joys of building a family, and more comfortable living. But once the marriage unravels, you cannot invoke those years spent as a justification to stay in a relationship, especially when the relationship has broken down and both partners are no longer invested in it.
2. Accept that you deserve better. Do not treat your life and happiness like a faceless commodity.
Unless you are learning to play the piano, you are an athlete who must train 8 hours a day to keep in form, or you are hand-painting the Sistine Chapel, erase this false narrative that time put in = a guaranteed return. You deserve more than that. You deserve better than just seeing yourself, your relationship, and your life as as commodity subject to negotiation. When you view your marriage as merely an investment of time, and use that time as a justification for staying in something that is no longer healthy, you only hurt and demean yourself.
3. Those married years taught you a lot, but they don’t owe you anything.
This lesson is not meant to sound harsh. Most of us have some wonderful memories from our marriage, and it is important to acknowledge those good times. They gave us happiness and helped us grow. Yet be cautious of your selective memory. You must also recognize that the years in between those memories–the not-so-good-ones– are not collateral and an excuse to remain in a marriage that is no longer working. You may have been married 5, 10, or 20 years, and made sacrifices during that time. You may think that you are owed something because of those unhappy years. But to treat those sacrifices and unhappy years as a bargaining tool, thinking it entitles you to happiness, gets you nowhere.
You must think of those married years as experience; you were taught about relationships, families, and about who you are because of that time in the partnership. Be grateful for those lessons, but do not attempt to use them as a bargaining tool to remain in a marriage that is no longer sustainable. To do so denies you the opportunity to move on.
4. You may be using the time myth to stay in an unhappy marriage because you’re scared. And that’s okay.
The time you put into a relationship, even if you or your spouse is no longer happy, was at least time in which you were comfortable, and your life, for the most part, was predictable. The end of that relationship signifies an end to the vision of life you had planned for yourself—the illusion of normalcy that assured you that you were like everybody else. You may be afraid to start over, afraid to go “back to the beginning”—whatever that means—because you think you are too old, too financially unstable, or too emotionally distraught to do so.
Give yourself more credit than that—recognize that you are smarter, more organized, more adaptable, and a hell of a lot stronger than you can even imagine.
It’s okay to feel scared about starting over. The fear is what makes you human, but it’s the courage to give yourself another shot at happiness that makes you truly remarkable. Overcome the wavering and excuses of “I have put so much time into this marriage” and get past that fear and bargaining and you will get that second chance at life.
5. Time invested does not equal happiness. But you can find happiness on your own.
As heartbreaking as it is, sometimes marriages run their course, regardless of the years of effort and sacrifice you invested. It’s okay to move on, okay to start over, and okay to find happiness on your own terms.
But here is where time spent does become your responsibility. As you start or continue to make a new life for yourself, you are given a choice about time. You may choose to spend it angry, bitter, or heartbroken about the end of your marriage, or you may choose to invest time in yourself and your own happiness. You are not destined to live a life of hurt and misery because you are separating or divorcing. However, you can be destined for greatness and the opportunity to move on and become stronger, more compassionate, and a happier person. And putting your energy into that happiness is time well spent.