Should I stay or should I go? I think everyone asks themselves this question at some point in their marriage. Should I stay married to someone that won’t quit/neglects me/cheated on me/drove us to bankruptcy/doesn’t pursue me/doesn’t care/doesn’t feel/won’t change? Or should I go? I asked myself this question every day for the first six years of our marriage before I finally decided to stay married.
Read that last sentence again.
I decided to STAY MARRIED. There is a big difference between passively deciding to physically stay in the same location as your husband, and making a conscious decision to stay married. It is not uncommon to see husbands and wives who remain married for many years, but clearly checked out a long time ago. They’re easy to spot. They’re the unhappy ones in the corner with chips on their shoulders.
I don’t judge those couples. Heck, we were one of those couples! It didn’t end well for us, and it won’t end well for you either. Making a decision to stay married means forgiving (Ugh!), admitting your part (double Ugh!), and in some cases, giving up those “Biblical grounds” that are so nice to throw out in the middle of an argument (not that I have any experience with that).
So should you stay married or should you go? I don’t have an answer for each one of you, but I can tell you that if you want to find joy, peace, laughter, happiness, comfort, adventure, and all the other good stuff that goes along with marriage, then you have to choose ONE.
For the first six years of our marriage, I didn’t choose to stay married. I didn’t leave either. My lack of decision-making prowess came through in many different ways including, but not limited to: passive-aggressive comments, aggressive-aggressive comments, icy indifference, fuming anger, forced intimacy, shaming, blaming, overreacting, bullying, and occasional bouts of uncontrollable sobbing. Doesn’t that sound fun?
It doesn’t sound like a marriage; it sounds more like a nightmare. And it was! While Chris played a part, a lot of the hurt and pain I endured was self-inflicted. Hear me out here. I’m not blaming myself for Chris’s affair, and he has never (not even once) implied that I was at fault. I’m blaming myself for sticking around when I should have left. I’m blaming myself for not choosing to be married when I stayed. I’m blaming myself for not deciding to stay married or to go.
Deciding to stay married, even to someone that hasn’t made the same choice, means actively moving towards forgiveness every day. It means loving, cherishing, and honoring the most unworthy of spouses on the worst of days. It means being faithful in word and deed, even if that faithfulness is a one-way street. It means honoring the person that God has made in the form of your spouse, and seeing past the bad to the possibility of good. It means that you make this choice every day for as long as you both shall live without any expectation of receiving the same treatment in return.
Deciding to stay married is not easy. In fact, I change my mind at least once a week. It’s much easier to let my husband choose that path while I simply stay. And, he did. For two years after his affair, he chose to stay married while I simply stayed.
Then one day, after a particularly trying week, he sat me down. He told me how much he loved me and that he was sorry for all of the hurt he had caused. He told me that if he could take it all back he would. He told me that he wanted me to be happy and that staying this way wasn’t making me happy. He told me that he understood if I needed to go in order to find that joy I once had. He told me that if I wanted to try again, he was all in, forever this time. He told me that I had to decide to stay married or go.
For some of us, the “go” is a short- or long-term separation. You need the space and distance to heal and to feel safe again. I am a big proponent of separating for a period of time to work through some of the big issues in your marriage. Separation gives you time. Time to change. Time to see change. Time to heal. Time to start trusting again. Time to find hope in the small victories. I often wish Chris and I would have spent more time apart. I think more time apart would have saved us from some of the explosive fights we had early on that left a few lingering scars on our hearts.
For others, the “go” is more finite. It is the end of your marriage. While I’m not an advocate for divorce, I understand. I understand that no one wants a divorce. I understand that no one feels like divorce is the “best” option because there is no “best” when you end a marriage that you thought was forever. I understand that some people need something more finite because the damage that is done is irreparable. I understand that it is terrifying to think of starting over. I understand. But God is bigger then your marriage, and He is bigger than your divorce. He is with you when you sign the papers. He is with you when you break down as you pack up your wedding photos. He is with you at the end of the three-month waiting period when you get that slip of paper in the mail. He is there.
The reason I can’t answer this question is because it’s not mine to answer. If I could offer one additional piece of advice, it would be to pray. Ask God to guide your decision, not your friends, or your parents, or even your pastor. Ask God for discernment and wisdom. Ask Him to make it clear to you what His will is for your life and for your marriage. His answer is the only answer you need when you ask whether you should stay or go.