Why Do Women Stay in Empty Marriages?
I see it time and again in my office.
‘My husband and I sleep in separate bedrooms. We don’t hate each other, but we don’t have much in common anymore. I feel lonely.’
Many of my clients present with this issue. There is an emptiness, a sense of being unsatisfied, but without an urgency to divorce.
The inevitable questions are:
‘Am I too old to leave?’
‘Is it worth carving up my financial future?’
‘Is he cheating?’
‘Will I die alone?’
Many of these women come to my office, pour their heart out to me, and fantasize about divorce. They chart out a plan to leave their husbands, they fantasize about dating an old ex-boyfriend who doted on them in college, and then they think about traveling the world with this new partner. Their faces light up, they tell me that their friends will be so proud of them for getting a divorce, and they state that they are 100% certain that this is the best idea. They schedule 4-5 weeks of appointments in order to execute this plan. Two days later, however, these women typically cancel all of their appointments and never return to treatment.
In my office, these women feel hopeful and empowered as they’ve allowed themselves the luxury of imagining a life where they can start over. I surmise that when they go home, however, they start to envision moving trucks, divorce lawyers, and a Thanksgiving without the familiar traditions and they quickly back away from the fantasy of starting over.
Ultimately, people are creatures of habit. There’s comfort in the familiar, even when the familiar involves a sense of emptiness. We push away the gnawing sensation that things could have been better because we are intimidated by change. If only we could keep the fearlessness of being a teenager forever.
Lauren Napolitano, Psy.D.