Washington DC is a town of successful and influential people; however, as with many other aspects of life, exterior success does not necessarily correlate with marital well-being at home. Women may struggle with this paradox more than men. A recurring pattern within the marriages of high achieving professional women is the misalignment between their incredible competence in the workplace with less successful dynamics in their personal relationships. While they are accomplished and respected in their careers, some of these women remain in marriages where they are treated badly. Sometimes they stay for decades.
Being “treated badly” may take any one of a number of forms. Her husband may be demeaning and emotionally abusive, or he can be physically violent. He may be serially unfaithful. Or he may not shoulder his fair share of the financial burden, the housework and/or the parenting responsibilities.
For her part, the woman professional may have bought into her husband’s narrative that his behavior is her fault. If she made him more of a priority, if she were as much fun as she was when they were dating, if she didn’t do things that make him angry, if, if, if….
If you find yourself in this position, where your marriage is “frayed” but not yet irretrievably broken, you may feel stuck with no clear path forward. What steps might you take to get yourself unstuck? Here are four suggestions to consider:
- Gather information. Although you may not be ready to consider getting a divorce, scheduling an initial interview with a divorce attorney will enable you to dispel some of your misconceptions and gain solid, reliable information on both financial and custodial matters. What does the divorce process look like? What role does “fault” play in getting a divorce? What process choices are available to resolve issues involving children and finances? What are some things you should and should not be doing while you are in this period of uncertainty? Getting these and other questions answered will put you in a better position to make decisions in the future without committing you to any particular course of action right now.
- Be clear that you are worth it. If you have been trampled down in your marriage, it may be difficult for you to believe that you deserve to be respected and treated well. However, your value does not decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth. Work hard to overcome this belief, perhaps with the assistance of a skilled therapist. Identify the steps you might take that would increase your feelings of self-worth and then work to put them in place.
- Prioritize your interests. Continue to make your professional accomplishments a priority. Notwithstanding that your personal affairs may be in disarray, make sure that your performance in the workplace does not suffer. Whether you remain in your marriage or decide to pursue a separation, both the financial independence and the satisfaction that you receive from your professional achievements will continue to be important to you.
- Stay connected. Whether it’s because your abusive spouse intentionally isolates you, or because your self-doubt causes you to withdraw into yourself, it is common for a woman who is being treated badly in her marriage to feel alone and isolated. Yet experience shows that most people want to be able to help if they understand that you are in a difficult place. Whether it is a sibling, a neighbor, or a co-worker, reach out and let them know that you need a friend right now. Draw upon these relationships and strengthen them so that you are not walking this difficult path by yourself.
Each person has to make the difficult decision for himself or herself whether to remain in a difficult and perhaps even harmful marriage. If you are feeling stuck, review the suggestions above and make an action plan to assert your own worth and prioritize your interests. A more empowered “you” will be in a better position to make the right choices about protecting yourself and your family.