When We Compromise Our Own Growth to Save a Marriage

Dena Landon

By Dena Landon | Nov 26th, 2018

I love Instagram. I’m a social media addict in general, but I love scrolling through pictures of cute kids and pets, rejoicing with and supporting other single moms in their journey, and sharing our stories on Instagram. I’ve made several in real life friends through the app. A few weeks ago when another local mom who’d connected with me on Instagram suggested meeting for coffee, I said, “Sure!”

Is it a bit ‘out there’ to meet a stranger from an app for coffee? Eh, maybe. But I’ve grown a lot bolder the last few years, more confident and open to new experiences. We got our coffee, sat down, and started talking like we’d known each other for years.

She initiated her divorce a few months ago, much to the surprise of friends and people who knew them. “I just wasn’t growing, and hadn’t for years,” she told me. “We’d go to dinner parties with the same people he’d known in high school, and they’d tell the same stories, and no one had changed!”

I laughed because it’s one of the reasons many of my post-divorce relationships haven’t lasted more than one or two dates. Boredom and the realization that we’d be sitting there having the same conversation twenty years from now.

From therapy to reading self-help books to travel, I’ve gone on a journey post-divorce to both rediscover the fearless woman I once was but also grow into a new ‘me.’ Growth can be painful, and involve self-examination. It takes strength to see it through, just like it takes strength to keep going if a divorce gets nasty.

Why do so many women compromise their growth to keep a man? My new friend’s marriage wasn’t bad, and he wasn’t abusive, it was just stagnant. He was stagnant. He’d been in the same job for over ten years, was the same person, and they had the same sex life. She couldn’t face the thought of another twenty years of mind-numbing sameness, and I don’t blame her.

“Why is it that, when we’re urged to keep our marriage together for the children, no one ever thinks that staying sends a message that doesn’t encourage lifelong growth?”

Women stay and compromise our growth when the marriage is suffocating us for many reasons, often related to societal pressure. It may not be 1955 but staying together for the kids, or maintaining an intact family, is still preached from many a pulpit. There’s also the outdated idea that equates divorce with failure when I’d argue that living your life without realizing your full potential is a greater failure.

If he’s a good father or provider, we might feel vaguely guilty at the thought of leaving. And, as women, we’ve often been trained to settle for the bare minimum in relationships. If the marriage isn’t abusive outright, if he’s not an alcoholic or addict, if he has a job and doesn’t cheat, we should be content. Or so we’re told, either explicitly or implicitly.

Why is it that, when we’re urged to keep our marriage together for the children, no one ever thinks that staying sends a message that doesn’t encourage lifelong growth and development, but stagnation and supporting the status quo? Or the message to girls, in particular, to settle. Children pick up on their parents’ unhappiness, do we really want them to one day stay in an unhappy relationship because it’s what they’ve seen modeled for them?

While we sat there, she told me how people had criticized her decision to leave a “good” man. We found common ground not just in being divorced moms, but in our worldview. Neither of us believed that human beings are meant to reach adulthood and stop growing.

Our lives’ experiences should shape us; we should learn, grow and deepen in our compassion and understanding of the world.

Often, it’s easier for some people to be forty years old sitting at a dinner table with the same friends they’ve had for twenty years, telling the same stories. Because they haven’t done anything else with their life. Their life has been safe. But has it been lived?

Take the leap, embrace the change, and have the courage to step into the unknown. Join me in living a life full of stories worth telling.

Dena Landon

Dena Landon

Dena Landon's bylines have appeared in The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, Salon and more. The proud mom of a boy, she specializes in parenting and divorce.


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