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Why It’s So Hard to Leave a Bad Relationship | Life with an Alcoholic

The Good Outweighs the Bad (Or So It Seems)

One of the reasons many people stay in a relationship stricken with addiction (in addition to our desire to protect them) is actually quite simple: there’s always enough good to make them brush off the bad. This is why so many of us have such a hard time making the decision to leave and it can be so hard to leave a bad relationship.

Real life is nothing like the movies. Life with an alcoholic isn’t all slurred words, missed events, drunk driving, fighting, puking, and beer cans. It’s also family movie nights, trips to see family, bringing home a favorite treat, and evenings on the couch watching your favorite shows together. For every night of dread and disdain, there’s another one of joy and fun. The back and forth plays with our emotions, constantly bringing them up and down and back up again. Our hearts search for all the ways for the good outweighs the bad. We don’t want our marriages to fail. We made vows, we were in love, we made promises that we fully intended to keep. For many of us, it takes that scale tipping — drastically tipping — for us to feel like it’s ok to jump ship.

Plus, in a situation like mine where things came on more gradually, it can be even trickier. The more memories you have of the good times during sobriety, the more you dream of getting those days back. I always felt like if I could just find the right method to help him get sober again and stay that way, everything would be fine, and we could go back to how things were. And, even when he was drinking, he wasn’t all bad, at least earlier on. Things would have been so much easier if he had been! It’s easy to leave someone if there is no good. If life was like a movie, I can guarantee you I wouldn’t have waited around for over a decade! 

Real life is so much messier than stories, and it is important to me for people to really understand all of this, because sometimes I feel judged…everyone who leaves an addict feels judged. And the worst part is how much we feel that way no matter who we speak to. This judgement may be completely self-created, I don’t know, but I know we feel it, and it’s sort of a double-edged sword. Some people ask, “doesn’t anyone believe in til death do us part anymore?” which, honestly, is truly hurtful. This question brushes off the days, nights, weeks, years of suffering we have been through. It blows right over the nights we worried, cried, pleaded, hoped, and prayed for change. I know I spent countless hours researching ways to help him, to help me be different to help him. I found supplements, books, apps, online groups, meetings.

We don’t want our marriages to fail. We put our hearts and souls into making them work. We act like the glue to keep everything together. We take the bad and tuck it away, and try to focus on the good…and we hope. We hope for things to get better. We hope for healing. We hope for miracles, really.

The other side of that sword are the reactions of support and awe at our bravery, which feels weird too. I don’t feel brave. Honestly, I feel the opposite. I feel like someone brave would have left 100 threats to leave ago. Going through old emails recently, I was embarrassed to see how many times I had threatened to leave if things didn’t change, both directly to him and in conversations with friends.

But at some point…something inside me broke. I was merely a shell of who I used to be. At what point does my health and well-being become important, too? Deciding to leave was HARD, definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Despite all of our lows, despite how hurt I felt, how heartbroken, how beaten down…it still hurt me to make the decision to leave. It literally took me years to make the decision, and delaying probably did more damage than good (definitely to myself, and probably to the children too.) That scale had to tip so far and hard that it became a catapult for me to finally allow the bad to outweigh the good!

 PS If you’re having trouble feeling like you’re the second choice, you aren’t alone.