On the spectrum of mistakes made, ranging from, “Crap, I forgot to take out the trash,” to, “Fuck, did I just run over a cyclist with my car?” the realization that you married the wrong person is… well, it’s definitely up there with involuntary manslaughter. And no, I’m not talking about writer Alain de Botton’s theory that we all marry the wrong person, which is neatly based on the idea of swapping a romantic view of marriage for a “tragic awareness that every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us.” Yada yada… enough.
I’m also not referring to the same predicament Dr. Kurt Smith hears about often from both men and women:
“Part of the problem with the belief ‘I married the wrong woman’ is that it feeds the misconception that there’s the ‘right’ person or ‘perfect’ partner out there somewhere and that, when you’ve found your true love, you’ll be happy forever. As romantic a notion as this is, it’s simply not true. Songs, books and movies would all have us believe in the happily ever after, and there is a version of that for many – but with WORK. They leave that part out,” he writes in his article for GuyStuffCounseling.com.
Nope: This explainer is for the guy who knows, in his bones, that the person he’s sharing a bed with belongs in a different bed, in a different home and quite possibly in a different time zone.
Okay, I get the point. So how can I be absolutely sure that this feeling I have is real?
Everyone’s circumstances are different but, as this redditor realized after getting married, some gut feelings are just obvious (sic throughout):. “When she spent 2000 dollars on workout programs/outfits and didnt use it once but shamed me for wanting to have a few drinks with my friends. Oh and she blew 3 different strippers during her bachelorette party and kept the polaroids in her car…” he writes. Other, less glaring feelings associated with potentially having married the wrong person, according to this Quora post, include: Daydreaming about how much better your life would be without your significant other; avoiding time with your significant other; and accepting and even looking forward to death.
Marriage and family therapist Allen Wagner tells me that a lot of times, who you might think is the wrong person is only based on your situation of late, adding, “It’s not the actual way you feel.” In light of this, he suggests having a realistic understanding of where you are in your relationship.
Another way to determine whether you’ve married the wrong person is to reframe the question altogether, writes Christine Carter for Mindful.org. “Determining the rightness of a match between ourselves and another is a fundamentally flawed enterprise, because nothing outside of ourselves — nothing we can buy, achieve and certainly no other person — can fix our brokenness, can bring us the lasting joy that we crave,” she writes. “A more empowering — and more deeply romantic — question is: Am I the right person for you?”
Yeah… I don’t care how you want to frame it, I’m definitely married to the wrong person. So what can I do?
There are two categorically different approaches to answering this question. According to FaithIt.com, if you believe you married the wrong person, you’re just falling for one of Satan’s biggest lies. “What he wants most is for the life to be slowly sucked out of your marriage and your life and he is more than happy to offer you fantasy after fantasy to ensure this happens,” writes Noah Filipiak. But just in case you’re inclined to believe Satan, well, Filipiak has you covered. “When it feels like you’ve married the wrong person, get married to Jesus (or ‘renew your vows’ with him!), as he is the only one whose love will truly make you whole,” he adds.
But let’s assume that most people aren’t going to be satisfied with the “get hitched to J.C., too,” approach. Instead, registered psychotherapist Susan Valentine has a less biblical take. In her article for the Huffington Post, she suggests that you should start by asking yourself: Should I stay, or should I leave?
“First, we recommend putting aside self-judgment and accepting that your needs are valid. Your emotions are an expression of unmet need. So what is it that’s missing, or doesn’t feel right? From there you can look at your options in the context of these needs, and also your values. What is most important to you? And for everyone this is different. For those of you with children, it is not always straightforward that staying together is best, especially if there is ongoing tension or hostility in the home, or you are finding it hard to function. Finally, you will want to ask yourself what is holding you back from pursuing these needs or enforcing these values, whatever they may be,” writes Valentine.
I have a kid. That’s what’s holding me back.
Your hesitation is understandable, especially since just about every single piece of advice suggests trying to work things out if you have kids. But assuming you’ve already tried to work on your marriage, it may help you to know that staying in an unhappy one can have just as much of a negative impact on your kids as getting a divorce. “The behaviors you display in your home will set the stage for how your children will behave as adults,” reports Parents.com. “They learn what it means to be married, how to be a husband or wife and how to effectively (or ineffectively) deal with conflict in a relationship.” In other words, if you and your significant other are doing the whole Sid and Nancy thing, you may be setting your child up to repeat your same mistakes.
Wagner agrees, but adds that sometimes parents who want to separate use their kids as an excuse for not separating. “There’s a selfishness there too,” says Wagner. “People, understandably so, are afraid of being a single parent. They look at financial expenses and all the steps it would take to actually go through with it and they can’t quite take the necessary steps.” The problem, Wagner says, is that by staying in a marriage you no longer want to be in, you’re teaching your kids what it’s like to be in a relationship of convenience. “And that’s not a loving one,” he adds.
I think I’m probably going to get a divorce. But how can I make sure I don’t marry the wrong person again?
Dude! Have you been paying any attention? There really is no “right” person, there’s just the least wrong person. But if you really are terrified of repeating the same mistake, Wagner suggests premarital couples counseling. “A major problem is people don’t do premarital counseling,” he says. “Everyone has compatibility issues, but it’s not about liking or disliking the same music or movies. It’s about, do you trust this person to carry with you the infrastructure of a marriage, while also being your friend?”
Dedicating your life to J.C. doesn’t sound so bad now, eh?