By Esther Mann, LCSW
Two weeks ago, we printed a letter from a woman who aptly called herself “Enough,” because she felt that the various stressors in her life were so overwhelming, she finally had enough and fantasized about just walking away. With a disrespectful, unemployed husband, children with various special needs, an ailing mother, a boring dead-end job, plus various past traumas that added to her overall feelings of despair, it didn’t sound as though anything in her life was working for her.
I often speak to people who have lives that are similarly difficult. The specifics are interchangeable but ultimately their lives are filled with enormous disappointments and hardships. Somehow some of these individuals don’t give up their dreams of a new and better life within the framework of their present existence, and they certainly don’t behave in ways that reflect hopeless doom and gloom.
Aside from the typical advice that clearly was called for, I thought it might be interesting to ask our readers to share some of their own real-life skills and advice that have enabled them to get past their own muck and desperation in order to keep moving forward in a positive way so that they didn’t have to fantasize about running away.
Below are some of the insightful responses that I received.
Many years ago I viewed myself in a similar situation to the one you describe. My life was miserable on every imaginable level. I won’t go into the details, but I couldn’t figure out how my life could ever get better, and every day was a struggle for me to get up, out of bed, and repeat another miserable day like the one before.
I ran away. Not literally. I didn’t move to another state. But I did leave my husband and children. My parents couldn’t understand what I was going through and couldn’t believe I would do such a thing. They stopped talking to me. I basically lost everything and everyone.
For the first few months it felt liberating to be totally alone, not having to take care of anyone else and not having to take abuse from anyone. I can’t exactly say I was happy, but I felt relieved.
Before long, the regrets starting setting in. I started missing my children terribly, even though they were so difficult to manage. I started missing my life, as miserable as it was.
I’ve gone on to rebuild a new life, but I regret what I did and urge you to reconsider. If you must leave your husband, I think everyone would understand that. But please don’t leave your children. Don’t leave your home, your community, your family at large, your life. There have to be some beautiful parts to it that you just are unable to recognize right now. Search for it and you’ll find it. Make some small changes. Start thinking about taking some classes at night so that you can get a career you can love someday. Reconnect with old friends if you’ve lost them along the way. Take even ten minutes a day for yourself. You alone can make a difference in your life, even if everyone else remains the same.
Trust me. Running away is never the answer.
I can relate. I am also in a bad marriage, I have an autistic child, and a sullen teenager who never gets enough attention. I don’t get any emotional support from my husband, but I get it from my friends.
I have close friends in similar situations who are better than sisters. We are there for each other in every capacity. Whether it is taking the kids for a day, or just being there to listen and sympathize. It’s the only way to survive.
It is so sad reading your life story. You have had so many difficult nisyonos. I would like to explore two different aspects of your letter. The first part is the fantasy you have of walking away and the second, more difficult part is your family situation.
It is an interesting fantasy that you think about, which could have various outcomes. First let’s explore the best possible outcome, which would be that you get on that train and arrive at a new location, become a waitress, and have the rest of your time to read and relax. In the beginning it would probably be just what you are dreaming about, with no one to worry about or to take care of. After a few weeks, months, or years, that might not be as attractive. If no one ever finds you, it would be torture for your family and friends. If you get older and sick before you pass away, who would be there to help you? Another possibility of walking away is that it doesn’t turn out how you plan. If your family notifies the police and there is a search for you, it might not be too glorious to be found out—that since you didn’t like your situation you just walked away from your family. Is that the legacy you would want to leave of yourself to your family?
Hopefully the letter you wrote is really searching for an answer to improve your difficult situation. After you let go of your fantasy, I think it will be easier to make some changes. First, it can be helpful to realize that every hard situation could be even worse. Try to find one positive aspect of your life each day. For example, can you see, hear, walk, talk, and eat? Although these are usually taken for granted, there are sick people who cannot do those things. Really focus on those daily gifts from Hashem.
Baruch Hashem you have a job to help pay your bills. I think a boring job for you is a blessing. At this time it appears that you have enough stress and tension in your life. If possible, maybe you could listen to calm music or a Torah class on the computer or any other device that you have. Also try to see the other side of the story. How do you think your husband views himself since he lost his job and might not be able to work a steady full-time job? Many men find value in themselves through their jobs. Try to find something, anything that your husband does right, and compliment him.
Maybe in his home before he was married, his father never complimented his mother. The reason to help him feel better about himself, is for you to start being proud of him. Maybe this can remove some of the disappointment and resentment that you feel towards your husband. Do you have any wedding pictures or any fond memories of any time spent together? Discuss the good times that you miss. Hopefully you will be able to find some positive aspects of your relationship with your husband. The more you can focus on the little amount of blessing in your life, the more it can increase.
Your ailing mother is another challenge that you are now faced with. The mitzvah of honoring parents is difficult. It is helpful that you have siblings who can share that responsibility with you. Although it is hard to see her failing health, this is the time to show your children, by example, the proper way to interact with a mother. Let your children know that you are willing to care for your mother. That is a much better legacy to leave for your children.
I heard a story of a wife who was feeling overwhelmed and there was a knock at her door. Although she was in no mood to talk to anyone, she decided to open the door. There was a person she did not know, who was crying, and slowly asked her if she had seen her cat. The lady continued that she lost her cat, and that is all she has in her life—without her cat she has nothing. The wife was about to scream at her and tell her she never saw her cat. Instead she became sympathetic in her tone and wished the lady good luck. Then as the wife closed the door she said to Hashem, “OK, I get the message. I would rather have a full life than a life where no one cares or knows about me.”
Although your life now is full and stressful, at least you have many people who need you in their life. I hope you get the strength and wisdom you need to improve your situation. Life is fragile; handle it with prayer—it doesn’t have to be formal davening, but talk to Hashem any time during the day. Venting or expressing your frustrations to Hashem is allowed, but remember to also think of something to thank Hashem for.
Fortunately, there is no mention of abuse in your letter. You signed the letter “Enough.” You could have signed it Sad, Disappointed, Depressed, or Angry. Although now you feel like you have enough challenges and hardships in your life, I hope that soon you can write another letter that is also signed “Enough”—but that it means you have enough goodness in your life to feel satisfied and content. Good luck.
Was there once a time when your husband was sweeter, more patient, more appreciative, more respectful? Is it that he has always been this way but you tolerated it, until other pressures such as finances, children, and your mother made the burden too great? In my own limited experience of my own marriage, I have found that it is impossible to change one’s spouse. I suspect that while courting during dating, your husband may have put on a good show. Hopefully if he displayed good manners, kindness, and patience, these are character traits that he possesses and can or may hopefully resurface if he intends to remain married to you.
However, certain traits cannot be unlearned and many cannot be acquired if not inborn. You don’t have to see running away to a remote place as your only option. You deserve to be happy . . . here, without running away. Leaving your husband does not have to mean leaving your children. And if you have chosen to stay in the marriage, you must find some alone time to take up a hobby, an exercise program, a language to learn, a charity to get involved in, or whatever may bring you excitement, energy, fulfillment, or relaxation—whatever it is that you need most. It is imperative that you teach your children proper behavior towards a spouse and be the “bigger person” when your husband is demeaning, demanding, and unappreciative. v
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.