Rationalizing Your Exit from a Relationship
Every Tuesday morning, I join Brad Booker and Maria Todd on the radio for an hour to talk about relationships. Maria Todd actually named this article after a caller told us why her marriage wasn’t working. The caller was trying to rationalize why the marriage wouldn’t work, because it appeared she was done with it in her mind and had moved on. I looked up the meaning of rationalize and came up with this definition:
To ascribe (one's acts, opinions, etc.) to causes that superficially seem reasonable and valid but that actually are unrelated to the true, possibly unconscious and often less creditable or agreeable causes.
Every therapist sees patients who rationalize every day. We all do it in our marriages, with our kids, at work, at home, in the bedroom, and with our friends and family. We come up with excuses when we don’t want to do something. We come up with an excuse so we can justify our behavior. It’s dishonest, and sometimes selfish, but we all do it.
Rationalizing is perhaps the most blatantly dishonest when we are trying to leave a marriage or a relationship that is no longer working for us. It especially happens with affairs. The person having the affair justifies it by saying, “They didn’t love me anyway,” or, “I never came first in this relationship.” It may even sound like, “The kids will be better off, we are fighting all the time.” None of these things are usually true. Your partner did put you first or they wouldn’t have married you. Most likely they loved you, too, or you wouldn’t need to rationalize your escape. The kids are NEVER better off with a divorce (unless there is abuse) and the minute it comes out of your mouth, you know in your heart that it is going to hurt them forever when you leave.
When I hear rationalizing in my office I don’t say, “Wow…you’re rationalizing.” Instead I ask, “It sounds like you have worked this all out, who helped you?” They don’t know what to say, but for some reason they become very honest and tell me aloud, “Well, maybe I am rationalizing what I am going to do.” Then I advise them to step back, because they have caught themselves lying to themselves. Just as their partner cannot trust them, they cannot trust themselves at this time. You shouldn’t make a decision on lies, even if you are the liar.
If you are wanting out of a relationship because you are having an affair, rationalizing may make the exit more bearable for you. Below is what your partner and therapist are really hearing as you try your best to rationalize.