Heartbreak

The Unspoken Truth About 'Quiet Quitting' Your Marriage

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woman looking nervous on bed

A few days after a disappointing marriage counseling session, I attempted to share my feelings with my then-husband. I was strategically using all the techniques I’d learned in therapy, I had my hand resting gently on his leg, and I was careful to use “I statements” while giving copious amounts of eye contact.

He interrupted me and very emphatically told me I needed to “get over it” and, for emphasis, added that he would never be the person I was hoping he would be.

Stunned, I realized at that moment that our marriage was over. He had checked out emotionally and had it been 2022, I would have understood he was quiet quitting.

The problem was that we were Christians, deeply involved in our evangelical church, and consequently opposed to divorce. We weren’t alone in this predicament, of course. Protecting marriage at all costs was the holy grail.

In the ensuing years, I would proudly proclaim to my friends that I was choosing to be miserable for the sake of my children and my Christian beliefs. After all, God hates divorce, you know. Little did I realize that my moral high ground was a valley of quicksand that would eventually come close to taking my life.

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What’s the point of marriage?

This is an interesting question to ponder. And one that has a multitude of answers depending on whom you ask. Evangelicals might say that marriage is solely to glorify God. Catholics might say it’s to have children. The Gottman Institute, a research-based marriage, and family service organization, believes the point of marriage is to facilitate growth.

Many marry because they are in love and looking for a partner to share a happy life with, while others marry to gain stability and security.

You could ask 20 people on the street this question and get 10–15 different answers. The reason is simple: we enter marriage carrying our individual beliefs (about marriage) and a suitcase full of past experiences that have shaped our thoughts and perceptions. Those beliefs, experiences, and perceptions then influence every decision we make.

I agree with the Gottman Institute’s founders that going into marriage with a personal growth mindset is a great way to shore up the strong foundation needed for a successful long-term relationship. If we value a growth mindset, we will be better equipped to allow ourselves and our partners to evolve individually while also allowing our relationship to grow and change.

Why is divorce considered a failure?

Universally, we view divorce as a failure and staying married-no matter of the cost-as the moral high ground. We commend people who’ve been married for a long time as though they are superior beings to be lauded. Don’t get me wrong, those who have managed to stay happily married in an engaging and respectful relationship should be applauded. That is a rare feat these days and one we should celebrate and emulate.

At some point, especially in religious communities, staying married even when miserable was commended. The vows became the priority over the individuals saying the vows. Marriage is a partnership. And sometimes, partnerships don’t flourish. People change and grow throughout their lives. If a couple isn’t growing on a parallel path, they often end up in two completely different places. That isn’t a failure. That is life.

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Because we use negative terms like failure and collapse when discussing divorce, we trap people into believing they are wrong if they choose to end their marriage. This creates a shame culture around divorce that demeans people and stunts their individual value, mental health, and personal growth.

I didn’t view the end of my marriage as a failure but rather as an evolution. I was willing to make hard decisions for the sake of my mental health and happiness. I was courageous enough to be authentic and speak up for what I needed. My former husband would have been willing to log another 25 years together because our disengaged, loveless marriage somehow worked for him.

Are the kids really better off?

Perhaps the most frustrating reason people give for quiet quitting marriage is that it’s “for the sake of the children.” While I fully agree that divorce is difficult and often traumatic for children, I would also add that staying married for their sake creates negative consequences.

I’m not a marriage and family counselor, so I won’t attempt to give clinical information or advice. I will say that when parents are unhappy, children are equally unhappy and often blame themselves for that unhappiness. Studies have also shown that adult children resent being the reason their parents stayed unhappily married.

There came a point in my lackluster marriage when I realized I wanted something better for my children and myself. Kids pattern their behavior after what has been modeled, and I didn’t want to set them up for future relational dysfunction. I had been deeply depressed and wanted my kids to see that I valued myself enough to make a change.

We’ve duped ourselves into believing that staying in a bad marriage is the moral high ground. We use martyr language to describe why we are staying as though we are doing something noble and noteworthy. I assure you, we are not.

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My former husband and I agreed to be honest with our children (teenagers when we divorced) and to remain united in parenting them. We chose to sit together at sporting events and birthday parties and made it clear that we loved them and that our divorce was not connected to anything they did or didn’t do.

Quiet quitting devalues ourselves and others

When we quiet quit anything, we sell ourselves short. We essentially act as though our needs and wants are not valuable. But that’s not all; we also devalue others. We give them less than our best, and we (attempt to) normalize mediocrity.

When we devalue ourselves and others, we lack integrity. The definition of integrity includes: “the state of being whole and undivided” and “the quality of being honest.” Quiet quitting is the opposite of integrity. In her bestselling book Untamed, Glennon Doyle loosely defines integrity as being the same person outside your home as you are inside it.

Listen, I understand the reasoning behind quiet quitting your marriage. My former husband and I quit our marriage long before the phrase was invented. I am empathetic to how difficult it is to end a marriage, especially one with children. I know what it feels like not to have enough money to pay all your bills and the sheer exhaustion of single parenting. I have experienced all of it.

On the flip side, I also know the empowerment I felt when I slogged through the financial pitfalls of single parenting and came out on the other side a few years later financially stable. I know the joy of hearing my children say they are proud of me and how I have navigated my life. Lastly, I know the deep satisfaction of valuing myself enough to choose something better.

Having integrity in your marriage and being brave enough to pursue the life you want is not easy. Rarely are good things easy. Those of you who are struggling, I see you, and I grieve with you. And I wish you the strength to fight for something better.

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Kim Kelly (she/her) is a writer and speaker who writes about authenticity, retirement, relationships, and life on the road.

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.