One of the most difficult questions that I have been asked in my life is “why does your mom stay with your father?”. I wish I knew (and I wish I had $1 for every time someone has asked me!) I will never minimize how hard it is to leave a marriage…I am divorced myself and it was the most difficult experience I have ever had to go through. I also did not have children, which can theoretically be a reason why someone might stay or leave a marriage. I have never believed a couple should stay married “for the kids” because I know my sister and I would have been much better off if my mother had left and we had not been exposed to the terrible things my father did.
On the phone with my mother last week, she was particularly upset with my father. She was venting to me, which she rarely does, and said something along the lines of “I should have left him years ago. I have had every reason in the book to leave him!” I let her vent, but also reminded her that she actually had a reason to leave him even BEFORE he started drinking and being abusive, which is that he had an affair when they were first married. She then confessed to me that my father had three affairs over the course of their marriage and that one of them was with a “mutual friend” of theirs. I was floored! I was not surprised when my mother confided in me a couple of years ago about my father’s initial affair. By the time I found out it was almost 30 years after the fact and my dad had committed much more egregious acts against my mother than sleeping with a babysitter. When I found out that he committed adultery several times, it brought me back to that age-old question of why she never left him. I know that she cannot even answer that question with a satisfying response, but it does make me feel both sad for her, disgusted by her choices and a little impressed with her. Sad because I always believed the breakdown of my parents’ marriage happened because of my dad’s alcoholism, when clearly there were major problems before that. I always thought we had a “perfect family” when I was little and that it only changed when he started drinking. I am sad for my mother that she has suffered so long because of my father. I feel disgusted by her choice to stay with him because I know she deserves better than how she has been treated and that she allowed him to treat my sister and me the way he did. However, there is a part of me that is impressed with my mother and her stoicism. I know that sounds contradictory and it is- in some respects I feel like my mother is SO weak and in other regards she is SO strong. She has a superhumanly high pain tolerance (which I did not inherit!). She is almost 70 years old and still mows over an acre of lawn because it is “fun”. She has rescued more stray and injured animals than anyone else I know…from birds to cats to turtles. She lost both her parents within a one month period and at the same time still supported me through my divorce.
I can go on and on about all the wonderful traits about my mother, as well as some of her flaws, but if you gave me the rest of my life to do it in, I would still never be able to explain why she has never left my father.