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Tango Tales - The Cost of Staying in an Unhappy Relationship

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

Joanne tried to make it work.....but thought to herself “am I doing myself any favours by avoiding the inevitable, it just isn’t going to get any better?”

She wanted to leave the relationship years ago as she fell out of love with Tom, stayed for the kids’ sake and it just wasn’t the right time financially to exit the relationship.

Tom her husband, always did what he wanted to do and never considered her needs. He spent long hours at work, drinks out with the boys Friday nights and golf on Sunday mornings……all whilst she was left to care for their three children under the age of 5. Numerous times she would try to call him at her wits end needing his help as the kids were teething, running a fever or struggling to get them to bed. Tom would never answer his phone and some nights Joanne would fall into bed exhausted tirelessly thinking it was so unfair that Tom had the choice, the freedom, the opportunities to do what he liked. Joanne felt it was her duty as a mother to be housebound taking care of the children, getting meals ready and trying to keep the house clean amidst the chaos. All she wanted was Tom to be home and help more so they could enjoy the time with the kids together.

Tom would see the calls flashing up on his phone from Joanne, roll his eyes and hit the decline call button. He knew she would just start complaining that he gets to be out and that he never helps with the kids. Tom felt he deserved to have fun in his life, he worked so hard to provide for his family and so often when he got home Joanne was either consumed with the kids or too tired to snuggle up and enjoy the time together. Life was to be enjoyed and often when he suggested they go away for a weekend and leave the kids with their parents, Joanne would say no she couldn’t possibly leave them. Even going out for dinner with friends was a huge effort, as Joanne never seemed to relax when they were out, calling the babysitter and calling it a night by 10pm to rush home to see the children fast asleep in their beds and only then would Joanne sigh with relief and relax.

Tom felt they just didn’t connect anymore and often would reminisce about the good old days when he would come home early and be met by Joanne being playful greeting him at the front door in her lingerie. She absolutely glowed, as she was so happy to see him. Tom would wrap his arms around her with a huge smile on his face, spinning her around then lifting her up squealing as he carried her to the bedroom, kicking the door closed after them. Tom really missed the time before the kids and sometimes wished he could turn back the clock.

For Joanne, the resentment kept building and she often thought to herself “what is the cost of staying where I’m not happy?” Joanne’s mental health started to decline and her self-worth plummeted as she felt stuck, trapped, unappreciated and ultimately unloved. Sometimes she would stand gazing out of the kitchen window feeling time passing her by and wonder ‘Is this it, is this what my life has become?’

She struggled feeling extremely lonely in the relationship as they just ‘co-existed’ like flat-mates going about their daily life with no real connection. Sure, she could fill her day with mundane routine or daydream about the excitement she craved outside the home. Joanne often fantasised about seeking the attention and affection she craved but ultimately thought how destructive it would be to her family, not only to her husband but the loss of trust, respect and bond with her children would be devastating……resulting in a high price to pay to fulfil her needs!

Joanne felt conflicted with a sense of duty to stay. She committed to the marriage as though shackled to it by law, by the church and by society. There is this guilt about wanting to leave which triggers remorse of the pending disappointment that would be bestowed upon her family, her parents, Tom’s parents and their close friends. She feels her happiness is not the highest priority, her duty as a wife and mother is.

So, she waits……she waits for the right time to leave……but the right time never seems to come. Joanne thinks “I’ll jeopardise the kid’s schooling if I leave, I’ll just wait”.

“My frail mother would be devastated at the news of me leaving my husband, I’ll just wait”.

“How would I afford to survive financially right now if I leave? I’ll just wait”

The more Joanne thought about the restrictions to leaving, the more she felt trapped.

As time goes by the distance between Joanne and Tom increased like being on a piece of iceberg that had broken away, drifting with the current into the horizon. She knows she doesn’t want to stay so she doesn’t fight it…..she lets it carry her away… though it will make it easier to just slip away slowly over time unnoticed. Her existence seems to have become invisible to those around her, every day chores and challenges are just part of the daily grind.

Years go by and Joanne feels like she is on autopilot, living life like a robot. She looks in the bathroom mirror and splashes her face with water to try to invigorate some sort of reaction on her skin to the icy cold sensation. She feels nothing, she is numb. She stares at the lines on her face, the greying hair, and the bags under her eyes and wonders if it is too late for her now. Too late to make such a significant change to leave and rebuild a new life. She visualises what that new life could look like….. travelling overseas with her friends, laughing out loud sipping cocktails by the pool, her best friend Sally shouting from the water “come on, what are you waiting for?” She hears it again “come on, what are you waiting for?” Joanne jolts out of her day dream to Tom saying “come on, what are you waiting for?” Joanne turns around to see her husband with his hands on his hips, car keys in hand, and a frown on his face. Joanne quickly dries her face on the towel advising she is coming.

They get into their four-wheel drive, and their teens climb into the backseats pushing and shoving each other shouting “move over”. Joanne starts the car and mindlessly reverses off the drive way then stops the car and looks at Tom asking “where are we going?” Tom looks at her and says, “to the hospital Joanne, to see your mother, she has taken a turn for the worse. Are you OK Joanne? Do you want me to drive?” Joanne replies “Oh yes I remember now, no, no, I’m fine” and they continue on their way.

When they reach the hospital, the doctor pulls Joanne on one side and says her mother is fading fast and she best say what she needs to say to her before she slips away. Joanne ushers her husband and kids into the room where her mother is laying peacefully. She opens her eyes and Joanne takes hold of her hand and squeezes it saying “I’m here mum”. Tom and the kids are teary and hurriedly say their goodbyes so they can rush out of the room to leave Joanne to have time with her mum. Joanne gets closer and her mum whispers “Joanne, be happy my girl, you only get one shot at life, love”. She closed her eyes and slipped away before Joanne could say anything. She hugged her tight sobbing wishing she could have said her goodbyes but then like a bolt of lightning, she realises her mum had known all along that she wasn’t happy.

The day after the funeral Joanne packed her things and left a note on the dining table saying she was flying to Bali for 2 weeks. She knew her life had to change and although she didn’t know what life would be like when she returned, she knew she had her mothers’ blessing to seek happiness.

Tom got home that night and the kids ran to the front door exclaiming “Mum has gone” Tom was in shock and replied “gone where?” Jimmy the youngest said “She has gone to Bali, and she didn’t even take us” scowling at the thought of missing out on a holiday. Tom thought Joanne’s actions were so out of character and he was really concerned about her state of mind. He tried to call her mobile but no answer.

Joanne saw Tom’s name flash up on her mobile as she sipped a glass of wine in the airport lounge awaiting her flight. She hit the decline button as she knew if Tom tried to talk her into coming home, she probably would give in to guilt and return. “No”, she thought, “this is my time, I need this, for me”. Across the tannoid she could hear her flight had started boarding so she threw back her wine, took a deep breath and strode toward the gate.

Tom was worried about Joanne, but also worried about how he would manage work and the kids. He contacted his boss straight away and said he needed two weeks leave due to a family emergency.

Those two weeks seemed like the longest time in Tom’s life. At first, he struggled to get into the groove of making dinner, answering the constant calls of “Dad, I can’t find my shoes”, “Dad, Jimmy won’t get out of the bathroom” Tom didn’t know how he was going to get through the next two weeks but something magical happened……Tom’s relationship with his kids became stronger. He actually sat and listened to the kids telling him about their day. Rachel actually sat next to him on the sofa to watch a movie with him and laid her head against her Dad’s shoulder. Tom lifted his arm to let her snuggle into him. Tom use to love watching the kids interact with Joanne, hugging, chatting, laughing and even confiding about their problems. Tom use to think how lucky she was to have such a great relationship with the kids. Tom realised he was actually starting to experience that bond too with his kids. The kids were so use to their Dad been at work that they were also enjoying having their Dad around. Tom took the kids to the park and kicked a ball around. They went to the movies, on picnics, to the beach for a swim and even made homemade pizzas together on Saturday night. The only thing missing was Joanne. Tom tried to call Joanne a few times over that two weeks and each time it went unanswered. He felt the sadness that she must have felt when her calls had gone unanswered when she needed him.

Tom started to think about Joanne and how he missed her. They had never been apart before, she was always there at home. He realised at that point how much he had taken Joanne for granted. She was due back tomorrow and he couldn’t wait. He made reservations at a local restaurant for the whole family and bought the most beautiful bunch of flowers to welcome her home.

Joanne boarded the plane and she couldn’t wait for the journey to end. She really missed the kids but the breakaway had done her the world of good. She got to relax and pamper herself. During her time away she often reminisced about her and Tom’s honeymoon all those years ago in Bali and she deliberately stayed at the same hotel and requested the same room so she could reconnect with the fond memories of those times long ago. She knew deep down she still loved Tom. They use to have lots of fun as he was so spontaneous, outgoing and enjoyed life to the full. She knew they needed to rekindle those days gone by and hoped it wasn’t too late.

As Joanne turned the key in the front door, she heard Jimmy shout “Mum’s home” and the thumping of feet as the kids came running down the stairs. As she opened the door, Tom was standing there with a huge smile on his face, so happy to see her and gave her a huge hug. He held her tight for 5 minutes as though he never wanted to let her go again. He reached across to the hall table and picked up the beautiful bunch of flowers and handed them to Joanne saying “I missed you so much, Darling” He planted a big kiss on her lips that made Joanne feel so warm and tingly inside. The kids scrambled in to hug their mum pushing and shoving each other to see who could get the closest.

They all went out for dinner as a family with Tom taking Joanne’s hand as they walked along. Tom stopped outside the restaurant as the kids ran in to grab their table and he looked at Joanne and said “How about we fly to Bali next week for a second honeymoon?” Joanne beamed and excitedly said” I would love that, Tom”

As Joanne watched her family hungrily eat their dinner, she realised that people who stay in an unhappy relationship don’t thrive, they just survive. It took her to step out of her life for a break for them both to see that it was worth saving!

Author - Cheryl Duffy

Cheryl Duffy, Mediator, Divorce Coach & Author of The Divorce Tango

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