Should I Stay or Should I Go?: Low Conflict Marriages #1: Case History

But let’s say you’re not  in a high-conflict marriage, where research is telling you that getting out may be best for your children. What if your marriage doesn’t even look bad to others? Do you have the “right,” in your own mind, to go, when you can’t justify leaving as better for your children? I’d like to take a look at the experience of Maura who, 30 years into a low-conflict relationship, felt she had way overstayed her marriage’s welcome.

Maura* was bored with her husband. There was no screaming, no shouting or swearing or carrying on. In fact, she and Mike almost never argued. But she’d known for years that the marriage was wearing on her.

They had three children, and Maura knew she wouldn’t leave until the last one was nearly grown, so she and Mike stayed together–and it wasn’t even awfully unpleasant.

In fact, the greatest unpleasantness of the marriage probably came in my office–as I sometimes get lucky enough to have happen. Maura’s youngest son Matthew had just been accepted to Michigan, and, with that, Maura would have successfully raised her children together with Mike until they left the nest–and now she was a free bird.

There are two unique components to Maura’s story relevant to my blog. The first is a return to the original questions, from the first entry on this topic. Maura had stayed for the kids, and now she knew for certain that the answer to the first question, “Should I leave for myself?” was yes.

So Maura broke the news to Mike in the safety of my office, and I have never seen a more surprised husband upon hearing that his wife would be leaving. Mike was flabbergasted. Out came the usual: I thought you were happy, I always treated you well, haven’t we raised a beautiful family. You can buy anything you want.

But Maura stood firm. Mike cried, and it was painful to see him so pitiful. “Why, Maura? Give me just one reason why, you want to leave. Please.”

Maura felt she owed that to her husband of 30 years, and here was her response: “You never pick the restaurant or the play. I’m the one who plans every vacation, motivates every house move. I pick out the dogs.  All the energy in the marriage comes from me, and I’m completely drained.”

So she had answered questions number 3 of the initial questions for herself, too–what will change if you leave. Maura didn’t have dreams that she would meet the male version of a party planner, or meet a Prince Charming who would wine and dine her–and book all airline tickets. She just felt, strongly, that if she was in charge of so many major creative decisions in life, she was better off doing it on her own than with someone who rubbed her the wrong way. If she was going to have no help picking a movie to see, she’d rather have no help–AND no Mike.

The second unique component to Maura’s story was her son’s response, which leads us to the issue of low-conflict marriages and divorce, and their impact on children.


*As with all characters in my blog posts, there is no real Maura or Mike, whose names have been changed to protect their privacy.  They are teaching characters, composed of bits and pieces from real life humans plus details from my imagination which make the story more interesting and, hopefully, instructive.


I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.

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