cleaning up after taking a big relationshit

I am 29 years old and have nothing to show for it. My marriage is on the outs, I have NO friends, I have NO job, and I’m living miles from home, which means I am homesick. I feel hopeless and helpless. You know what the sad part is? My life has been like this for a few years now. I’m tired and fed up. I don’t have enough strength to leave my husband, even though I, and everyone else, knows our marriage is going nowhere. He has all the glory, while I am lagging behind with nothing on my plate of achievement. In my heart of hearts, I’m ready to move on and reclaim my life. To start all over again, the right way. But I have no clue as to where I should start. Can you please lend me a few words of encouragement? 

straight up advice

29 with nothing to show for it? Becka, I’m guessing your sun damaged skin might beg to differ. But so will your heart. Because like it or not, you do have something to show for it. You have what you’ve learned. It’s why they aren’t just breakups from our past; they’re hopefully breakthroughs, too.

I know it’s easy to underestimate the value of "what you’ve learned from all this" when you look at your life’s to-do list–you know, that list upon which you believe you’re measured and judged. Given the limited amount I have to go on here, I’m guessing that you put a lot of stock into what others think of you. You mention that your husband "has all the glory," while you’re "lagging behind" as if it’s a race or competition. Even if you’re just trying to draw a comparison, you need to ask why you’re comparing yourself to anyone, especially him. Instead, you should remind yourself that no one in the world is exactly like you. You’re special not because of what you’ve achieved but because you were born, as you. There’s value in that, in you, just as you are, without the list of accomplishments. If you need to list something, make a detailed list of the three happiest, most breathtaking places, moments of your life. At least that list will make you feel good AND remind you that you have something to show for your 29 years here: you have memories. And you have the opportunity to make new ones.

I cannot comment on your marriage because I don’t know you or your particulars. Personally, I’d ask myself how I got there, to a place where I felt so isolated. Seriously. Ask yourself. Right now. Don’t ask yourself just so you can beat yourself up over it, ask so you can learn from it. What part did I play in creating this reality? And why did I choose the way that I did? What emotions were behind those decisions? Why did I get married, why to him, why do I think we’re "on the outs?" Why don’t I have any friends? Why haven’t I gone out and tried to make a new one today? Why, why, why? And most important, why have I allowed myself to feel this way for so long without doing anything about it? My guess… fear. 

You say you "don’t have enough strength to leave" your husband, even though you "know" your marriage is going nowhere. Obviously I don’t know any of the details here, but I feel the guidance you’re seeking can split here depending on what’s really going on.

First path: Let’s assume that in your heart of hearts, your most authentic self is telling you to get out of this marriage. And let’s assume that gut instinct of yours is the right one (a big assumption), then we’re dealing with your fear. And with fear, the only way out is through. You can continue to avoid it, to make every attempt to distract yourself from it, but you’ll always circle back and be left to face it. The only way to beat it is to confront it, to walk straight into it, knowing that you were born with all the tools you’ll need to get you through it. 

Second path: Perhaps the best way to move on from a relationshit is to stay in it. And to work on yourself. Many of us drag our issues from one relationship to the next, expecting things to change because our partner does. Since I don’t know you, I feel compelled to at least point out the possibility that maybe you’re lumping your stress about not having a job or friends, not feeling as accomplished as you’d hoped, in with your marriage. I don’t know. You might not even know. A therapist could help you figure it out, get to the heart of the matter, nail the sucker down, and help you devise a plan to confront the shit out of it. But I can’t.

Change is that bitch sales associate giving you the elevator look: it’s obnoxious and makes you feel self-conscious. Change is frightening because it means you have to face the unknown. Know what’s scarier? The thought that you could stay exactly where you are for the rest of your life, saying things like, "My life has been like this for a few years now. I’m tired and fed up."  If you’re truly fed up, you’ll do something about it. Know what’s more fun than sitting on your ass, freaking out about what you’ll do next? Reminding yourself that this is an adventure. This will be the start of the most exciting, most rewarding, most kickass time of your life. So, start planning it.

The same amount of effort goes into wishing that goes into planning. At least with planning, you’ll have something to show for it. Purchase a brand new journal, begin with a clean page. Write down everything you want, be as detailed as possible. Don’t worry if some things sound shallow, just get it all down. Add to the list in the coming days and weeks. At least now you’ll know what you’re living toward. You say In my heart of hearts, I’m ready to move on and reclaim my life. To start all over again, the right way. There is no right way, but there is your way, the direction in which your deepest self wants you to move. Listen to her and you can’t go wrong.

Also, this email I received just now might also bring you some comfort:

I just have to write (again) and share my good news with you! I’m
getting married, this New Year’s Eve, and I honestly don’t know how I
would have ever ended up at this place without your books, your blog
and your kind, but honest, emails. Getting out of a bad relationship
is hard, but having self worth and being open to new love during the
recovery of a bad break up feels nearly impossible.
You helped keep me motivated and believing in myself at a time when it
was difficult to just get out of bed. I stayed open to love and met an
amazing man. I could not feel luckier and I can not thank you enough!
Thank you for putting your story out there, thank you for responding
to my emails, thank you for taking all of the shit that comes with the
books/blog/honesty thing, because honestly, I can’t even imagine where
I’d be without the support, advice, and sense of community.
If it wasn’t totally irrational to think that you’d hop on a plane to
Virginia, I’d pressure you to come and dance the night away with us!!!
Thank you again for being a huge support for me!

go ahead, ask

If you have questions or need advice on anything from where to eat to how to get over the bastard, just email your question to my advice email address. I’m no doctor, not a therapist, but since people are asking me anyway, I promise to give you my opinion, straight up.

A YEAR AGO: Book Club Questions, Pack Hacking:How To Get the Most Out of the Least, Photo Contest: Firsts
3 YEARS AGO: Prerogative
5 YEARS AGO: Noctober



  1. I think your advice is right on. Looking back to when I first knew my marriage was doomed, and stupidly holding on for the ride through the years, as that high-speed train crashed head-on into a brick wall, I just shake my head.

    Breaking up that marriage, and extricating my babies and me from the wreckage was honestly the most gruesome, awful, painful thing I have ever done. I’ve said it before – it was like peeling off skin. That, compounded by the fear that I may not be good enough, or strong enough, or whole enough to raise the babies to reasonable people, was nearly enough to keep me paralyzed.

    But – one small step at a time, as that hideous process became part of my past, and I started relying on myself and believing in my strength, the strength came. The goodness I knew should be part of life began to suffuse our lives, surrounding each one of us with calm. And the fear – that horrible fear – abated. It went away and found a quiet place to change into courage. Wobbly at first, and then stronger and stronger. This birthday (in 2 weeks) will mark 10 years divorced. And I’m so content, happy, ebullient even. The babies are strong, healthy, normal and brilliant young adults. Every moment of every day, I know it was the right thing to do.

    Find your strength. Surround yourself with goodness, and courage will come.

  2. These are great answers. It can be hard to be reflective without being a) wildly harsh and judgmental of yourself or b) full of self-pity.

    I did a guided imagery CD that taught me to try to step outside that, even for just a few minutes at a time and ask yourself all the “whys” almost as if you’re analyzing someone else — someone you love, respect and believe in. A woman who can examine the past and her own actions in a non-critical, not self-conscious, “open to learning” way.


  3. When it comes to love, I’d say our gut is almost 100% right on all the time.

    It’s just distinguishing the language that takes practice.

  4. I don’t know but I feel for you. My husband and I married young and f*ck, do we still have a lot of learning to do. But along the way, something we have learned, is to take inspiration and motivation from each other. When my self esteem was at its lowest, I used to want to bring him down and not let him achieve….But I soon realized that I was only doing that because I was too damn lazy to choose to make a change in my life. And so I stopped the bs and started to choose to change my life. I signed up for a marathon. I signed up for an mfa program. Little by little, I started creating my own world that was just as excited as his. He’s about to get a job offer in the field he wants to be in. The old me would have put up a sh*tshow, saying that we’d never get to spend time together, that he was interested in screwing colleagues…The new me is proud of him and taking inspiration from how hard he’s worked. It’s taught me a lot to make change happen in my life. I think we’ve worked in tandem.
    So you DO have a lot to show for yourself at 29. Step by step, you’ll implement the change you need in your life.
    I wish you luck. And courage, because it’s there, you just have to find it. Thanks for sharing.

  5. You’re a shameless 2 bit self-promoter. While you give a page of a diatribe to answer this poor girl’s dilemma, your true colors show when in the last paragraph you “share” a random email “that just arrived” (um yeah ok) from someone just to benefit from the way it mentions your book.

    You’re a fake phony fraud. Out. For. The. Money.

  6. I LOVE these answer posts of yours Stephanie. Now hurry up and answer mine ;)

  7. This was great advice. Seriously. It applies to me, and I’m not even married. Thank you for taking the time to respond so thoughtfully Stephanie. I’ve printed this post (it’s going up on my fridge) and emailed it to all my friends. Again, thank you.

  8. I am the thankful promoter of Stephanie and I sent the email (literally right before she posted it) and it meant so much to know that Stephanie was excited for me and wanted to share my email with others. It was comments and emails (and her book) that helped me cope during a rough decision to leave a bad relationship. I know how meaningful those words were to me and I KNOW that they will be meaningful for anyone who is going through the very same thing! Happy endings happen and people sometimes need to be reminded! I know I did!

    1. Congratulations! Now send some of that luck over to me!
      Seriously though….I’m going through a very tough break-up right now. My boyfriend is a Cancer, very gentle creatures that bruise easily and walk sideways when they want to go forward. He’s been making me miserable because he’s been upset at me for an incident that happened in July. This led to me being so upset that I told him to do what he needs to do but I’m not going to do it for him (breaking up). So he finally said the words “I can’t go on in this relationship”. I felt proud of myself for not doing his dirty work but at the same time I’m devastated because I love him and I want him to be happy. But something is lacking for him and he’s not communicating and instead he’s making us both miserable.

      Well, this happened last night and today he’s e-mailed me a few times and texted me because he’s worried about me. And now he wants to Skype tonight.
      I hope he’s thought things over…but I’m nervous he may only want to “fix things” now because he feels sorry for me and that’s not what I want. I want him to WANT to be with me, you know? I don’t want him to settle for me because then he’ll never be happy. I adore him like crazy, but at my tender age of 23 I know that in order for this relationship to work both our needs need to be met.

      wish me luck!

  9. Who’s disgusting? Your comment is such a buzzkill!!! Instead of offering any additional advice to “this poor girl”, you spend your time leaving a hateful comment. Being mean has never been in style. This blog is fun! A lot of people can relate to the topics and I am one of them. I appreciate the letter and the advice. I even sent the link to a friend who is going through something similar. So next time you have the urge to spread your negativity, why don’t you do something nice for someone?

  10. I am the woman who sent Stephanie this e-mail. I had NO idea she was going to reply to it at all. But when I read it on the site, I quickly became filled with utter gratefulness and appreciation. I keep reading her reply over and over again to have enough courage to do what I have to do. I really feel like there is someone out there rooting for me and listening to my plight. Each and everyday I am learning something valuable about myself I will keep with me along this journey of self-growth and self-acceptance.

    I thank you Stephanie, (and the readers) from the bottom of my heart, god bless you!


  11. There are bits and pieces of this post that I may have to steal ;) and use. Specifically the “work on yourself,” because aren’t we all works in progress?

    I work in higher education and every now and then see an elderly student, not older but ELDER. It always makes me smile and motivates me. I think “even at that age, they want to learn, grow, EXPLORE.” If they can change at 80 years old, so can I.

    Where do we email questions to ANSWERS STRAIGHT UP?

  12. let me say that 29 may seem old to the author, but it is SO YOUNG!!! she has so much time to make a new life, make new friends. i spent my entire 20s screwed up, shy and lonely, and i started groups for my interests, reached out to new friends, made a new life. i got married at 36 and now i am 39 an we are trying for a baby (yeah i know i better hurry up)

  13. Intimately, the article is actually the sweetest on this notable topic. I harmonize with your conclusions and will thirstily look forward to your approaching updates. Saying thanks will not just be adequate, for the great lucidity in your writing. I will at once grab your rss feed to stay informed of any updates. Solid work and much success in your business enterprise!

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