The question of staying or leaving a man who is in prison is one I hear often
And one I had to wrestle with when Ron went to prison. The pain of the separation, the social prejudice, and the painful memories of trust betrayed all make a compelling case to leave. And yet, you are still asking yourself, “What is the RIGHT thing to do?” No one can make this decision for you. You are the one who must walk out your days living with all of the consequences of your decision. When married, it is vitally important that you walk into this—or away from this—with your eyes wide open. Here are some key points to consider as you face your future with your husband in prison (read about this story).
First, the bad stuff about staying married to a man in prison:
- IT IS HARD! No, I mean really Staying in a marriage after someone has gone to prison is not an easy life. It is not glamorous or appealing by anyone’s standards. It is also not popular. You can count on people talking about you and your spouse’s imprisonment, having a ready opinion about what they would do if it were them in your situation, and offering unsolicited advice about how you could “do so much better.”
- IT IS LONELY! Socially, you will be a misfit. You aren’t really able to connect with the “marrieds” because your spouse cannot come along, but you also do not fit in with the singles because you are married. He just doesn’t happen to be standing next to you right now. You are a threat to insecure married women who don’t want you getting too close to their husbands, so you won’t be invited over much. Singles can quickly become a threat to your own marriage if their influence causes you to live like you are single too.
- IT IS EXPENSIVE! Not only are you now a single-income family, you need to find money to pay for phone calls, gas for prison visits, food boxes, sundry boxes (these are boxes of items a prisoner can buy or receive that are not food.), and food/snacks during visits. It all adds up really fast – especially when your kids need shoes, and your tires need replaced.
- IT IS EXHAUSTING! Not only are you taking care of your children (assuming you have children), your job, your car, your home, any pets you have, and other relationships that need care (parents, etc.) – now you are doing it all alone WHILE you serve as the point of contact to the outside world for a man who only sees brick walls and barbed wire fences every day. You will be the person to provide updates on people’s lives, connections to lawyers, and search for information to help your spouse’s cause or improve his chances for successful reentry. All the while, feeling like you have to justify your life and your family to everyone else. Whew! I am tired just remembering all this!
- IT IS SCARY! Being married to an inmate means visiting prisons to see him. Navigating all of the processes, rules, and rooms of a prison – and all of that just to get into the visiting room. During your visit you are seated right next to other families and inmates. They are so close you literally have to pretend not to hear and see them – all while under the very suspicious watch of the guard working in the visit room. Scary stuff when you stop to think about it.
- IT HURTS! The rejection from your friends and family cuts deep into your heart and soul. The pain of feeling “less than” in your community and among your peers just adds to the indescribable pain from rejection, judgment, and gossip. Added to all of that is the pain and disappointment you already feel because of the situation you are in. And heaped on top of all of THAT is a truckload of grief.
At this point, you might be feeling like I am trying to talk you into leaving your husband, but that is not the case! I just want you to know what you are signing up for! My daughter always tells me she likes to “eat the frog first” so the worst is behind her. Well, those are six good reasons to walk away. But if you do, you will miss out on all of the amazing and beautiful opportunities in front of you!
6 reasons to stay together
- YOUR PROMISE! If you are married, you made a vow to stay together “for better or for worse.” Although I do not believe this means you should stay if you or your children are being abused, I do believe in your ability to overcome most disappointments and hurt and keep your promises. There is a measure of joy and a measure of pain in everyone’s life. When your word means something, and you stand on your vows, you also actively work to make the better outweigh the worse. Becoming a person of your word means standing on your promises even when it is not easy to stand at all. It is an incredible experience to walk through the pain to get to the joy together.
- YOUR KIDS! Your kids need their dad in their lives. There is so much research that shows the importance of children having their dad in their lives. When you and Dad can work through adversity, struggle together to find forgiveness, and build a new foundation for your family, it creates peace and safety in the hearts of your children. They learn persistence, perseverance, and forgiveness in their own hearts. They feel protected and value their family more.
- YOUR GROWTH! There is no question that overcoming adversity produces personal growth. It demands it. When you can see struggle as opportunity, you grow. Your perception changes. You become more humble, compassionate, and in tune with other’s pain. You grow wiser, stronger, and more resilient. This growth helps you to view the world differently and to see opportunities you never saw before. It is a beautiful kind of growth that is only produced under the rarest of conditions, and you get to experience it!
- YOUR CHARACTER! You will develop character in wonderful ways! Not only do you learn to wait with grace, you also learn to fight with dignity. The battles will be for your family, your children, your husband, and your own reputation. The silly pride you clung to before will fall away. You will learn the value of pride in doing well. It is not a one-woman show; you will learn how you can depend on your spouse despite the distance. You will learn how to receive and how to give. You will learn what it means to be content with what you have, you will learn to be authentic. There is no time for pretense. You will get to be who you are, and you will get to help others along the way. You will develop true grit.
- YOUR MARRIAGE! Marriage really does matter. Staying together allows you to go into battle together, experience life together. You have someone who can grieve the loss of your shared dreams with you and encourage you to dream with them again. Traveling through life together as you rebuild your dreams creates a beautiful journey. The powerful sense that you are in a war to save your marriage, and that it is worth saving, provides supernatural strength. You will find a strength you never knew existed. Living apart forces real communication and intentional investment in your relationship. I cannot even explain the depth of emotional and spiritual connection you will develop together – the feeling of oneness you will experience if you will work at your marriage. The letters you will write; the letters you will get! Finding new ways to dig deeper builds an intimacy so much stronger than physical intimacy.
- YOUR LEGACY! Gratefulness will become your foundation. Your legacy will no longer be built on selfish ambition. Your family will have characteristics that are only produced in overcoming adversity. You will know you are not perfect, but you will learn that being healthy and strong is the only goal worth pursuing. You will inspire and encourage others to not give up when it is tough. This sends a message loud and clear to your children and all those around you. “My family is worth saving!”
I obviously chose to walk out my vows and stay.
As crazy as it may seem, it wasn’t even a difficult decision. I wanted a strong, intact family. I wanted my sons to have their daddy in their lives and know that their parents were going to keep them safe no matter what – together. This decision wasn’t about me, and it really wasn’t about Ron, or how much time he was going to do in prison. It was about what my goal was and whether or not I was willing to put forth the effort I would need to invest in order to build a thriving marriage and family. It took a lot of courage to venture out on this journey, but I am oh, so very glad that I made the choices I did (read about how prison saved our marriage).
Today, I have an amazing marriage to an amazing man.
I am a witness of the greatness of the power of transformation that comes as a result of faith and perseverance. Do I believe everyone should stay together? No. But I do believe that MOST should stay together. The joy, strength, wisdom, fortitude, and FRIENDSHIP you build together in the wilderness creates a bond like no other. The deep connection Ron and I have today is a direct result of the difficulty we endured and overcame as we fought for our marriage in spite of a prison sentence of 14-25 years.
As you consider your future and your family’s legacy, I hope you see the value of what you have. The potential of your family is bubbling beneath the surface of this painful situation. You have the power to turn this mess into a message of love and hope. If we can do it, you can too!
We are rooting for you.
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