It’s never an easy decision…
Most of us get married with the intention of staying married. But life doesn’t always go according to plan. About half of all marriages end in divorce – and many more marriages aren’t particularly happy, even if they do last.
If you took an honest survey of married people, chances are you’d find that nearly all of them have thought about getting divorced at some point. Maybe it was just once, for a couple of hours after a particularly nasty fight, or maybe it’s every morning when they wake up and every night as they’re falling asleep.
Even though getting divorced is common, it’s still never an easy decision to make. When I was wrestling with whether or not to end my own marriage, the book I found most helpful was called Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay: A Step-by-Step Guide to Help You Decide Whether to Stay In or Get Out of Your Relationship, by couples therapist Mira Kirshenbaum. In it, she takes readers through a series of questions and exercises designed to help them find clarity on whether or not they’d be happier if they left their relationship, or stayed and worked on it.
The following nine signs that you may be better off getting divorced are drawn from Kirshenbaum’s work, and backed up by many other relationship experts – as well as common sense. Because relationships do take work; but sometimes there’s nothing worth fixing.
1. You can’t remember a time when things were really good between you
Kirshenbaum asks couples to think back to when things were the absolute best between them. “Looking back, would you now say that things were really very good between you then?” When the answer is no, she says couples almost never regret deciding to get a divorce. Maybe you always felt that something was off between you, but you ignored your instincts. Or maybe you felt pressured into marriage because everyone else was doing it, or you wanted to have kids and the clock was ticking. If you can’t look back at the good times and feel that they were really and truly good, that might be the only sign you need to know it’s time to go.
2. You don’t feel any sexual attraction toward your partner
Sure, sometimes you’re in the mood, and sometimes you’re not. And in a long-term relationship, sex can easily fall off your radar and end up on the back burner. A shockingly high number of couples end up in sex-starved marriages, for lots of different reasons. But when you look at your partner, setting aside whether or not you’re exhausted or getting your period or anything else, do you still find them sexually attractive? Is there a spark you feel with them and no one else? Maybe the way one corner of his mouth turns up when he smiles still drives you wild. Or maybe you can’t stand the thought of him touching you. A healthy sex life is integral to a healthy marriage – so if he can’t get your motor revving, it’s time to say goodbye.
3. There’s been even one instance of physical abuse
This one is pretty simple: if he’s ever hit you, even once, you need to go. End of story. Of course, many abused wives end up staying in their relationships – often because they’re scared to leave, or don’t know how to. But there shouldn’t be any question about whether or not you need to get divorced, in the case of physical violence. You do. Seek help from a domestic violence center, your family, your friends, and anyone else who offers support, and get out.
4. Your spouse has an addiction they can’t overcome
No one is saying you automatically need to get a divorce if your partner is an alcoholic, a drug addict, a gambler, or any other type of addict. There’s a reason wedding vows say ‘for better or for worse, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.’ Having families and friends by their side is essential for an addict trying to get well. But if your partner refuses to get help, and you’ve honestly tried to make them see the light, cutting your losses could be the best course of action. Try going to an Al-Anon meeting, where you can talk with other people whose loved ones have struggled with addiction – and don’t feel bad about walking away if you have to.
5. Couples therapy hasn’t helped
So many of my friends have gone from the couples therapist’s couch to the divorce lawyer’s office, it almost seems like a rite of passage for a couple on their way to a split. But that’s because many couples wait too long to seek out counseling. Once significant damage has been done to the relationship, and couples have settled into ingrained patterns of relating to each other, it can be very difficult to find a way out. If your partner won’t even agree to try couples therapy, that’s a bad sign too. You’ve got to at least give it a shot. But if you’ve given it a real try and it’s still not working, it could be time to walk.
6. You’re staying in your marriage out of fear
Getting divorced is scary, particularly if you have children, or you’ve been together for a long time. The future without your spouse can seem like a big question mark. Kirshenbaum suggests writing down exactly what feels scary to you – write out your worst case scenario. Now write out your best case scenario; all the good things you hope might happen once you jump ship. Look at each fear and each scenario and ask yourself, is it true? Is it likely? What else is possible? What’s most likely? Examining your fears in this way will help you look at them in a new light, and move towards overcoming them.
7. Even if your problems were magically solved, you’d still want to leave
There are probably a few issues you can point to that make you want to leave your marriage: you don’t feel like he listens to you, she’s a workaholic, he has a terrible temper, she never wants to have sex – we all have our lists. Now imagine that every one of your gripes was magically solved by a magic genie. Would you still want to leave? Being married isn’t for everyone. Sometimes, your reasons are really more like excuses. Maybe you just don’t want to be married – or you don’t want to be married to this person anymore. Own it. You don’t actually have to have a reason or an excuse. Deciding to get divorced can be extremely empowering. If you want out, then go.
8. You feel hopeless most of the time
Working on a relationship year after year is exhausting. At some point, if nothing has changed, you may run out of hope that it ever will. This is the time when some people resign themselves to a life of unhappiness and stay stuck in a bad marriage forever. They’ve not only lost hope for the marriage, they’ve lost hope for their own future happiness as well. But getting divorced is a hopeful thing: it says that you believe there’s a better life out there for you, and you’re committed to finding it. If you’ve lost hope, you owe it to yourself to leave. You deserve better. You deserve to have hope.
9. If someone came along and said you had to get divorced, you’d be relieved
Maybe you’re afraid your parents will judge you if you get divorced; maybe you think God will judge you. If you’ve got some belief system hanging over you, telling you that you’ve got to stay in your marriage, no matter what, just play this little game with yourself: pretend some all-powerful being has granted you permission to leave. Better yet, pretend they’ve told you that you have to leave. How do you feel? If your first reaction is one of immense relief, you’ve got your answer. What you do with it is up to you.
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Comment: When do you think a marriage should end?