I’m often thankful that my marriage ended via text. I never had to make the gut-wrenching decision to inform my husband that I wanted out. I’ve never experienced endless days and nights weighing the pros and cons of divorce and anticipating its impact on my life.
Even though I never thought about divorce prior to experiencing it, I have spent the past several years studying and writing about the end of a marriage. For those of you who are in the unenviable position of trying to decide if you should stay or go, here are twelve questions for you to consider.
Are you in or your children in danger?
If you are in an abusive situation, your first course of action is to find a safe place for your family. If the marriage is violent and available interventions are not successful, your responsibility is to take care of yourself and your children. Get out, get help and then consider the question of divorce.
Are you quitting or letting go?
Are you running away from your marriage because you’re hesitant to address issues with your spouse or with yourself? Are you giving up because the relationship seems like it requires too much work to repair? Have you made mistakes in your marriage and you’re afraid to own up to your actions? If you answered in the affirmative to any of these, you’re quitting.
It is a reality that sometimes people enter into a marriage that was wrong from the beginning. Or, perhaps the relationship worked for a time but now you and your partner are no longer the same people who committed years ago.
People change. Circumstances change. And not every marriage can adapt. Sometimes the best decision you can make is to accept that something is gone and let it go.
Are you putting at least as much energy into the marriage as you are into your escape plans?
It’s human to look across the fence and see the grass as greener on the other side. After all, you know everything about your circumstances and often only see the best of your neighbor’s.
Marriage is no different. A relationship of any duration has history, arguments and issues that clutter the memory banks and may threaten to overrun the grass with weeds. An encounter with a new person, fresh and unsullied by the reality, can be intoxicating.
But it’s just an illusion. All you’re seeing in the beginning is what they want you to see. And illusions can only be maintained for a time.
The grass isn’t greener on the other side; it’s greener where you water it. If your attentions are focused outside of the marriage, you are starving your relationship. Make the intention to give your marriage at least as much energy as you’re giving your escape plans. Water it, nurture it, before you declare it dead.
Have you made changes in yourself?
We often blame our partners for our misery and frustration. We proclaim that if our spouse was only a better listener or less grouchy that our home life would be happy. We argue that he or she is lazy or materialistic or self-absorbed. We see our partners as the problem and ourselves as the victim.
We often want to fix our spouses. When what we really should be doing is fixing ourselves. Because you can’t change another’s actions, but you can always change your response.
So much of negativity in a marriage comes down to patterns of behavior: push and pull, nag and retreat, blame and contempt. If you can alter your responses, you have the potential of changing the entire pattern. And maybe even the marriage.
Many people use divorce as a catalyst for personal growth. Why wait? Improve yourself first and maybe the divorce doesn’t need to happen.
Have you informed your partner about your concerns and your feelings?
The first time your husband or wife hears about problems in the marriage should not be on the day you ask for a divorce. Even if you feel distant and disengaged, you have a responsibility to your spouse to communicate about the state of the union.
It takes courage to broach these difficult conversations; you have to be prepared to face anger or despondency or desperation. Ultimately, you are not responsible for your partner’s well-being, but you are accountable for transparency and truthfulness. If the marriage is at risk, make sure both parties know and are given the opportunity to campaign.
Are you on a snipe hunt for happiness?
We often fall victim to inertia in our lives. We slide into marriage and often into parenthood without being fully conscious and deliberate about our actions. As a result, we often “wake up” and realize that we’re not happy. We blame it on our jobs, our environment and our marriages.
It’s so easy to end up on a snipe hunt for happiness. We look for validation and acceptance in our possessions, buying more and more to give the appearance of a good life. We surround ourselves with sycophants and flirts that convince us that we’re desirable.
If you are looking for happiness in a new relationship status, you will be disappointed. Happiness can’t be found without; that’s a hunt that will never end. Instead of blaming your circumstances for your misery, try taking ownership of your own well-being.
Is there addiction on either side?
Addiction is a disease that is characterized with instability, deception and a difficulty in addressing issues head-on. Addicts frequently pair with enablers, the give and take meeting both of their needs in an unhealthy dynamic. All of these concerns make it very difficult to be a healthy relationship with active addiction in the picture.
If you struggle with addiction, your first responsibility is your own sobriety. It is not fair to place that burden on your partner, nor should you feel obligated to stay with someone who undermines your sobriety.
If your partner is an addict, your first step is learning your role in the pattern. Get help. Join an Al-Anon group or something similar and educate yourself about addiction, codependency and sobriety. Regardless of your decision about divorce, make sure to address your behaviors and thinking that developed alongside the dependence. Addiction is a family disease. Take responsibility for curing yourself.
Are you falling for the sunk cost fallacy?
According to the sunk cost fallacy, we have a tendency to stay in commitments purely because of the time or money invested. For example, we may hold on to a car well beyond its life because we have spent so much money on repairs, even though it makes more sense to purchase a newer and more reliable car. In marriage, we may find ourselves staying put because of the months or years invested in the relationship.
But that’s not a reason to stay.
The sunk cost fallacy is born of a calculus of fear. We prefer to stay with what is known rather than venture into the unexplored. We hesitate to scrap what we have because of a fear or starting over.
Stay because of the present marriage and the future one, not because of what has passed.
Has there been betrayal on either side?
Betrayal undermines a relationship. It often occurs when there are problems within the marriage, acting as an alert but also distracting from the underlying issues.
If you have been betrayed, you may find yourself grasping onto the marriage out of a panic of losing your spouse. Or you may react with anger, rage blinding you from rational thought. Betrayal is insanely painful. Give yourself time to grieve before making decisions. And, also understand, that if your spouse is not willing to end the affair or address the problems in the marriage, your decision may have been made for you.
If you have been the unfaithful one, work first to understand the motivation behind your actions. What were you seeking? Have you been starving your marriage of attention? Are you running away from some truth? Are you afraid of being alone and setting up a new bed to hop into as soon as you leave the old? If you fail to understand why you made this choice, you most likely find that you are given another opportunity to examine it when you cheat again.
Are you aware of the impact of divorce on children?
Some people proclaim that divorce destroys children. Others argue that it has no impact on them all. The reality is somewhere in the middle; divorce, no matter how amicable, affects the kids.
Regardless of the decision made, consider the needs of the kids. Research the impact of divorce on children of different ages. Be mindful about how and what you tell them. Watch out for signs of depression or anxiety and be ready to seek interventions if needed. Put your concern for your children ahead of your anger for your spouse.
The best gift you can give a kid is a stable and loving home life. That may mean repairing your marriage or staying together until the children have launched. Or, it may mean ending an unhealthy marriage so that the family can have a fresh start.
Is there a lack of passion and intimacy?
We often ask too much of marriage. We expect it to be our safe place, our den against the elements, providing stability and security while also looking to it for passion and excitement. It can’t fulfill both.
Passion comes from risk. It comes from seeing your partner as an individual with his or her own interests and ideas. If we feel too secure, as though we know our partners better than they know themselves, there is nothing exciting. Part of maintaining excitement in a marriage is the acceptance of risk and removing the illusion of security.
We also have tendency to construct walls with the intention of limiting possible heartbreak. Those walls are also an illusion, as all they do is limit the potential of a marriage. Intimacy has to start with vulnerability. Don’t blame your partner for a lack of connection if you are refusing to let them in.
Are you afraid of being alone?
A fear of being alone is no reason to enter into a relationship and it is also not a reason to stay in one. We are social creatures. We fear abandonment and isolation. Often to our own detriment as we grasp onto relationships that are not good for us. Being happy alone is better than being unhappy in a relationship.
Ultimately, no one else can make the decision regarding divorce for you. It’s a call you have to make on your own. If you decide that divorce is the right decision in your case, please enter it mindfully. You cannot eliminate the pain and fear and confusion that follow, but you have the ability to mitigate at least some of its effects.
I wish you and your family the best in whatever your decision.