A therapist I know once suggested that staying married is a choice you make on a daily basis.
She said that every morning when you wake up and look over at your snoring spouse, you’re deciding — on some level — to stay married one more day. This isn’t a psyche-challenging exercise if you’re in a good, or good enough, marriage. It’s an autopilot decision you don’t even know you’ve made.
But if you’re wondering daily whether you’re in the right marriage, this decision becomes a gut-wrenching task that occupies every waking thought.
You’re consumed with the realization that your marriage is on the low end of the proverbial marital satisfaction spectrum. All the more confusing is that you may find yourself moving up and down that spectrum like a zipline gone haywire. One day the marriage seems almost tolerable, the next you’re fantasizing about running out for milk and never coming back.
You know you’re unhappy in your marriage when you’re always wondering whether or not you’re happy. Happily married people aren’t asking themselves if they’re happy. They just are. And admitting to yourself that you’re unhappy in your relationship is not going to top your list of life’s great moments. The realization that you have to end your marriage is painful and the timing never feels right. Between your kids’ soccer schedules, your full-time job, your sick mother-in-law, your niece’s upcoming wedding, your partner’s perpetual underemployment and your second mortgage, there’s always some excuse to delay the inevitable.
In my psychotherapy practice, clients often ask me when they’ll be completely sure that it’s time for a divorce. I tell them that only they can answer that. I also tell them that ready-to-divorce folks often describe a feeling of desperation that engulfs them in a way they’ve never experienced before. “I felt like if I didn’t get out, I was going to die,” clients say. Their lives start to feel more like death.
Recently, a client told me she wanted to wait until she was sure she’d have no regrets about her decision whatsoever. I told her that’s impossible. Why? Because it’s impossible to hurt the people important to you and not have some lingering doubt about your decision. It’s impossible to assign your kids the designation of being “from a broken home” and not have some lasting sadness.
But here’s the reality: that doesn’t mean your decision to divorce is wrong. And although it’s imperative to take your time making this decision, folks often get mired in time-wasting efforts that do nothing but delay the inevitable. In fact, there are three things people do routinely that keep them imprisoned in pre-divorce misery. If deciding to divorce is taking you much longer than you think is healthy or necessary, ask yourself these questions:
1. Are you trying to convince your spouse that your perspective of the marriage is the “right” one?
Your marriage has a unique story and the two people in it have very different versions to tell. In unhappy unions, these versions are often very different. If you’re expending a lot of energy trying to convince your spouse that your story of the marriage is the right version, do both of you a favor and stop. He doesn’t see it your way and he isn’t going to. Rehashing the story of when your marriage went wrong isn’t useful, it’s painful and destructive. And, in reality, there’s truth in both of your stories. It’s like when police interview witnesses of a violent crime and no one can agree on what color shirt the perpetrator was wearing. It’s all about perspective. Just agree to disagree.
2. Are you trying to convince your spouse that staying in the marriage (or leaving it) is the best decision?
Often when couples are considering divorce, one partner wants to leave and the other wants to hang in there and try to make it work. If you have a partner who adamantly wants out, there’s little chance you’re going to convince him otherwise. You can pull out all the stops trying to change his mind but at some point, you have to accept his decision and find a way to move on. You’re also not going to convince your partner that divorce is for the best when he’s sure that it will destroy his life. That’s what usually makes divorce so contentious. You each want a vastly different outcome. So don’t wait for your spouse to give you the green light; you’re not going to get it.
3. Are you trying to get your spouse to singularly take the blame for the demise of the marriage?
If you’re endlessly passing the baton of blame back and forth, you’re wasting precious time. You’ve both played a role in the disintegration of the marriage. In the end, does it really matter who shoulders the blame? Instead, work on creating a post-divorce financial plan and focus on helping your kids through the transition. No family court judge has the time or resources to consider how he didn’t come to your father’s funeral or that you sexted with the pool boy at the country club. Don’t whittle away your energy trying to convince yourself or others whose fault all of this is. No-fault divorce laws exist for a reason.
Ultimately, the decision to divorce can only come from you. No therapist in the world can, or should, tell you if or when it’s the right choice for you. What I can offer you, though, is this: it’s time to divorce when you have tried everything to keep your marriage together and nothing has worked. It’s time to divorce when divorcing is perpetually on the table as a possibility: happily married people don’t talk about divorcing. It’s time when you can’t imagine the rest of your life with this person, when he makes your life into sadness with no end in sight. It’s time when, yes, your life starts to feel more like death.
More divorce advice from YourTango:
- How To Divorce-Proof Your Marriage
- The Top 5 Mistakes That Lead To Divorce
- Dating After Divorce: What You Need To Know