You might be wrestling with this question right now, or know someone who is. It’s a huge life decision, and perhaps you’re not even sure where to start considering.
Here are some suggestions.1) First, assess your own frame of mind.
Are you feeling stable enough emotionally to approach a decision this life-altering? Sometimes if a person is experiencing a lot of depression or anxiety, it’s best to get mental health treatment first. Once the symptoms begin to abate, many things can become clearer.
For example, it’s possible that your primary issue isn’t your marriage; it’s something else you’ve been avoiding. It could be your mental health itself. Wanting to get divorced might just be grasping at straws, hoping something will bring relief, fast.
2) If you do feel that your psychological distress primarily stems from your marriage, have you tried various means to improve it?
That can be talking to your spouse, talking to friends as outlets or to seek advice, trying new things together to regain the spark, reading books on assertiveness and communication, doing individual anger management, and/or couples therapy…the list goes on and on.
While I’m a couples therapist myself, I don’t think that counseling is the only route to change. But it can be one worth trying.
Think about whether you’ve really exhausted your resources in fixing the marriage. Because if you do proceed with divorce, it will involve great emotional and financial costs. Before going down that road, you want to be sure you’ve done all you can.
That’s especially true if you have children. I know parents who later feel guilt and regret that they didn’t fight hard enough for their marriages once they see the pain their children are in after the divorce. While some pain is inevitable in the break-up of a family, it’s often lessened by knowing that you tried your best and that some problems are simply insurmountable.
3) Be willing to take full responsibility for your own role in the problems.
Most marriages fail because of dynamic rather than individual issues. As in, it’s the WAY a couple interacts, not simply each person’s behavior. You’re likely triggering and provoking each other. Even if one of you tends to be more vocal and histrionic, it might be that the other person is provoking through their silence. The angry partner is just trying to get a reaction, any reaction.
Consider your role carefully, because it’s one you may find you’ve played in other relationships before, and one you might find yourself playing again in your next relationship if you do decide to divorce.
And taking responsibility will make you much more successful whether you decide to work on the marriage, or decide to divorce. When we’re honest with ourselves, we have the most power over our own futures.
4) Think through all the costs of a split.
These are practical, financial, and emotional (not necessarily in that order.) How could you pay your bills? How would you cope emotionally? Who can you count on?
Evaluate your personal support network. Have a pretty good idea which friends you’d most likely keep in a divorce, and which you might lose.
Look at the potential impact on your children based on their psychologies, temperaments, and relationships with each parent. Be specific in envisioning what the custody arrangement would most likely be, and how you would feel in carrying that out. Think about what you would tell your children, and how you’d support them emotionally. Consider all your resources (again, practical, financial, and emotional.)
5) If divorce is the right course, do your best to end amicably.
This is whether you have children or not. It’s much healthier to be able to grieve for a relationship that simply ran its course or couldn’t work, than to stoke the fire of anger and outrage and to make yourself the victim. A no-fault divorce isn’t just a legal concept; it’s an emotional one, too.
But obviously, with children, you’re tethered to one another for better or for worse for years. Think about what your children are going to witness. You want to keep the toxicity levels as low as possible for them as well as for you.
That means finding a way to see your ex that is compassionate and honors the relationship that you once had. Locating your compassion for others often makes it easier to be compassionate toward yourself as well, which is critical in healing from divorce.