Are you thinking about leaving your marriage?
Here are 5 questions to consider before you leave.
1. How much of this decision is based on emotion?
When life and relationships are difficult, we experience a roller coaster of emotions. These emotions are influenced by many factors: anxiety, depression, boredom, hormones, stress, betrayal, feelings of infatuation for another person…. the list goes on and on. We do not get to choose what emotions we experience, but we can choose how much these emotions influence our decisions. It is important to know that feelings are not facts. When we are hurt, we might feel like we need to leave. When we feel connection with someone else we might feel like life would be better if you left your marriage. When we are stressed and overwhelmed, we might feel like leaving the marriage would take the pressure off. But, just because you feel this way does not mean it is true or accurate. Take the time to process your emotions. Feel the hurt, the anger, the sadness. Once these feelings run their course, make decisions with a clear head and a clear heart. Leaving a marriage is a huge decision. If it feels like an impulsive response to a problem, take the time to settle down and reflect. Reach out to someone who shares your values and will hold you accountable to yours. Slowing down doesn’t mean you are deciding to stay in the marriage, but it will help you to better discern the next step.
2. What is your contribution to the state of your marriage?
Marriage is a two way street. When unhappiness and disconnection grows in a marriage, it is easy to focus on your partner’s contribution to the problems. We create our own narratives of the marriage where we are the victims to our spouse’s ill intentions. Do not miss this opportunity to learn and grow. We learn so much about ourselves through relationships. Whether the marriage is salvageable or not, conflict is the birthplace of learning how we cope with pain, anger, loss, and disappointment. Some questions you might ask: What message have I given my spouse about how I value them and our marriage? What part do I play in the break down of communication, connection, and conflict? What have I done to understand my partner’s experience in the marriage? Have I been able to stay within my value system about how I behave as a spouse, despite what emotions are triggered in the marriage?
3. What factors are influencing my decision to leave?
There are hard reasons and soft reasons to leave a marriage. Hard reasons include addiction, abuse, betrayal, and violence. Softer reasons include “falling out of love”, lack of passion/attraction, boredom, and disconnection. While all of these reasons feel equally strong in influencing the desire to leave a marriage, the softer reasons are usually more of a symptom to be addressed, rather than the actual problem. Are you having an affair? Are your close friends getting divorced and influencing you to see that as a solution to your own unhappiness in the marriage? All of these factors make a difference and have the ability to contaminate your ability to make good, sound decisions. Find a neutral party (therapist, mentor, pastor) to process all of this with. Find someone who will offer support, while at the same time holding you accountable to making big decisions with a clear head.
4. What solutions have I tried to resolve our marital issues?
What have you really tried to address the marital struggles? Have you tried professional help? What have you done to bring your best self into the marriage? Is there an underlying depression or anxiety that plays a role in how you experience the marriage? Is there a compulsive behavior (abusing alcohol, spending, pornography) that needs to be addressed? If your adult children were holding you accountable for leaving, what would you tell them you have done to repair the marriage along the way?
5. Do I have a true picture of what life looks like post-divorce?
In my work with divorced clients, many report their deepest regret in leaving a marriage was not really taking an honest look at what the divorced life looks like. Important questions to consider: How will my financial situation change? How will this affect my children? Where will I be able to afford to live? How will I support myself (and my ex if you are responsible for child support)? What will I do on family holidays when my children are with their other parent? What will it feel like when my children are being parented by a step-parent? Giving thought to these factors does not mean that you will change your mind about leaving. But, it will allow you to make a good, balanced decision taking everything into consideration. Many times when we are in pain, we become shortsighted and it is difficult to see the bigger picture.
As a marriage therapist, I get a great deal of joy when marriages are able to recover from difficult trials. I am often amazed at how couples are able to overcome what feels insurmountable and find a pathway to a revitalized love and connection. However, I do understand that not every marriage is meant to be saved and there are factors that make repairing the marriage unhealthy or unsafe for one or both partners. Making the decision to leave a marriage is one of the biggest decisions you will ever make. As with every big decision in life, it is important to slow down and be very intentional and deliberate with your decision making. Find someone you trust to process the different possibilities you have moving forward. Identify your personal beliefs and values and make sure you are staying true to them. If at the end of the day, you decide to leave, make sure that you are truly at peace knowing that you have done absolutely everything you could do to salvage the relationship. Free yourself from future guilt and regret by making your decision based on your beliefs and open minded perspective of what brought you to this place of unhappiness. Hold yourself accountable to continuing to do the work to behave in a way that is fair, kind, and respectful. Reach out to your support system so that you enter the next chapter in your life with a clear head and an honorable purpose. This will allow you to process your grief without being swept away in anger, bitterness, and despair.