Do You Still Want to Be Married?
Saving Your Marriage: Four Points to Consider as You Decide Whether to Split
If it has occurred to you to divorce your mate, you have likely been unhappy for quite some time. Yet you know from the stomach-churning rush of feeling every time you think about it that it is not something to take lightly. To divorce or stay in a marriage is one of the most important decisions you will likely ever make in your life. How do you know what is best? All experts agree, if your safety is an issue, if you are living with violence or verbal abuse directed at either you or your children, you must get out. Pack a bag, gather the kids, and leave as soon as possible. Enlist the help of friends or professionals if necessary, but don’t stay where you are in danger.
For most couples though, the situation is not that clear-cut. The smitten love of the first years lets down its guard, and stresses and irritations slip in. Perhaps there are children, or money worries, or disagreements over who does what, and whether they do it properly. How much of this is normal life, and how much an indication that you are simply not right for each other? Have you reached the point where you spend most of your time thinking about whether to stay or go?
In her book Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay, psychologist Mira Kirshenbaum calls this state of mind, relationship ambivalence and warns against spending years of unhappiness wondering what to do. So here are a few checkpoints to consider if you’re thinking there must be a better life out there.
1. HAVE YOU TALKED?
Not argued, but talked. Sometimes anger is so pervasive in a relationship it takes over. You should never decide to divorce after a bitter fight, when emotions can cloud your perspective. Don’t let anger be your catalyst. In fact, many experts advise against leaving a marriage without trying couples therapy for a few months. Sometimes a third party makes it easier for a couple to talk things through without falling back into old patterns of argument. A few sessions with a counselor may give you a better sense of what improvement is possible in your marriage. Some spouses say they were completely taken by surprise when their partners asked for a divorce, due to lack of communication.
2. HOW MUCH HAVE YOU CHANGED?
Everyone changes, but sometimes partners grow in such different ways that nothing seems to work. Consider whether your basic values are different now from those of your spouse, different since the time of your marriage. Sometimes the arrival of children brings out some basic differences in the two of you, not all of which can be resolved. If every conversation becomes an argument, you have to consider whether you are the same people who married each other, and whether compromise is possible. In an advice column, Kirshenbaum recommends giving every day a score for a month. Give it a plus if you feel that if every day with your partner were like this, if would be OK. Give it a minus if you feel you wouldn’t want to live your life with any more days like that one. The number of pluses and minuses can give you an indication of the future success of your marriage.
3. HOW WILL IT AFFECT THE CHILDREN?
How do you envision sharing your children with your spouse? How will the inevitable changes in your financial situation affect their lives? Possibly they would have to move out of a familiar neighborhood or school district, away from their friends. Most experts would not advise a miserable couple to stay together because they have children. But the ramifications for them are huge, and should be thought out before you take actions that can’t be reversed.
4. IS THE TRUST GONE?
If infidelity or other betrayal is involved, it can be hard to rebuild the trust in a relationship. Psychologist Mitchell Baris, Ph.D, says in An Idiot’s Guide to Surviving Divorce”, I think the point of no return comes with the loss of respect and trust¦often if trust and respect are gone, rebuilding the marriage is hopeless. You have to be honest with yourself about whether you can forgive a betrayal and move on, or whether that knowledge will always color your perspective of your partner.