If you’ve read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up or recently started watching the Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, based on the book, then you know Marie’s method is simple: throw out everything that doesn’t “spark joy” and organize whatever’s left. I’ve been thinking lately that if you’re considering divorce, it’s not a bad idea to apply this same simple logic to your own marriage.
Does your marriage bring you joy? Good. Then maybe staying is the right answer, even if that means putting in the work. And if not, if all your partner does is make you feel miserable or the problems in your relationship can’t be overcome? Well, then maybe it’s time to do something different. To “toss out” your old life and organize whatever’s left. To stop straddling that fence and asking yourself should I get a divorce? And instead, to take the difficult but necessary steps to explore what the process might look like if you were to do it.
You might be thinking, “Okay, but deciding to divorce isn’t as easy as organizing your sock drawer.” That’s valid. And maybe Marie’s method is a little too simplistic for deciding whether or not to end your marriage. But the truth is that life is too short to stay with someone who makes you neither happy in the here and now, nor excited about your future.
You and your partner have grown apart, or you’ve possibly been struck with the epiphany that that you were never right for each other in the first place, that you’ve been trying to “make things work” for a little too long. Sometimes separating the nostalgia you have about your marriage and the reality of it is difficult.
How do you stop asking yourself: should I get a divorce?
Deep down, something doesn’t feel right, but you can ignore and push those feelings aside because you have a well of memories and promises to draw from. The memories remind you what you’ve been through, what you’ve overcome, and the love that you have for your partner. The promises remind you of your commitment to each other and the hopes you had for your future. But to answer that lingering question in the back of your mind, should I get a divorce, you have to look beyond these things and recognize the signs and patterns that exist in your relationship. Here are some things to look out for:
You’re already distancing yourself from your partner
You’d rather spend time with your friends or family. You find yourself working longer hours because you don’t want to go home. Lately, you need more “me time,” more solitude where you can reconnect with yourself. Being away from your partner feels like a sort of relief, like breathing in a big gulp of fresh mountain air, and you feel more comfortable in your skin without them around. These are all signs that you have distanced yourself from your marriage and that it no longer brings you joy or a sense of peace.
All the effort being put into “fixing” your marriage is one-sided
It takes two to tango in any relationship. You cannot fix your marriage on your own. Sometimes all those “little things” add up into one giant problem you can’t ignore. Your partner thinks everything, no matter what, is your fault. Every conversation ends in an argument. It’s hard to respect your partner when he* ignores your feelings or refuses to compromise. It’s even harder when your ability to communicate with each other has hit a road block.
If you have repeatedly told your partner that certain behaviors or issues have become barriers to your happiness and he refuses to make any real effort to change, then it might be time for you to decide you are going to do something different than what you’ve been doing.
You don’t feel like a team
Marriages should be partnerships, but sometimes the emotional attachment we have to another person makes us ignore aspects of their personality that could raise issues later on. Sure, we each have our strengths and weaknesses, but if you feel like your partner’s choices repeatedly put your stability or safety at risk then that’s a red flag you shouldn’t ignore. Does your partner seem to care about your needs? Does he refuse to make compromises? Has he dug a financial hole you can’t climb out of?
You’re staying “for the kids”
Many people stay in relationships because they think it’s better for their children. “Better” usually means more than one thing—getting a divorce would mean paying for two homes instead of one, for example. It means legal expenses and moving costs. But staying married means you can maintain the lifestyle you always have. Getting a divorce would mean you’d have to explain to your children why your marriage doesn’t work anymore. It’s a conversation that can be gut-wrenching for so many reasons but one that might also be the first time in your child’s life when they realize that sometimes people can grow apart and fall out of love. That the plans we have for our lives don’t always play out the way we expected them to.
Studies have indicated that it’s not really getting divorced that effects children later in life so much as the environment they’re raised in—it’s the fighting and the feeling of instability and chaos that’s harmful. If your marriage doesn’t spark joy for you or bring you a sense of calm, then chances are that it doesn’t for your children either. Children learn by observing. Ask yourself: What is your marriage teaching your children about relationships?
There is a lack of intimacy and open communication
There’s a misconception that for men especially sex is simply about release. But while every person is different, many men find that sex increases their emotional attachment to their partner.
Most couples go through dry spells. But if that spell has turned into a sexual drought with no end in sight and your partner refuses to talk about it, then a lack of intimacy can be almost impossible to overcome and a sign that there are larger issues in your marriage affecting your ability to connect with your partner.
When you get right down to it, the only reason you are staying is because of fear
You’re scared to be alone, or possibly that you won’t be able to make it in this world on one income. You’re scared no one will ever love you again, or that your children would be better off being raised by two parents who live under the same roof.
All of these reasons and then some make you stay put in a marriage that makes you unhappy, but they aren’t enough to make your marriage work.
Being afraid doesn’t actually change anything, but confronting those fears will. After divorce, without the weight of your marriage dragging you down, you might find that everything feels a little bit easier and that life feels full of possibilities. You might realize you’re stronger than you know.
Your marriage shouldn’t just be one of practicality or necessity but also something that sparks joy in your life. No relationship is all sunshine and daisies—it’s not always going to be easy and there will be times you have to work at it—but it’s ultimately, you are learning, up to you to decide whether the good parts outweigh the bad.
If deciding to divorce is just too hard for you right now, then tell yourself you are going to get educated on what your choices are — before you fully decide.
Since 2012 smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to help them through the often times complicated and confusing experience of divorce. For the right education, emotional support, structured guidance — and the female perspective, now — consider Annie’s Group, our virtual divorce support and coaching class for women thinking about divorce or beginning the process.
Take a step in supporting yourself now: schedule your quick 15-minute chat to learn if this education is right for you and where you want to go.
*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”