Trying to figure out if you should divorce is an agonizing process. I mean, sheer torture. It’s overwhelming and confusing and can make you go back and forth in your head, sometimes for years. Unless you’ve lived through it, I’ll never be able to adequately paint a picture for you. All I can tell you is that the question in your head “Should I or Shouldn’t I?” haunts your thoughts, your steps, your decisions, until finally, FINALLY you put it to rest with a yes or a no. I’m guessing that the title of this piece drew you in because you are struggling with this question.
Let me pause here to acknowledge that some women won’t answer the question at all. It will continue to follow them around for the rest of their days and eventually they’ll take it to their graves. My heart hurts for women who choose to live that tormented life. But for many of us, we reach a point where we must figure out the answer to that question because we simply can’t go on this way.
But does it ever become clear? Will you have a moment where you’ll know with certainty, one way or another? In my experience as a divorce coach, no. Not usually. There are so many shades of gray… and good days mixed with bad days… and that pesky “hope” that keeps thinking things will change and that quiet inner voice that keeps arguing that it won’t… that combination keeps you in a muddled state of thinking, of spinning.
You might find that it’s starkly clear to others what you should do with your life. Some won’t hesitate to tell you what they think either. Perhaps a friend, when you go to her to vent after a fight yet again, says in exasperation, “You have to divorce him!” Yet your mother may stand firm in her advice that marriage is forever and you simply have to find a way to fix it. But I’m here to tell you: I know absolutely nothing about what is clear to you. If I am talking to you, and you are stuck in that sickening cycle of thinking and wondering if you should divorce, I’ll give you three reasons when the answer is probably YES.
Should you divorce? Yes, if:
Abuse is in the picture
This was my story and it took me a long, long time to even understand that I was being abused, let alone leave. But deep down I wondered for years. I wish I had listened to my gut and looked it up, read something, talked to someone, examined our behavior to decide for myself if the way he treated me was “abusive.” I believe if I had, I would have been forced to acknowledge that it was not okay and that may have led to me getting help. I am telling you from 17 years of my own personal experience and through the stories of hundreds of women whom we’ve helped at SAS, that it never gets better. Without professional intervention, it will only get worse, I promise you. So if you wonder if (or know) that you are in an abusive situation, you have to follow your heart and figure it out.
Abuse comes in many forms, too… It does not mean you are walking around with black eyes or landing in the ER regularly. It means that he repeatedly and fundamentally disrespects you, that he hurts you emotionally, mentally, spiritually, or physically, or that you feel less than an equal human to him. If that feels awfully familiar, divorce is likely a necessary step to regaining your life, humanity and self respect.
He refuses to do anything different
You’ve recognized that something isn’t working and you know you guys need to work on it for you to survive the long haul. You may be online at night, looking at relationship websites and blogs and chatrooms … all geared toward saving a marriage. And you bring certain ideas or options you’ve learned to your partner, with excitement because there is hope! We can fix this, we just need to do X! And here’s a class/therapist/book/boot camp that will help us! Only to have him shut you down with his refusal. Maybe he’s in denial and doesn’t think anything needs changing… or he won’t see a therapist because that’s for sick people… or he says that he’ll try but constantly makes up excuses to skip out on any help you’ve organized.
There comes a point where you have to admit that he’s not going to participate with you. It’s a painful recognition. But this is a partnership and it takes both of you. You cannot keep beating a dead horse. You cannot revive this relationship alone, it’s impossible. If he refuses to do anything different, you’ll need to do something different for yourself. You must find another way of living. You should get space. This may mean divorce.
You’ve gotten professional help and exhausted all avenues
It’s heartbreaking but sometimes you have to come to a mutual agreement that you have tried everything and it’s still not going to work. Hopefully you worked together and tried talking, tried therapy, tried anything you could find that you thought would weave you back together and after all that effort, it’s still not good. In that situation, there comes a moment when it’s appropriate to stop. You must make the decision to end it with dignity and with respect for one another. At SAS, we recommend this path for those who feel they have exhausted all avenues to happiness as a couple. We encourage you to take that discovery journey together, because if you do (ultimately) decide to split, it sets you and your family up for a healthy resolution to a difficult situation. Consider Discernment Counseling, which is designed to help couples arrive at the right decision together.
We know how hard this is — this question of should you or shouldn’t you divorce? We also recognize that it’s helpful to hear from other women who have been there — and we’re telling you, as confusing as it is — there are times when the answer is more “yes” than “no.”
If you’d like more information on knowing if you should divorce, you’ll want to view our FREE video in which SAS for Women Cofounders Liza Caldwell and Kim Mishkin explain the steps you can take to see more clearly and the 4 Big Mistakes you must avoid. (This video is not live but recently filmed with an anonymous group of women viewers who participated in asking questions and commenting.)