No relationship is without rough patches. Life has its ups and downs and as our relationships are part of life, they are subject to the same fluctuations.
It would be completely unrealistic to expect a marriage to continue on through the decades free of conflicts and disagreements; but what if it feels as if the conflicts and disagreements are taking over? What if thoughts of separation and divorce arise? What if those thoughts are spoke aloud and linger in the air like an impending storm?
No one ends a marriage lightly – divorces are way too much work to be undertaken on a whim – but once you have started wondering whether divorce might be the best option, it can be hard to stop these thoughts from spiraling. When you’re in the middle of a rocky patch in your relationship, it can be hard to tell whether this is a momentary upset in the dynamic or a fundamental relationship break-down.
If you feel like your marriage might be in trouble, it is important to take a step back and deliberately assess the situation. It’s equally important to bear in mind that there is nothing wrong with getting a divorce; it doesn’t constitute failure and it doesn’t need to get ugly. On the other hand, it’s good to remember that not every crisis will inevitably lead to divorce.
Deciding the fate of your marriage is not an easy task; however, considering the following questions and answering them honestly, might help you make the decision that is right for you.
Is this an abusive relationship? Do you feel safe with your spouse?
If your spouse is physically, mentally, emotionally or even financially abusive towards you or your children, leaving is your best option. Unless the abusive spouse is willing to undergo extensive therapy – while you are living separately – your relationship is unlikely to improve.
The same goes for alcohol and/or substance abuse. If your spouse misuses alcohol or another addictive substance, the relationship is bound to suffer and it is in your best interest to get out. Again, if your spouse recognizes their destructive behaviour, seeks professional help and proves to you that they are committed to recovery, bridges might be mended in the future. Until such time, however, you must prioritise your safety and sanity above all else.
What is your motivation to stay married?
If you are unhappy in your marriage, yet unable or unwilling to call it quits, it’s time to get real about your reasons to stay. If you are motivated by
- guilt – What will my spouse do without me?
- fear – I’ll never make it on my own
- a sense of duty to others – We’ll stay together for the children
- shame – I can’t divorce – I’m not one of those people
it might be time to re-evaluate.
Do you still enjoy each other’s company?
Does the thought of spending time with your spouse still appeal to you, or would you rather be anywhere else with anyone else? If you feel every moment spent with your spouse is an effort or you can’t be yourself around them, divorce could be the smartest option (for both of you).
However, if there are still flashes of brilliance in amid the drudgery of every-day living together – because, let’s admit it, family life, working life, mortgage life…it can be dull sometimes – perhaps it’s worth the effort to try and reconnect.
Do you share major lifegoals?
You know when celebrities divorce and their PA’s put out notices citing “irreconcilable differences” as the reason? This is the sort of thing they are talking about. If you and your spouse have fundamentally different ideas of how you wish your lives to turn out and are unwilling to negotiate your terms, it could be best for you to stop being married. Some classic examples are
- One spouse wants children, the other absolutely does not
- One spouse wants to get a mortgage and buy a house, the other is categorically opposed
- One spouse wants an open relationship, the other considers non-monogamy a deal breaker
What else is happening right now?
When your marriage is getting rocky, it can be useful to take a look at what else is happening in your or your spouse’s life at this time. Is there
- Unusual financial stress – i.e. temporary unemployment
- Excessive stress at work – i.e. a massive project coming to a close and deadlines looming large
- Emotional stress outside the marriage – i.e. deaths in the family, health issue
Higher than normal stress levels often translate into more inter-marital conflict. You and/or your spouse might have shorter fuses and less patience than usual, due to something completely unrelated to the quality of your marriage, and your relationship might regain its equilibrium once this storm has passed.
Note: this question is not about making excuses for unacceptable behaviour; if your spouse is acting abusively or aggressively, leave as soon as you can.