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explore the questions to answer when considering divorce

How to know when it’s time to go: considering divorce


In popular media, divorce is often presented as a tragedy, but the reality is that the divorce experience is as unique as the people involved in a split. For some, divorce offers freedom from emotional, financial, or physical abuse. For others, divorce is a painful decision, but one that offers a chance at a better life. And for some people, divorce is a mistake.

If you’re unhappy in your marriage, you may wonder if it’s time to leave—and worry that you might regret whatever decision you eventually make.

Should You Stay or Should You Go?

Some unhappy marriages can be saved with a little help and determination. Some only moderately unhappy marriages are beyond repair. How can you tell if your marriage is worth saving? There’s no right answer. Some simple questions, however, can help you begin to think about your needs and goals:

  • What are the problems in my marriage? The more severe the problem, the more seriously you should contemplate leaving. If you’re being abused, you should get out now. But if you’re only squabbling about which shows to stream, there’s probably a lot you can do to fix things.
  • How committed is my partner to working on things? To fix things, you need a partner who is willing to work with you. If your partner is unwilling to work with you, can you continue living this way? If the answer is no, it may be time to leave.
  • Are we both willing to make changes? It takes two to create a flawed marriage. You both must be willing to change.
  • How long have we worked on this issue, and how hard have we worked? If you have done very little to save your marriage, consider trying a little longer—unless you’re in danger. But if you’ve been going to therapy and talking for years without any progress, it could be time to leave.
  • Do I still love this person? Love isn’t enough, of course, but if you love your spouse, you have a stronger incentive to keep working.
  • Can I envision changes that would make me want to stay? If you know that you want to leave no matter what your spouse does, it’s time to go. If a few simple changes could make your marriage better, keep trying.
  • How committed am I to this marriage? How much does this marriage mean to you? If you’re newly married and think you might have made a mistake, your threshold for leaving might be lower than that of someone who is married to someone they love or who has children.
  • What does my gut tell me? Does a voice in your head tell you your marriage can’t be saved? Sometimes listening to your instincts is the best way to make a decision.

Weighing the Effects of Your Decision

In addition to contemplating whether your marriage can be saved and how much work you're willing to put in to save it, it can also be helpful to think about the effects of leaving your marriage. Consider some of the following:

  • How will you feel if your partner starts dating someone else?
  • Will you miss your partner? Feel brokenhearted about the loss?
  • How might a divorce affect your children?
  • Would a divorce require major lifestyle changes? For example, will you need to work longer hours, return to the workplace, or pay for significantly more childcare?
  • What support do you have outside of your marriage? Consider rallying your support circle before you file.
  • Can you envision a happy life without your partner?
  • How do you want your life to look in a year? Five years? Ten years? How will a divorce affect those goals?

Is Uncontested Divorce Possible?

For many people, the stress and expense of a divorce is a major impediment to filing. An uncontested divorce can save you significant time and effort. It might be hard to envision working with a person to whom you no longer want to be married. But consider that the two of you—not lawyers, not a judge—are better equipped than anyone else to decide how to structure your life. Put your conflicts aside and work together. You will save money, and may ultimately get a better result.

With a contested divorce, by contrast, you’re stuck shelling out lots of money to a lawyer. In return, a judge will tell you when you get to spend time with your children, how to divide up your property, and how to manage the end of your relationship. To many people, this feels intrusive. It may also create needless stress for your children, and can make the process of divorcing more painful and contentious than necessary.

Marriage is hard. Divorce doesn’t have to be. You’ve both already suffered enough. Shouldn’t the next chapter be easy? Your children will thank you for choosing a less contentious process, and your bank account will benefit from not having to shell out thousands of dollars to lawyers.