How Do I Know if it’s Time For Divorce?

How much longer should I put up with this misery? When should I get a divorce?!?

Generally, it’s time to get a divorce when the prospects that you’ll continue to be unhappy in your marriage outweigh the likelihood that you and/or your spouse are willing and able to take steps toward making the changes necessary to move toward marital happiness.

It’s not easy to figure out where exactly to draw the line. And it becomes especially complicated when children are involved.

Divorces happen for a number of reasons. Sometimes, it’s an individual issue, but sometimes both parties are responsible.

If it’s an individual issue, the person must first of all, take responsibility for the issue and acknowledge that change is needed.

A couple of examples of individual issues that commonly interfere with marital relationships are untreated substance abuse and/or mental illness. The two are frequently interrelated. Unfortunately, these are also issues that people tend to remain in denial about the longest, and therefore tend to be difficult to resolve.

Trying to save a marriage in which the other spouse is significantly mentally ill or abusing substances without treatment or both, is very difficult. It’s not easy to remain supportive while also trying to convince the responsible spouse to seek assistance. Forcing it is not only usually futile, but can be counterproductive. Intrinsic motivation for change increases the likelihood of progress.

Another common issue that leads to marital strain is finances. If one spouse continues to spend recklessly while the other is trying to be more cautious, or a spouse isn’t being truthful about money, this often leads to conflict.

When the root of marital discord is an individual issue, the key is whether the individual accepts responsibility and intends to consistently address the issue until resolved - or at least becomes manageable. This requires action, which many avoid, and often requires help from a third party - for example, a therapist.

If the issue is a “joint” one - i.e. both parties are responsible, the parties must commit to working toward resolving the issue - or at least coming to a mutual understanding about it. A couple of common examples are lack of communication and the parties having different interests and “growing apart.” These issues also tend to co-exist.

If both parties aren’t committed to addressing the issues, the relationship will likely continue to deteriorate. Ignoring the problem and hoping it’ll go away will only lead to more strain and frustration.

If individual issues led to marital strain, which they often do, the parties must work together to process them so that each party understands and ideally respects the other’s position and the impact the issues had on the other spouse and the relationship.

Another interrelated consideration is how the parties’ relationship is impacting any children in the home. Marital strain is unhealthy for children. And it’s difficult to measure the damage. For the same reasons above, if there’s no light at the end of the marital strife tunnel, and living together continues to cause strain, it may be best to move toward divorce.

Trying to determine the “end” of the marriage is not an easy task. Especially because emotions run high and the parties often feel that because they’ve invested a lot in the relationship, they have an obligation to invest more.

What are the issues? What needs to be done and by whom? What are the chances that person will make a consistent effort to address this? Are you willing as a couple to address the issues and come to a mutual understanding about the causes and what needs to be done to move toward a healthier relationship? These are good questions to keep in mind in analyzing whether to continue to make efforts to save the marriage or instead move toward divorce.