Should you stay or should you go? How to know if divorce is the answer

20504781_sI’m sure you’re familiar with that routine Hollywood movie scene where a married couple is fighting and one spouse – usually the woman – marches into their bedroom and heaves a suitcase from the closet, flings clothes into the suitcase hangers and all, slams it shut, then storms out of the house with it, all the while yelling accusations and threats.

That sort of impulsive exit makes for great drama, but what it usually does in the real world is bring on regret and further complication.   Divorce is a decision best arrived at as a last resort solution – only after ample consideration and soul-searching, and not as a reactive, unexamined escape.

If you’re thinking that maybe your marriage is over and you’re just not sure, that’s a good thing because you’re taking the time to determine whether divorce is worth the trouble. Here are some indicators that divorce is an option that will ultimately make your life better, not worse:

  • Your spouse is a habitual cheater, liar, and/or substance abuser  If your spouse is any of these things, there is no way your marriage can be healthy or happy. Everyone has issues and makes mistakes, and infidelity, dishonesty and addiction can be overcome, but only with a firm and unwavering plan for growth and change. If your partner has promised more than a couple of times to become faithful, stop lying, and/or stop drugging or drinking to excess and not followed through, they most likely will continue on a self-destructive path that will eventually take you down too – no matter what you do to try and stop it.
  • Your spouse is abusing you and/or your kids.   People who physically or mentally hurt other people to get their way are dangerous. It’s that simple. If you are married to someone who even subtly intimidates, manipulates, shames, or attacks to undermine your (or your kids’) confidence and power, you are being abused and you and your children are at serious risk.   Don’t be swayed by the blinding charm that typically follows an abusive incident; that ability to seduce you is all part of keeping you in an insidious controlling cycle that will play over and over, steadily eroding your self-esteem, until you get out.
  • You don’t respect your spouse.   The central ingredient holding a fulfilling marriage together is positive regard between partners. When you are proud of your spouse for their solid character, you feel honored to be with them and you delight in their company. When that respect goes away, maybe because your spouse has taken you for granted for too long, broken too many promises, acted immaturely too much, or adopted ideas or interests you don’t admire, you can no longer believe in or have faith in them as a teammate.
  • You feel relieved when you’re away from your spouse and you dread reuniting. When your marriage is thriving, the home you share with your spouse is a harmonious refuge where you can be comfortable and at peace. Engaging in pastimes away from your spouse is integral to keeping your marriage stimulating, but if you’re finding that you’d rather be at work, with your friends, or even running errands just to avoid being at home, there’s a chance you’ve outgrown your partner. Especially when, even after you’ve taken a long break, you feel queasy as you anticipate being together again.
  • You don’t have enough in common with your spouse. Having everything in common with your spouse is a sure way to bring on marital boredom. When spouses support each other in pursuing their individual interests – the classic example is the husband who watches sports while the wife goes shopping — the marriage becomes richer. What spouses must have in common to make a marriage work, though, is core values and long-term goals. It’s not a big deal if one of you enjoys sports and the other doesn’t, but if you disagree on morality and ethics, parenting, money management and other pivotal issues, it’s not likely that you have a foundation to build on.
  • You are chronically unhappy in your marriage and you’ve tried everything.  The key word here is chronically. Even the best marriages are sometimes really challenging, and so it’s smart to delay your decision to divorce until you’re certain that marital strife has become an unalterable norm. It’s also wise to pull out all the stops to save your marriage so that you don’t worry later that you left too soon.   Have you looked at yourself squarely and taken full responsibility for your part in your marital woes and then done your very best to be adaptable, cooperative, humble, and patient as you work to improve your relationship? If so and you see no improvement, then it’s probably time to call it quits.
  • You just plain want a divorce. Personal reinvention is a major trend in our culture, and so divorce is now considered an acceptable way to make your life more you – even if there aren’t any glaring problems in your marriage.  Your spouse might be a perfectly nice and normal person, and your friends and family might be telling you you’re crazy to want to split up, but at the end of the day the choice is yours.   You don’t have to justify ending your marriage to anyone except yourself.  So after you’ve looked at the facts, examined your choices and weighed the consequences, give your intuition final say over expert opinions.

About the Blogger:

Amy Wood, Psy.D. MCLA Founding MemberPsychologist Amy Wood, Psy.D. helps adults to articulate and accomplish their own unique versions of success through psychotherapy, executive coaching, speaking, mediation, and collaborative law coaching.   A pragmatic optimist, she is known for her capacity to simplify complexity and see manageable solutions amid the overwhelm of modern life and work. Dr. Wood is the author of the award-winning book Life Your Way: Refresh Your Approach to Success and Breathe Easier in a Fast-paced World, a founding member of the Maine Collaborative Law Alliance, and a member of the Maine Association of Mediators Board of Directors.   She earned her doctorate from the Adler School of Professional Psychology, graduated from the College of Executive Coaching, and is a certified mediator.   Visit her website at