There are those who believe that people who get divorced simply take the "easy way out." As someone who has studied and written about human behavior and relationships, I can tell you: there is nothing easy about divorce.
Simply reaching the decision and the point in your relationship where you are secure in stating "I want a divorce," can be a long and painful journey. It's a journey that, for many, comes with great conflict: one minute you may be angry, frustrated, and fed up; the next, you may find yourself calm and in denial, believing that things can and will change for the better.
If you are in this stage of confusion, counseling is the best first step -- for you, for your partner, and for your children. If, after counseling, little progress is made or your home situation is actually getting worse, it's time to take a good hard look at the possibility of divorce.
There are a few general trigger warnings that it is time to leave your relationship. While some of these may seem obvious to those around you, when you are the one in the middle of the situation, it is hard to be objective or see things clearly. And, while every marriage is unique, if you find yourself in a relationship that is no longer mutually satisfying or respectful, where your needs are not being met, one or both partners are unfaithful, verbally, physically or sexually abusive, dealing with drugs or alcohol -- it is time to seriously consider divorce.
1. Your partner is physically abusive to you or your children.
When you come into a relationship, you often gravitate to the patterns that are familiar from your childhood and family of origin. These are the patterns that you know how to do -- your comfort zone. Therefore, you often pick a spouse that lets you do what you know, and thus, you can repeat the very relationship you experienced with your parents. For example, if you or your spouse comes from an abusive childhood, and that abuse was allowed to continue at home, there may be a chance that you or your partner will reach for abuse as a normal behavior, since that is what one or both of you know. If you or your partner are not open to counseling, if either one of you continues the abuse, if there are indications that you or your partner sees nothing wrong with this behavior -- then it may be time to leave.
2. Your partner's habits put you and your children at risk.
Violent and/or abusive behavior, drug addiction, gambling addiction, gang membership -- all of these habits have the potential to put loved ones at risk. As with all other trigger warnings, it is best to seek counseling and professional help first, but the truth is that sometimes, it is best and safer to remove you and your children from the situation.
3. Your partner cannot stop cheating on you.
When infidelity becomes a habitual occurrence and professional counseling does not help, it may be time for you to move on.
4. Your partner cannot stop lying to you about important matters.
If you find your partner making important family decisions independently and unilaterally without considering your feelings, constantly hiding important information or lying about information that affects you and your family -- such as money issues, health issues, or other personal issues -- and counseling does not help, this has the potential to hurt your family's future, not to mention your trust in your partner. Trust is based on experience, and marriages are built on mutuality, love and trust. When that trust is broken on a regular basis, it can be difficult to repair the damage done to the relationship. And, when that trust is broken over circumstances that put you and your children at risk, it is sometimes smarter to remove you and your children from the environment before serious harm is done.
5. You and your partner have completely opposite life paths.
This can be a tricky area: when couples marry, they are sometimes not always on the same path with the same life goals, but they will usually work together to find compromise and mutually help each other meet their goals. Sometimes, however, your two life plans go in opposite directions, with no hope of supporting one another. For instance, let's say you both marry wanting to have children. Suddenly, two years into your marriage, your partner announces that he absolutely no longer wants children. At this time, you are desperately eager to start your family. After seeking professional counseling, if you two still find yourselves on new, opposite life paths, it may be time to move on, so that you may each begin working on your desired lives.
6. You can't make anyone love you.
When you feel that your marriage is like holding hands, and if you let go it will be gone, you are not in a loving and connected relationship. You can't control another person's feelings or behavior, and you can't make anyone love you. The idea that if only you behave in a particular manner, then your spouse will be nice and loving, is magical thinking. It is difficult enough to affect your own actions, never mind controlling those of your partner. And finally, when your feelings of attachment to a mate lacking intimacy are so highly charged that you sacrifice your sense of self and self-esteem, it is worth considering that these heightened emotions may really be a projection, rather than love. You must ask yourself: Why do you love someone who doesn't love you back mutually?
Couples divorce for many different reasons. Sometimes those reasons could be reversed or repaired, yes. However, sometimes, the right decision for all parties involved is to get a divorce. Then, it is up to each partner to ensure they have a better divorce than they did their marriage.
I'll share more of what that means, and tips for having a better divorce, in an upcoming blog post.