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Deciding to Divorce

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” – Dale Carnegie

How do you decide if you should end your marriage? For me, this was the most difficult step of the entire process. How do you know if your marriage can be saved? Is it bad enough to leave? Will divorcing mess up the kids? Will NOT divorcing mess them up? There are so many questions we ask ourselves when we start to contemplate divorce. Here are my top tips for those thinking about divorce.

1.) Go to individual therapy.

By the time we start to think about divorce, we usually have told ourselves many lies to justify behavior – either our own, our spouse’s, or both. Maybe we have even been manipulated by the other person. Often friends and family have weighed in and caused additional confusion. When this has become our normal, it can be hard to trust our own judgment and feelings. I regularly asked myself if I was being unreasonable in what I was asking for in my marriage, or if there was more I could do to make it work.

It is very helpful to have an objective person weigh in on these questions. A therapist has the training and knowledge to know what issues can be worked out, what are not likely to ever resolve, and when calling it quits is the healthy path. They will point out if our expectations are unreasonable – something that friends and family are usually unable to do. They can also help us come up with a game plan to change our situation, whether that be repairing the relationship or divorcing.

I felt relieved that in my first therapy sessions, my therapist didn’t expect me to make a huge life changing decision quickly. First, we established that the status quo was not livable and that I’d continue to be unhappy if nothing changed. Second, we discussed what I needed from the marriage to feel satisfied and determined that they are reasonable requests. Last, we came up with a game plan. I was going to tell my husband that I needed specific things from him, and that if these could not be met by a certain date, that I wanted to separate within our own home. Then if these still did not happen, I would determine the next step and put a deadline on it.

Putting this action plan in place lead to a lot of conversations between me and my ex-husband to try to repair the relationship, but I stayed firm in the next step if the issues weren’t resolved by my own deadline. It wasn’t easy. I doubted myself. But the reality was that if I didn’t create a timetable and stick to it, that I would spend more years making excuses, changing the deadlines and hoping that things would change, but living in a very unhappy place.

Ultimately the plan led to my then husband moving out of the residence and us filing for divorce.

2.) Read Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay by Mira Kirshenbaum.

This book is an excellent resource to help you identify the causes of unhappiness in your marriage and determine if they can be fixed or if divorce is the best option.

3.) Consider the ages of the children.

Younger children adjust easier to divorce than older children, and it can be especially difficult for adolescents. If your children are elementary age or younger, this should be strong motivation to either fix the marriage or divorce now and to not drag your feet on the decision. My son was four when my ex-husband moved out of the house, and it was a fairly easy transition for our son. The only explanation required was that mommy and daddy decided it would be best to live in different houses, he is going to see us both all the time, and daddy will live just down the street and he will have his own bedroom there. More questions came when our son was older, and I don’t want to minimize the impact divorce had on him. However, the actual transition to splitting time between households was a smooth adjustment because of his age.

If you have a pre-teen, divorcing can be a more difficult decision. Divorce is particularly hard on children around the age of 11, so it would be a very good idea to talk through the options with a therapist who has experience with pre-adolescents and divorce to determine what is best for your child. In some situations, usually when spouses can co-exist as roommates for a few years and the child is not exposed to conflict, it might be best to wait until the children are teenagers and better able to handle a divorce. However, some pre-adolescents can adjust fine to a divorce, and in some situations it’s also worth a difficult adjustment, such as when any abuse is involved.

4.) Don’t be paralyzed by fear.

People stay in miserable marriages way too long because of fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of having to financially support themselves and not knowing how to do this, fear of being alone, or fear of what others will think. My divorce from my son’s dad was my second divorce, and I was embarrassed and also worried about judgment from friends and family. I worried about how I would juggle a career with single parenting and stressed out about hypothetical scenarios like if my husband would move far away if we divorced and how that would impact our son.

Don’t let these fears make you stay in an unhappy place and rob you of the opportunity to build a fulfilling life. You must push through, and sometimes allow your head to make the decisions instead of your heart, knowing that you will be in a better place because of the actions you are taking. All my fears were unfounded. That’s not to say that being a single, working parent doesn’t have challenges, but the challenges can be overcome and working through these was worth it for the positive changes for myself and my son that were only possible with divorce.

Divorce is not a decision that should be avoided at all costs. It can be a positive change allowing you to reclaim your happiness and again find joy and fulfilment in life.