People always ask me “How do I know when it’s the right time to leave my marriage?” My answer is simple. “When it’s more painful to stay in the relationship than it is to leave, it’s time”
This can seem a bit vague, however there is a very clear message being given. Marriage is not supposed to be painful. It can be at times difficult, frustrating, and/or disappointing, but not painful. Again, when it’s more painful to remain in a marriage than to leave it… It is time to get out!
Pain in a marriage usually creeps in very slowly. We recognize the pain because it feels different from previous emotions. As the pain edges its way into the relationship more frequently, the thought of escaping to a safe environment (divorce) starts developing.
Most people think about leaving a marriage for years prior to actually making the decision to divorce. Usually, they begin taking small steps towards emotionally preparing themselves to leave their marriage. A step may be as simple as looking up “divorce” on the Internet.
A common pattern in this stage of marital indecision is to think about divorce, make a few attempts towards gaining information about the divorce process, then tuck the idea of dissolution in the far recesses of your brain. You may even try to forget you contemplated leaving your spouse… I call this the “It’s more painful to leave my marriage than it is to stay” stage.
Your emotionally destructive cycle of pain will continue to repeat itself over and over again. As a result of this continuous assault on your relationship, a shift in how you perceive each painful experience begins to happen. The desire to escape the relationship strengthens and the idea of divorce becomes an everyday occurrence. The word divorce will pop up in the heat of an argument with your spouse, or you may mention the idea in a conversation with a close friend. You could also find yourself visiting an attorney or buying a book to further educate yourself on marital dissolution. The three hottest selling relationship self-help topics are: How To Save Your Marriage, How To Get A Divorce, and Emotional Abuse.
As you start feeling more comfortable about ending your relationship, another more gripping emotion begins to develop… fear. Regardless if you have been married 6 months or 60 years, everyone goes through the cycle of “fear of an unknown future.”
We are all creatures of habit. We find comfort and security in routine. A marriage, irrespective of its healthiness, provides the platform for everyday behaviors and activities. Divorce shatters this foundation; and the fear of an unknown future can be as paralyzing as the relationship pain is devastating. Some fears are as basic as “Where will I live?” “How will I pay my bills?” “Will I need to get a job?” “Are the kid’s going to be okay; who will they live with?” Others are more emotional. “Who will continue to be my friend; who will be my spouses?” “Can I live alone after all this time?” “How can I not see my kid’s everyday?” “Will I be alone and lonely for the rest of my life?” Your fears can potentially immobilize you and inhibit your ability to make that final decision to divorce. Unfortunately, these people focus their energies on their fear instead of the possibility of a happy healthy future. Others realize the pain will remain a constant in their marriage. No amount of counseling, pleading, or threats will change this pattern. This is when you realize “It is more painful to stay in my marriage than it is to leave.”
Once you have decided divorce is in your future; the pain actually begins to lift. Some of the interactions that caused you heartache in the past no longer affect you in the same way. It’s almost as if some of the hostility and anger bounces off your shoulders. But one thing continues to hold you back…timing.
There is no perfect time to leave your marriage. Life, being the obstacle course it is, will keep throwing situations and circumstances in your way. Usually, an action of some sort finally pushes you to make your very hard decision. It can be something as small as not remembering to put gas in the car, or as significant as forging your name on a document. The faith in your marriage is gone. Your trust in your spouse is gone, and the love that is needed to sustain your marriage is gone.
Although the divorce process is fraught with self- doubt and sadness, and some of your fears of an unknown future remain… the pain stops. And in time the self-doubt, sadness and fear are replaced with a fresh new future.
When it is more painful to stay in your marriage than leave it, it is time to reclaim your life, your happiness, and your self-respect.