This is a question that couples ask themselves when they are confronted with what seem like deal breaker issues in their relationship. They worry about what divorce could do to their finances, about handling the logistics of separation, dealing with the stress and toll of starting over–and most importantly, how separation and divorce could impact their children, now and later on in their lives. They often feel caught between deciding what would be best for them and what is in the best interests of their children—and they worry about the possibility of serious fall-out down the road and experiencing the divorce remorse that can accompany it. If you are in an unhappy/bad marriage, and are contemplating separation yet have no idea where to begin looking for the guidance you need to make the right decision—start by asking yourself the following questions and answer them with complete honesty before making the next move.
Have you and your spouse ever taken concrete steps to address and resolve your issues?
This might seem like a strange question—after all, doesn’t everyone try to address their problems before seriously considering divorce? The unfortunate answer is no, they do not. You would do this by clearly communicating your feelings and concerns to one another AND taking specific steps towards addressing them, such as going to couples counseling, attending a couple’s workshop, and/or taking a parenting class together. You might decide that one or both of you would benefit from individual counseling or attending a class on anger management. The key here will be in clearly identifying any problematic issues in the relationship and then coming up with an action plan that you both agree to and commit to follow through on. Only after doing this can you say that you have made sufficient attempts to address your issues before considering separation as a solution.
Can you identify several things that you value in your relationship/marriage?
No matter what challenges may be present in your relationship and marriage, it must be meeting at least some needs or you wouldn’t have said “I do.” Marriage makes us part of a partnership, gives us companionship, sex, more financial security, a larger social support system, strong family ties, and someone who has our back throughout the long road of life together. Of course not all marriages offer these in the same measure, and some have an issue with one of these that has led to unhappiness and/or conflict. But virtually all marriages offer at least of few of these. What ones are present and possibly strong in your marriage? Would you be better off even without these if you chose divorce?
Are finances the only thing holding you back from divorce?
Let’s face it, separation and divorce impacts the whole family’s bottom line. Finances need to be divided to maintain two residences, and often there are extra costs associated with child care and the logistics of kids going back and forth between two homes. Legal expenses can add up quickly, especially if wither partner decides to contest something the other wants. Then there are the separate family holidays, celebrations, and vacations. No wonder a concern about finances is one of the leading causes that couples cite for trying to work things out and stay together. It is second only to concern for the well-being of the children. You need to weigh this concern against the issues that have led you to consider leaving the marriage. Which has more weight?
Would you leave now if you didn’t have kids?
If there were no children in the picture, would you have any second thoughts regarding the decision to leave? Would the idea of cutting your losses and moving on solo be an easy decision for you to make? If your children are the ONLY reason you feel the need to stay and work on your marriage, your task will be much more difficult. Therefore before acting too hastily, it would be of value to you to spend some time recollecting what attracted you to your spouse in the first place, and to identify the factors that led to your decision to choose this person to marry. Then think about what this relationship and marriage have brought to your life, and how they may have enriched it—aside from having your children. If you still come up with nothing, it’s unlikely you will chose to stay.
Are you prepared to handle more with less as a single parent sharing custody?
Divorce can lead to a change in neighborhood, schools, and friends—all of which are a big adjustment for kids, especially tweens and teens. They may be very angry and resentful, have difficulty adjusting, and will make more demands on your more limited time and resources—as you will be handling everything alone, at least fifty percent of the time. And if there are tensions between you and your ex, it is even more difficult to handle the challenges of parenting and keeping the environment stable and your kids on track. If you feel it is critical to address your needs for companionship and love, it will get even harder. Dating with children at home is a challenge indeed—just the logistics of childcare and balancing the feelings of your kids against your needs can be overwhelming. The bottom line is also strained even more as good child care is not only hard to find, it is costly. Change is hard, make sure that what you stand to gain is equal to what you (and your children) will lose.
Are you dealing with a non-negotiable issue, especially one that you had not foreseen prior to marriage?
Non-negotiables can include anything that you cannot find an acceptable compromise for or middle ground on which to stand. Religious differences, major lifestyle disagreements, significant differences in your life goals, and/or financial issues that threaten the family’s bottom line; to name a few we hear about most often. In other words, do you have irreconcilable differences that you have explored every possible solution you can think of to address without finding any compromise you can both live comfortably with? If this is the case, you may feel as though you have no choice but to move towards separation and eventual divorce. If so, continue trying to address the issue during that marriage dissolution period—it could be that the process of ending the marriage provides one of you with a different perspective and shines a light on a possible compromise.
Are you living with abuse, infidelity, or addiction?
These are often deal breaker issues for a good reason—there are no healthy compromises when one of these is what the couple is dealing with. Abuse of any kind cannot be tolerated. It isn’t just destructive to the partner and relationship, it is very damaging to the children who would always be better off in a stable and abuse free single parent home. Addiction is just as destructive. This is because it isn’t possible to live well with an addiction. It impacts interpersonal, spousal and family relationships; work functioning; everyone’s health and mental health; family finances; and overall stability and functioning of all people living with the addict. Infidelity is something that can be addressed and moved on from, but only if the unfaithful partner is committed to their marriage and the process of healing. The other spouse must also be open to the concept of forgiveness and the belief that they can put their marriage back together and have a healthy relationship moving forward. The process is not easy and is emotionally draining, time consuming, and even costly. Without a 100% commitment, they won’t get through it together.
Divorce should be a last resort and only considered when other workable options have been explored. Yes, children are better off in two-parent families—however they need to be stable and free of abuse, conflict, and turmoil. If these cannot be addressed successfully, divorce may be the only option and what is best for the children.