A dear friend of mine recently made the heartbreaking decision to put her dog down. He was nearly 14 and had terminal cancer. It was awful for their family. She said, “It was so hard because he would still go for a run with my husband every day. He still loved his treats. But he was in so much pain.”
I’m sharing this anecdote because it reminded me of why it’s so hard to make the decision to divorce. Because just like my friend’s sick dog enjoyed his morning jogs, even unhappy marriages may have elements that still work well. And it’s those things that can make splitting such a tough call.
But if you’re considering divorce, it’s because what’s not working is far outweighing what is. I listen to people’s stories about their disintegrating marriages every day. Most therapists do. And it’s clear that even when folks know divorcing is the right move, they still can’t pull the trigger. Why? Because they want to be 100 percent sure and those moments of surety are fleeting. There are many, many more moments of confusion and hesitation.
So, how do you know if you’re ready to divorce? Here are five realities you’ll need to reconcile first:
1. You don’t have to hate your spouse. A lot of folks get stuck here. They’re confused because they really still care about their spouses. They’re waiting for loathing to set in so they can triumphantly end their marriages with their consciences clear. But, fact is, it’s not about hate and loathing. It’s about coming to the conclusion that your marriage isn’t and can’t ever be a healthy, peaceful place. You may spend the rest of your life caring what happens to your ex. But that still doesn’t mean the marriage was built to last.
2. You’re tossing out the good. It’s the marital version of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Are there divorced couples who figure out how to be friends and stay in each other’s lives? Sure. But, truth is, that’s a rare scenario. Those fun family holidays? The support from your hubby when your mom is driving you nuts? The counting on your wife to manage household bills? Buh-bye. One and all.
3. Your life doesn’t have to fall apart at the seams. The image of the divorcée who starts drinking wine at 2 p.m. and roams aimlessly throughout the house in her pajamas all day doesn’t resemble anything close to reality. You’re pretty much still living your life, caring for your kids and going to work — all while hammering out the details of your divorce and post-divorce recovery. If you’re waiting to divorce because you’re amazed you still get out of bed and drive carpool, know that life will and should go on during divorce. You don’t have to spend your days on the couch with a cool washcloth on your forehead to know you’re ready to end the marriage.
4. You’re still having sex. And maybe it’s even pretty good. But without the emotional intimacy and connection, what is it? A habit? A stress release? I’ve heard from many couples who continued having sex even throughout the divorce process. It happens. But it shouldn’t stop you from moving forward if you know nothing else in the marriage is working. Ask yourself how you feel when the sex is done. Content? Loved? Is your self-respect intact? If not, then know the sex is just sex. It’s no longer a component of a functional marriage.
5. Your life is going to change. Sounds simple, right? But, until you’re divorced, you can’t really predict how it will shake up your life on every level. Finances get wonky. Friends disappear. Kids are angry and disillusioned. When folks are deciding to divorce, they list all the things they hope won’t change. (“We should be able to figure out how to still have Christmas morning together for the kids!”). A better starting point is to envision that nothing will stay the same and then be happily surprised if some things do.
When you decide to divorce, you’re placing a bet that your future life will be better than the one you’re living now. Even if the odds feel long, it’s a chance you’re willing to take. Yes, there will be loss. But what you gain may be worth the sacrifice of the lingering, functional parts of an irreparable marriage.