Knowing When It’s Time
One of the hardest things about marriage is knowing when to leave.
For some, the answer is and will always be, “Never, no matter what, no matter how unhappy we are or how unsalvageable the relationship. We’re married, and that means forever.”
For others, personal happiness is important, and an entire life spent in a miserable marriage doesn’t translate into time well spent.
People divorce for any number of reasons:
- an affair
- they married before they really knew each other
- they were never truly in love
- there was a “trap” involved
- someone changed after marriage
- the relationship wasn’t solid enough to make it through the stress of kids, career changes, new and different goals, moves
- someone expected someone else to change after marriage, etc.
Main Reasons For Divorce
All of the above break down into two pretty standard reasons for divorce:
- Someone has been hurt beyond repair
- The relationship was missing something that doomed it from the start, and divorce was inevitable
- or lasting marital unhappiness if divorce wasn’t an option
It’s Easy And Viable
But divorce is rarely easy, even for those who believe it’s a viable—and even valuable—option.
- How do you know when all hope is lost?
- How do you know you’re not simply angry about a fight (or many fights)
- or that you’re not just giving in to a few months of frustration you simply don’t want to deal with, anymore?
- How do you know it won’t get better, that you’re not going to change your mind after the paperwork’s been filed and you’re officially divorced?
- How do you know you won’t regret it?
Do You Just Know?
I’d like to say there’s an easy answer to this that applies to all relationships.
An answer like, “You just know.” Isn’t that what they say about love?
“How do you know when you’re in love?”
“You just know.”
Talking about this over breakfast with my third husband, I said, “There are two ways to determine that it’s time to get divorced: either you know it’s time, or the other person knows it’s time, and you have to accept it.”
Before I go on, in case you’re distracted by the fact that I’m on my third husband, let me say I know that when you learn someone has been divorced twice (or married three times), it’s tempting to make assumptions: “She doesn’t take marriage seriously.” “She treats divorce too lightly.” “She can’t be trusted.”
These assumptions are natural, and I understand your skepticism; however:
- I do take marriage seriously, but I don’t believe the contract is ironclad
- the only truly irreversible decision we make is having children.
- I don’t treat divorce lightly, but I do think it’s an important option.
- My father taught me that only untrustworthy people say “trust me.”
But Do You Fight For Your Marriage?
I thought about what Victor said, about people who “fight” for their marriage, and my friend Tonya came to mind.
Tonya is still married to the man who cheated on her ten years ago on the night before her birthday. She found out the next day, when she should have been celebrating. She was devastated when she found out and called me, crying.
Because she loved him so much, she decided to try to make it work.
This meant slogging her way through the pain and the trust issues while resolving not to use what he did as a way to punish him. She didn’t pretend it never happened, by any means.
She made him understand that he had to take a dominant role in re-earning her trust, but she also made clear that she intended to move forward and create a new relationship with him. New trust.
They had several more years of happiness, but those years weren’t without their problems. They’re experiencing trust issues right now, in fact, and seeing a counselor every now and then.
She’s working on it because she wants to work on it, because she loves him so very much. But she’s recently had to admit to herself that unless he starts wanting it as bad as she does, unless he starts trying the way she is, she might eventually have to divorce him because he will have finally—albeit slowly—hurt her beyond repair.
My Own Divorce Reasons
Neither of my two divorces involved anything as seemingly cut and dry as an affair.
The first divorce fell under “married before we really knew each other,” and the second under “he expected me to change after marriage.” In effect, #2: something was missing that doomed the relationships from the start.
So When Did I Know It Was Time?
How did I know it was time to leave?
In part, because I knew there was something better out there, someone better for me, someone with whom I would share the kind of love they write about in novels. (“That kind of love isn’t real,” my first ex-husband said. “You’ll never find it.” He was wrong.)
That I knew there was “something better” clearly meant, “This isn’t what I want.”
You Need Marriage Inertia
But the other factor was that the early-stage infatuation eventually wore off and the relationship inertia wasn’t strong enough, anymore, to fool us into believing that what we were feeling was the love of a lasting relationship.
Picturing the rest of our lives with each other didn’t lead to feelings of happiness or contentedness, but dread.
I suppose you could say we just knew.
And if Tonya eventually divorces her husband?
She’ll do it because she knows. It’s time.
The answer really is that simple.
When There’s No Desire Left
You know it’s the right time to leave when you have no desire to fight, anymore. You know because you don’t feel the love, and you don’t have the energy to put forth any effort, because you don’t want to make it work.
Even counselling would be a waste of time, because you know you’d see it as little but that necessary step toward getting out of the marriage with the confidence that you’d “earned” the right to leave.
“That example you used before, the one with Tonya,” you say. “You didn’t really answer Victor’s argument about situations in which one person wants to leave, but the other fights for it and they end up happy. Instead, you got sidetracked by the ‘fighting for it’ and went off on a somewhat related tangent.”
The Real Truth
You’re absolutely right. Here’s what I actually said to Victor:
“If someone says they want to leave, and the other person decides to fight for the marriage, the only way it will last and end up stronger than ever is if the one who said they wanted to leave wasn’t certain they wanted to leave.”
As someone who wanted to leave a marriage, and whose spouse tried to fight for it, Victor — who ultimately ended up getting the divorce — knows this better than anyone.
If you’re having doubts about leaving, and if your doubts have to do with your feelings for your spouse and NOT with how you’re going to manage it financially or how your friends will react or how you’ll split up the savings account, it’s not time to leave.
“What if I make the wrong choice?” you say.
If you’re asking yourself this question, if you truly aren’t sure it’s time to leave, then it probably isn’t time to leave.
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