The conventional wisdom is that it’s time to divorce when one or both people have stopped trying to fix the problems in their marriage. But how do you know if divorce is the right answer if you are the one who stopped trying?
If you're questioning your relationship and whether you should stay or you should go, chances are that the a big part of the struggle you're having with the other person’s behaviors and beliefs is actually a mirror of your own inner conflict.
When contemplating divorce, before making any life-altering decisions or jumping into divorce proceedings, you need to pause and do the inner work necessary to know yourself; your pain, your core wounds and beliefs, and your own lack of self-love. Whether or not you decide to move on, this self-awareness will serve you in this or any other relationship that comes after.
Take time to understand past conditioning and why you chose the partner you did. What are the family dynamics and core beliefs about your lovability that were passed down from your family? What are the “shoulds” you have about being a good partner? A seasoned therapist or coach can help you to discover which of your own inner pain your spouse is reflecting in his/her behaviors helping you get clear about what you are bringing to the table in your marriage.
And most importantly, learn tools to support yourself and get to the heart of what you truly want. Practices like yoga, meditation, journaling, and self-reflection can help you get to the heart of the matter. Take at least 10 minutes each day to quiet your mind and connect with your own inner wisdom. Don't be discouraged if nothing much happens the first times you try this new daily practice. Keep at it! Seek support from a professional (or download an app if professional help is beyond your budget) to help you learn how to see through the clouds of fear and old conditioning. Only then will you know which actions to take next.
Once you begin to understand your part in your relationship conflict, you'll start to see how your old conditioning has been contributing to the dynamics of the relationship. Are there old patterns that can be reprogrammed through processes like couples therapy or relationship training? In other words, can you change the dynamics through personal growth and couples counseling, or are one or both of you creating blocks that are standing in the way?
When contemplating divorce, you need to figure out if and how the relationship can be restructured to serve your highest desires and intentions for fulfillment and happiness before calling it quits. If there’s a will, there’s often a way. But if love has truly left the table, and there are non-negotiable blocks, it may be time to take the next step into the divorce process.
I recently listened to an Oprah interview with Glennon Doyle Melton [ed. the author of Love Warrior (Flatiron, 2016) and the creator of the online community Momastery, and founder and president of Together Rising, a non-profit that has raised more than four million dollars for women and children in crisis] that pretty much summed it up. She said: “If you have to choose between saving your marriage or saving your soul, choose your soul.”
It’s vital to have an understanding about what the divorce will mean for you not only emotionally but logistically. As you navigate the stormy waters of the emotions and fears that arise once you know the end is inevitable, it’s crucial to understand your legal rights and how you will start over as a single person.
I always encourage people to consult with an expert, most often a family lawyer (make sure to choose a lawyer who will be realistic with you about the chances of achieving particular goals – not one who is ready to wage war against your spouse, rack up their hourly charges, and achieve nothing), who will clearly outline the state laws about how property and finances will be split, what parenting schedules might look like, and how long the actual process might take. Having this information will give you an idea of what the next steps are, and keep a worry and “what ifs?” at bay.
Ask yourself important questions, such as:
So much fear can creep into this process, causing us to doubt ourselves and our decisions and create unnecessary worry about the future and the well-being of the kids. When we can arm ourselves with information and facts about divorce laws in our state (or province); acknowledge that millions of men, women, and children have been through this and not only survived but thrived after divorce; we can have more clarity confidence in our decisions.
Disengaging emotionally from your spouse can be one of the most difficult parts of dissolving the relationship.
For years, maybe decades, they have been your emotional “rock”: the one person you share all of your hopes and dreams and fears with. Suddenly, this role is shifting. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to go to your ex-partner for emotional support. This is the time when their role – and your role of parents making joint decisions – can and will change dramatically. The difficult truth is that they are no longer your “person”.
The divorce process can be a rocky road with lots of ups and downs, twists and turns – many of which will be difficult and feel heartbreaking as you start to restructure all of the systems that you created as a couple. Now’s the time to emotionally prepare for the next 1½ to 5 years, which is the typical timeframe to emotionally “get over” a divorce.
Call on your team of experts and non-judgmental friends and family. Tell them what you need during this time. Seek outlets for your emotional energy to move, rather than to get stuck in the pain. Read books about divorce, get online and read more blogs and articles and realize that you are not alone. Cry when you need to. Rest a lot. Talk to your doctor about appropriate physical exercise to alleviate your depression and release stress. Learn to become your own best friend and biggest cheerleader. Eventually, you will find less and less loneliness as you become your own “person” that you can turn to in the difficult times.
Train your mind to dwell in the space of what is possible, rather than what will no longer be. What is it that you want as a single person going forward in your life? What hobbies, activities, travel, etc. have you always wanted to try? What is your vision for your new home and your new life with your children? What qualities would you like to have in a new partnership when it’s time to put yourself out there and start dating again? Most importantly, who do you want to BE now that you are committed to moving on from your marriage?
Re-discover, or discover for the first time, your passions and your purpose. Each day, commit to taking one step towards your vision. It is impossible to feel stuck while you are moving forward. Some days it may be baby steps – other days, huge leaps. Work with the end in mind, and please, please believe in yourself. Even though divorce may be the outcome of this relationship, it is not the end of your life: it's the beginning of the next chapter.