Is your marriage just so-so, or is it toxic? Are you unsure about whether you ever really loved your partner or are you just going through a difficult time? Should you get a divorce?
Maybe you worry about whether you should stay together for the sake of your children even though your marriage has been a disaster for a long time.
Before you make a final decision about something as important as divorce, it is important to examine your situation carefully. While there is no foolproof way to know if divorce is the best solution to an unhappy marriage (or even one where infidelity is present), many people consider it to be a viable option to chronic unhappiness, high conflict, or even falling out of love with their partner.
The following list of questions will help you to examine your thoughts, feelings, and options prior to making a decision about whether or not to proceed with a divorce.
Should You Get a Divorce? Here Are 10 Key Questions to Ask Yourself
- Do I feel constantly criticized and put down by my partner and this leaves me feeling less than good enough? According to relationship expert Dr. John Gottman, criticism is one of the main reasons why marriages collapse. It can be lethal to a marriage because it can lead to contempt.
- Do I feel disrespected by my spouse? Does my partner honor my boundaries? When you lose respect for your partner, or vice versa, you may feel they are damaged goods. If left unchecked, this dynamic will destroy your marriage.
- Does my partner engage in a pattern of chronic, overt, destructive behavior? This would include activities such as internet gambling, alcoholism, drug abuse, porn, or illegal activities.
- Is my marriage characterized by persistent high conflict without many periods of harmony or happiness in the relationship?
- Do I experience emotional, physical, or financial abuse in my marriage that causes me to feel unsafe and/or disrespected? For the most part, experts agree that any type of abuse erodes feelings of security, trust, or sense of belonging in a relationship and these issues can’t be resolved in the context of a marriage.
- When I argue with my partner, do we seldom repair our relationship and get back on track? Have we fallen into the trap of blaming each other and fail to compromise or apologize? As a result, we experience less warmth and closeness? One of the most important solutions to this problem is to get really good at repair skills. Couples need to get back on track after a fight if they don’t want issues to fester.
- Do we rarely have sex or spend time together and have no desire to change this pattern? After all, intimate relationships require nurturing and couples who spend time together and have sex regularly report that they are more emotionally connected.
- Is one of you involved in an ongoing affair? The crucial aspect of an affair is betrayal. If a spouse fails to end an affair, take responsibility for their actions, and make a commitment to stop the betrayal, there is little chance that a marriage can be saved.
- Does your partner refuse to talk at all when you have a dispute? If so, she or he may be “stonewalling.” Unfortunately, stonewalling or shutting down is one of the predictors of divorce.
- Does my partner refuse to work on our relationship? If your spouse doesn’t care enough to spend time on improving your relationship, that’s a big sign that they’re done with it. It takes two to tango and one person can’t save a marriage. This includes refusing to spend time together and/or attending couples counseling sessions.
Many people ask me “Should I get a divorce?” By far, this is one of the most commonly asked questions clients and bloggers ask me. And even though I’ve lectured on this topic many times, I still find myself pausing and choosing my words carefully. The reason why this question is so difficult for me to answer is because every couple and family is different and one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to divorce.
Other reasons include whether or not you have children: parental conflict plays a large role in children’s emotional and psychological adjustment (in both intact and divorced families) and there is quite a lot of controversy about research findings.
Whether parents should stay together for the sake of their children depends to a large degree on the level of stress and disruption in family relationships associated with an unhappy or conflictual marriage. An important question is: would the well-being of the children be enhanced by a move to a divorced, single-parent family? If the answer is yes, then a divorce can be advantageous. However, if a divorce will expose children to diminished resources, such as more conflict and more difficulty parenting, the answer may be to stay together.
In her landmark book For Better or For Worse, eminent psychologist E. Mavis Hetherington highlights the results of her study of 1,400 families and the importance of examining the type of conflict children experience. She notes that high-conflict that involves the child, is physically violent, threatening or abusive, and conflict in which the child feels caught in the middle, has the most adverse consequences for children.
In another review of this topic, Paul Amato states “When parents engage in a pattern of chronic, overt, destructive conflict, children may be no worse off (and perhaps better off) if the marriage ends in divorce.” The main finding highlighted by Amato and Hetherington is this: while parental divorce may expose children to more risk factors for subsequent social and psychological problems, that association is moderate and the majority of youth (75%) reach adulthood as well-functioning individuals.
Even the late divorce expert Judith Wallerstein who tended to emphasize the detrimental impact of parental divorce writes “Children raised in extremely unhappy homes or violent homes face misery in childhood and tragic consequences in adulthood.” She goes on to say, “I don’t know of any research, mine included, that says divorce is universally detrimental to children.”
Truth be told, many factors are involved in determining whether or not a couple should divorce. Every relationship and family has unique dynamics and characteristics. Deciding whether to divorce is a tough, complex, and controversial subject. There are no right or wrong answers, nor are there any simplistic solutions. However, if a couple has the maturity and fortitude to re-connect and work on their marriage (and abuse is absent), it may give them the chance to heal and improve over time.