Factors to Consider Before Ending Your Marriage
Divorce is a significant life change and often represents a major source of stress and grief for many adults. According to the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, a measure of life events that increase the risk of illness, divorce ranks as the second most stressful life event, coming in behind only the death of a spouse.
Because divorce is such a big decision, there are several factors to consider before ending your marriage. Some questions to ask yourself:
- Have you discussed your concerns? Before you opt to end the marriage, start by clearly communicating your concerns about the future of your relationship. If you haven’t made it very clear to your partner that there is a problem and that something needs to change, they may never make your concerns a priority until it’s too late.
- Have you talked about what it would take to save the marriage? While some marriages might be beyond repair for various reasons, it is essential to consider what would realistically have to change for you to stay together.
- Have you thought about what might come next? Divorce can solve some problems, but it can also create others. It is important to think about what your life might look like post-divorce. When making this life-changing decision, recognize what you’ll lose and don’t count on what you may receive: If your main reason for wanting a divorce is because you’re unhappy, being single again may not make you happier.
- How will you manage the impact of divorce on your children? While you might ultimately decide that you will no longer be a couple, you’ll still be co-parents. Before ending your marriage, consider how you will minimize the harm to your kids and work together to raise your children.
- Have you considered the financial consequences? Beyond the emotional aspects of divorce, ending your marriage can have significant financial consequences. Before making a choice, sit down with a financial advisor and talk to a lawyer. Understanding your situation and the laws in your state can help you better evaluate the financial impact of divorce on your life.
Research suggests that divorce has significant economic effects, which disproportionately impact women. One study found that women lost approximately 40% of their incomes in the year following a divorce, while men experienced a 5% gain.
Signs It Might Be Time to End Your Marriage
Only you know the answer to whether you’re better off staying married or getting a divorce. Sometimes marriage is worth saving and sometimes it isn’t. It’s important to face the realities—and not just the fantasy—of divorce.
Some reasons why you might decide that divorce is the right option include:
Abuse is a sign that you should never ignore. If there is abuse in your marriage, it is important to start planning how to leave the relationship safely.
Abuse can take many forms, including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.3 Controlling behavior, neglect, and financial abuse are also red flags you should never ignore.
If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.
If you are in immediate danger, call 911. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
Differing Goals or Values
Sometimes people in relationships find that they have different goals for the future. While such differences can often be resolved through discussion and compromise, conflicting visions of the future are sometimes simply incompatible.
Studies indicate that a lack of shared goals can harm relationships and increase the risk of divorce. Interdependence theory suggests decisions made by each person in a relationship have an impact on the other. While it isn’t realistic to have goals that align perfectly, making important decisions that don’t reflect each other’s values and goals can severely impact the relationship’s health.
Significant differences in values and beliefs can create conflicts in relationships that may not be resolvable. In such cases, ending the marriage might be the best solution for both of you.
If your marriage is creating distress, making you unhappy, or affecting your ability to function, it is a sign that divorce should be a serious consideration.
While married people tend to be happier and have better health, research has shown that people in unhappy marriages experience significant declines in health.
Lack of Intimacy
Intimacy is an essential part of any healthy relationship. It isn’t just about physical closeness; it is also about your emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and experiential connection.
While it is normal for every relationship to have its ups and downs, serious intimacy problems can emerge due to conflict, stress, poor communication, and other issues.
In some cases, it is possible to recapture the intimacy in your relationship. But if that isn’t possible, you might consider whether it is time to end the relationship.
Research has found that lack of intimacy in a marriage is the most common reason for divorce.
If you do all of the work in the relationship, it can put a marriage in peril. Examples of one-sided relationships include being the one who does all the housework, performs all the emotional labor, and provides all the financial support.
While it is normal for each person to have differing roles in a marriage, a profoundly unequal division of labor signifies that a marriage may be headed for divorce.
Growing indifference between you and your partner is another significant sign that your marriage might be headed for divorce. Apathy erodes the emotional connection you share. If you’ve stopped caring about one another, it is a sign of a serious problem that needs to be addressed.
Before divorce, people often go through a period of detachment, where they emotionally disconnect from their partner. Growing indifference can often be a sign of this detachment. It can sometimes be a form of self-protection in an unhappy relationship, but it can also be a way of preparing yourself for the end of a relationship.
Other problems, such as substance use or infidelity, are also reasons for divorce. The top reasons why marriages end include:
- Loss of intimacy and love
- Communication issues
- Lack of trust, respect, and sympathy
- Growing apart
While less common, violence, addiction, accidents, illnesses, and personality were also cited as reasons for divorce.
One study found that divorce was often preceded by a “final straw” that compelled a person to finally end the relationship. The most commonly cited “final straws” were infidelity, domestic violence, and substance use.
Impact of an Unhappy Marriage
For many couples, the amount of time they’ve already invested in their marriages has a lot to do with their decision to stay or to go. It’s generally easier for a younger married couple to divorce and start their lives over again than for partners who’ve been together for a decade or more.
But staying in a state of indecision can also take a toll. Sticking with a marriage that isn’t working is an example of the sunk costs fallacy, which involves feeling reluctant to abandon a decision because you’ve already invested so much in it. Ultimately, failing to decide to stay or go means more time wasted and more stress.
Consider these effects of being in a state of limbo:
- Your health: Your health is also being compromised if you aren’t sleeping well or not exercising and eating healthy foods.
- Your job: Your job may be in jeopardy due to moodiness and lack of attention.
- Your other relationships: Your children, friends, and other family members may feel your sadness, frustration, impatience, fear, anger, and indecision.
Steps to Take Before Making the Decision
Before you make the decision to end your marriage, there are steps you can take that might give you some clarity. Taking these steps might help improve your current situation, but they can also help you get ready to deal with the major changes and upheaval that divorce can bring to your life.
- Manage the stress in your life: Marital conflict can be a major source of stress. It is also more difficult to make a decision when you are overwhelmed with feelings of stress. Taking control of your stress levels can give you the clarity you need to make the right decision for your future.
- Make a plan: Devise a survival or backup plan to give yourself more control over your life. You may never have to use it, but it’s good to have it anyway.
- Focus on creating stability: Get yourself on stable ground so you can handle whatever comes your way. This can involve building your support network, taking care of your health, and planning for your financial future.
- Prioritize self-care: If your physical or emotional safety depends on being separated from your partner, you must make that your priority.
You may need some time away to view your marriage more clearly. Getting away alone, even for a weekend, can help you sort things out. For many people, this is when something clicks inside and they know what to do.
When to Seek Professional Help
If you’re contemplating divorce, see a professional licensed counselor that works with couples—even if you go alone.
Be sure to see someone with a good amount of experience in couples’ work. Sometimes a therapist with a lack of understanding of relational interactions will help put the nail in the marital coffin. Better yet, you both can try discernment counseling, a type of counseling that focuses solely on helping couples decide whether they want to end their relationship or work on it.
If you decide to proceed with a divorce, it is important to take steps to support your health and well-being throughout the process.
If you do make the decision to divorce, be good to yourself. Remember that if your marriage fails, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Some unhealthy relationships are not meant to succeed. Sometimes people keep trying to make sense of something that doesn’t make sense or can’t be solved.
Ending your marriage is a difficult and complex decision. It pays to give it adequate thought and consider all of the alternatives before making a decision. You might decide that staying with your partner is the right choice, but you might also decide that divorce is the right choice. Whatever you decide, make sure that you care for yourself, consider the impact it may have on your life, and consult professionals who can help.