The vision of marriage is all about diving into life’s riches together. When you’re dating, you can’t get enough of one another. When you’re walking down the aisle, you see only the good that lies ahead. Nowhere in this fairytale is there a chapter on how to escape a miserable marriage. You don’t need it because…well, you just don’t need it. Your love, after all, is perfect. He’s perfect. She’s perfect. And love conquers all.
OK, hypnosis over. Back to reality. Even the most jaw-dropping carriage can be a glitzy cover for a rotting pumpkin. Bippity-boppity-boo doesn’t guarantee forever.
The first reality check is acknowledging (and preparing for) the fact that marriage isn’t all about holding hands and skipping through fields of gold. It’s work. Hard work. But hopefully the kind of work that is entered into with a vision toward personal and relational growth.
That’s why emotional maturity and a commitment to developing good communication skills is imperative. Without them, you will be more likely to see boredom, fighting, and periods of loneliness as signs that you made a mistake.
There are several shades of red in the red-flag category. Your marriage may simply be going through the normal stages of love. It may be unhappy due to neglect. It may be unhealthy because of poor communication skills and their effects. And it may also be downright toxic.
If you’re at a point where you’re trying to figure out how to escape a miserable marriage, hit the pause button. Obviously that flag you’re waving is bright red. But the first thing you need to do is decide if your marriage is just unhealthy or completely toxic.
Neither is a pleasant place to be, obviously. But, just as with your physical health that may seem to be deteriorating, “unhealthy” can often be turned around.
Sometimes we’re unhealthy because we don’t know how to be healthy. And sometimes we’re unhealthy because of a hidden, mysterious, or idiopathic cause. But rarely does someone who has become unhealthy not go to the doctor to seek help.
Simple analogy. Big meaning.
Going from unhealthy to healthy isn’t necessarily a quick fix. But it’s a lot easier to stay the course of fixing things when you know it will work — if you will do your work.
If you’re wondering how to escape a miserable marriage because it has become toxic, however, you may have a less hopeful prognosis. “Diseases” like abuse, addiction, chronic infidelity, narcissism, and control can have fatal consequences to a marriage.
When your physical and/or emotional safety is at stake, you may have no choice but to leave. And, if you have children, you have to rise above your own fears to create a path forward for you and them.
The most important message for someone asking how to escape a miserable marriage is: Have a plan. If you’re in an unhappy marriage but are afraid to leave, having a plan will be like taking yourself by the hand and walking to safety.
Here are the major points to remember as you structure a plan for leaving a miserable marriage.
- Tell someone.
Especially if you are in an abusive situation, having a support system is imperative. You’re going to need a village to embrace you and help you through what can be a very painful process. And you’re going to need the sound advice of experts and benevolent people who have been where you are.
Confide in at least a few people whom you know you can trust and who will honor your confidentiality. And make sure your “villagers” have phone numbers and vital information for you. This extra step is particularly important in situations involving abuse, addiction, or extreme control.
- Build a safety net.
You’re going to need money to get you through. And, if you’re not already working, you may have no income flowing in that you can personally control. Put aside everything you can so you have money available.
This is a good time to consult with a financial expert, as different states have different laws about property in a divorce.
Building a safety net isn’t as simple as taking money out of your account(s) and hiding it in a suitcase. Common property states maintain that everything acquired during the marriage belongs equally to both spouses. So reach out for guidance to make a financial plan that protects you now without hurting you later.
- Look for work.
Even if all you do find is a part-time, low-wage job, start the flow of income. If you haven’t been working and have been relying on your spouse’s income while raising kids, or going to school, establishing independence is paramount.
- Look for a place to live.
Divorce is complicated, even in the best circumstances. But, when you’re dealing with how to escape a miserable marriage, it can get really messy.
You may not be in a situation where you can just go rent or buy a place, especially if assets are tied up. And, if you have children, you have to consider more than just yourself.
This is why that village is so essential. Is there someone in your life who would open their home to you for a while? If securing a place of your own isn’t as simple as apartment shopping and signing a lease, get creative.
Churches, support groups, domestic violence organizations, your social media friends, a realtor friend – these are all good places to start. You never know who knows someone who knows someone….
- Find a good family law attorney.
If your marriage is really miserable, it has probably been accumulating its toxicity for a long time. And that can make leaving a contentious process. Add children, assets and/or debts to the equation, and it becomes a road you don’t want to travel alone.
Someone who is an expert in family law can help guide you through all the important steps of leaving – finances, children, timing.
- Stop communication with your partner.
If you have children together, you will obviously have to communicate. But keep your communication to matters involving the kids.
And, as an extra precaution, document all your communication, no matter how innocuous it may seem. When did you talk/text/email/meet? What was said or done?
Keeping a journal dedicated to your divorce could prove to be very helpful if your partner tries to make things hard on you.
If you have no choice but to be in the same house, strive to create separation as much as possible. You don’t want to be drawn into arguments, crazy-making, or efforts to change your mind. (That’s why you’re in this position in the first place, right?)
- Seek professional help.
This is really an extension of building your village. It is so important that you don’t attempt to go through this process alone. While you’re multitasking with all the unfamiliar, painful, moving parts of divorce, your emotions will be taking a silent beating.
Whether you seek out a therapist, a life/divorce coach, a support group, a pro-bono legal advisor, or all of the above, you need them. You need their empathy, their knowledge, their resources, their clarity, and their strength.
This is one of the most important gifts you can give yourself as you navigate one of the most difficult decisions you will ever make.
If you’ve tried everything you can to make things work, but you’re losing your spirit and sense of self, you probably already know the answer.
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