No one ever goes into a marriage wanting a divorce. Yet, a little over 50% of marriages end in divorce.
As a former relationship coach who’s sat with over 300 married couples, it may sound odd when I say there are times when divorce is the best choice. While many people argue against divorce, there have been many occasions when I thought it was a couple’s best option.
Sadly, there are many instances where staying together is more detrimental than divorcing. A couple’s success should not be measured by how long they were married. Even if a marriage ends, it doesn’t mean a couple failed. Rather, it should be measured by the memories and love they shared. Love shared is a success in and of itself. If you got married and loved deeply, your relationship could never be a failure. Ending the marriage just means the love shifted, transformed, and grew into another type of relationship.
When couples view it from this perspective, they can separate without all the hate, anger, and resentment that often accompanies an ending. Similarly, if a couple divorces, this point of view can help dispel the guilt and shame that often follows a divorce.
As a child from a ‘broken home,’ I’m glad my parents split. Looking back, it’s clear my parents weren’t happy together. They fought, struggled to recover and their love became like a harsh cord that bound them to suffer. Witnessing their fights, upsets, and distance only hurt all of us. Their separation, while painful, set all of us free.
While little kid me was confused and sad when they split, the adult me has the maturity to understand they chose the most loving option they could. I don’t resent them for it. In fact, I am proud of them for splitting with maturity, kindness, and love.
Divorce is a tough option to ponder.
If it gives you any comfort, consider this: love never changes; only the expression of love changes. Divorce does not mean you have to end the love, it can say that you shifted how you relate the love that remains.
To help you navigate these murky waters, here are some scenarios where divorce might be the best option.
1. There is blatant abuse in your relationship.
If you are in an abusive relationship, divorce is likely the best option. If you’re being hit, put down, or treated in a way that is abusive – divorce can help you find freedom again. While I support couples getting help and abusive partners get extra help – most often, I’d advise an abused partner leave. Having worked with abuse victims, I know it’s hard to leave. In the same token, statistically, I’ve found that leaving is usually the better option. By leaving you can find yourself, learn to love yourself more and get away from the abuse.
2. You’ve tried counseling and it doesn’t help.
When a couple starts to consider divorce, I advise they try counseling. At least eighty percent of couples who came to me for counseling came because they were considering divorce. I’m happy to report that most of my 300 couples stayed together. Through coaching and counseling, most couples can rekindle the love and get the tools to assure they have a healthy relationship.
When a relationship is not doing well, it’s a sign that they may need a tune-up. Just like all of us went to school to learn to write, read, and speak, most of us would do well to have a teacher help us with relationship success.
After a couple has tried counseling (and maybe a few counselors) and they still can’t find the love, it’s a sign that maybe they’ve grown apart. Maybe they’ve done too much damage and can’t fix what is truly broken. If you’ve tried counselors and coaches and can’t find the love that once existed, a conscious divorce is the next best option.
Divorce is never fun or easy but sometimes through coaching, couples realize the love has gone. The next best option is to end things amicably and as peaceful as possible. This is especially true if there are kids involved.
3. You are tempted to cheat.
Most of us know that around one in four (25%) couples have issues of infidelity. Some of those couples recover, but most don’t. Cheating takes a toll on a relationship. Finding the love and trust after someone steps out doesn’t happen quickly. Quite often it doesn’t ever happen.
If you’re actively considering cheating, it’s a strong sign that you need counseling or coaching. If coaching and counseling don’t help you, I encourage you to speak to your partner and consider divorcing before you cheat. I know my advice here sounds like a double edge sword, but if you step out on our partner, there’s a slim chance you’ll ever recover. Then what follows is almost always certainly a nasty and expensive divorce with two very bitter people.
If you keep wondering about other people, get some objective perspective. Hire a counselor or a coach. Talk with your partner. Do what you can, but if that curiosity persists, it’s a good indicator that maybe your marriage is frayed and ending things may be the better option.
4. You’ve grown apart and can’t come together.
According to world-renowned relationship experts Dr. John and Julie Gottman, couples who have shared dreams are more likely to stay together. Building a healthy relationship is much like building a home: you need a foundation, strong infrastructure, and a roof to complete and protect the shelter from harsh weather. The Gottman’s say that the foundation is your friendship, the infrastructure is how you communicate and resolve issues, and the roof is the couple’s shared dreams.
If you’ve grown apart so much that you can’t align your dreams, it’s a strong indicator the couple needs to come together. They need to find a way to become a unit. If two can’t find a way to become one and have shared dreams together, then it’s unlikely your room will ever be a secure shelter.
5. You can’t find happiness together.
Love is challenging. It has its up and its downs. Any of us who has ever been in love knows this. Not being happy isn’t certainly a good reason to call it quits. Working together to find happiness is part of what we sign up for when we make our vows.
What if year after year you just can’t find happiness together?
Sadly, I’ve seen many couples who just grit their teeth and push past their resentment, anger, and dissatisfaction. The marriage lives on but they live as if they’re two strangers living in the same house.
This doesn’t constitute a successful marriage. Time in a marriage does not equal a couple who is living up to their vows. Sure, there will be times and seasons where things are not ‘all roses.’ That being said, when a couple can’t find a way to create joy and love – it might be a clear sign that they’ve grown apart.
In this instance, knowing when to call it quits is very individualized. If you’re unhappy and can’t find the love and joy you once shared, it does not mean you need to call it quits. What it does mean is that you both have some work to do.
If after putting in the effort and the emptiness still exists – I’d suggest the consideration for ending the relationship. While there’s no hard and fast rule to say, “We’ve tried, and we’re not happy.” I’ve seen too many couples stay in a loveless marriages year after year just because they never considered that the lack of happiness meant the love had left.
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