Even in the worst relationships it can be hard to call it quits. How to know when it’s for the best.
We’ve all had bad relationships. Some we chalk up to the rose-tinted glasses of youth and passion. Others are just straight-up terrible. Looking in from the outside, it’s hard to believe anyone gets stuck in these situations, but the reality is that it can be surprisingly easy, and tricky to get out once you’re embedded.
Being married is an even thornier proposition, complex and harrowing, and even more difficult to end. Still, at some point, we come to the realization—or we’re pushed to it—that we need out, that this needs to stop. It’s not an easy choice. In fact, it’s probably one of the hardest decisions you’ll ever make, but there are times when it must be done. The question is, how do you know when it’s time, how do you know when divorce is the right choice?
How Do You Tell If It’s Time?
It’s not a simple distinction. I was in a god-awful long-term relationship years ago. When it was dead and buried, the uniform response from our shared friends was, “Thank God that’s finally over.” When pressed for more information, the explanation usually ran along the lines of, “I love you both, but you were horrible for each other.” And they were, across the board, correct.
Without getting into the details, looking back, the problems are so blatant and obvious now, as they are in many cases.
Our friends had a perspective we sorely lacked, so why didn’t they say anything? Being confrontational with people you care about can be difficult, and that’s never a comfortable conversation to have. And in some cases, people did say things, but we weren’t in a place to hear them or accept their input, and dismissed these concerns.
I didn’t want to listen. I didn’t want to accept that anyone else, that an outsider, knew better than I did. When you’re in a bad situation like this, it’s easy to have your confidence shaken. You’re supposed to be masculine, to be a man, to figure out how to make things work. When you can’t, it’s a ding to your self-esteem, and that can be tough to let go.
But in the end it’s not about pride, it’s not about conforming to some standard. I had to, for myself, for my own health and well-being, take a long look at my situation and figure out how to make it work, or even if I could. Such a self-examination can be rough and humbling, but it’s necessary, and can be so, so worth the trouble.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of whether or not it’s time to end a relationship. Ultimately, it’s an intense, personal decision that you have to make for yourself. This is far from an exhaustive list, but here are some questions to ask yourself if you’re considering ending your marriage or wondering if divorce is the right choice.
Why Are You Staying Married?
This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s a great place to start. There are a ton of legitimate reasons to stay married, even if it’s difficult. You can stay together because you think it’s best for the kids, because maybe this is just a rough patch and you’re confident you can work it out, or because you still believe the marriage is worth saving. But if you ask yourself this question and nothing springs immediately to mind, maybe it’s time.
Is Your Marriage Working For Both Of You?
You may want to ask yourself if you’re getting what you need out of your marriage. At the same time, is your wife? Do you still push and challenge each other to be the best versions of yourselves, or have you lost respect for one another and let personal growth fall by the wayside? People often move in different directions, and those directions may no longer be compatible or provide what each party requires. We evolve, our priorities, morals, and ethics change over time, but we don’t always develop together or end up in the same place. If your marriage isn’t working for both you and your spouse, is it really working at all?
Does Everything You Do End In A Fight?
Does everything you do, no matter how simple—it can be as mundane and trivial as making dinner or sitting down to watch TV—erupt into a conflict? No joke, my ex and I once got into a screaming match over an episode of Sex and the City; it really can be anything that lights the fuse. Do you constantly bring up every hurtful, mean, awful thing you’ve ever done to each other? When you disagree, is there no way to reconcile even the most minor squabbles? Do you communicate primarily via yelling, foot stomping, and anger? If so, these are not signs of a particularly healthy, stable relationship.
Have You Tried Everything And Nothing Works?
There are options out there if your marriage is in trouble, perhaps more than ever before. You have your pick of therapists, counselors, marriage boot camps, and myriad other tools to help save your relationship. You shouldn’t be too quick to opt for divorce. No one said being married was going to be easy, after all. At some point, however, you may need to step back, look at what you’ve tried, ask if your marriage can truly be saved, and decide if that’s the best option.
For many men, this exhaustive approach can have multiple effects. First, if you’re successful, if you find an avenue that works, your marriage is saved. That is, ideally, the goal, and if you can achieve that, great. Second, if you really did try everything, and if there are obstacles that you simply can’t navigate, you can move forward with divorce secure in the knowledge that you did everything humanly possible to save your marriage. This leads directly to the next question.
Can You Accept That It’s Over?
This may be the most painful one of all. Once you’ve taken a good, long, hard look at your marriage, assessed the situation, and determined that there is no way in hell to salvage this union, can you accept that? Even if you ultimately decide that divorce is the correct path and the right choice, there is sure to be at least a degree of internal conflict. It’s hard to admit that you were wrong, or that you couldn’t fix everything. But in the end, you need to be honest with yourself, no good will come from clinging to a truly lost cause or denying the reality of the situation.
A healthy marriage, one that fulfills the basic needs of both people involved, should have trust, commitment, openness and honesty, mutual respect, a shared agenda, and countless other facets. If any, or maybe even all, of these elements are missing, it may be time to examine your relationship and decide whether or not divorce is the right choice.