As you can imagine, this is not a simple question. There are many factors to consider. The purpose of this chapter is to provide a framework for thinking through this most stressful of issues. In order that we can stay focused, we shall rule out someone who has general regrets about the marriage. It is not uncommon that someone may have second thoughts about their spouse.
This can happen for any number of reasons – even something as passing a really pretty girl in the street and unfavorably comparing your wife to her. Once we live our day-to-day existence with someone, we may see sides of them we find unappealing. We can be overcome with pangs of guilt for not trusting the misgivings we had during dating. This is addressed in “I am Newly Married and Am Having Second Thoughts”.
Let us clear up a few things, so we can concentrate on the nub of the issue. A marriage is more than just about the relationship; there are all manner of practical considerations, such as joint house, car, finances, and so on. Every sensible person understands the difficulty of unravelling these things. No one entangled in this way is going to trivialize the headache a divorce could entail. We do not need to address these aspects of divorce.
If there are children involved, this is a major complicating factor. Anyone who wishes to delude themselves that the divorce will not affect the children is free do so, but sadly the reality is going to be quite different. Hopefully, you understand this and are not under any illusions. You may have religious, spiritual or communal considerations that play into how you feel about divorce. In the end, these cannot be the overriding factor in such a decision. You will be the best judge of the relevance of these factors to your situation.
One cause for divorce is poorly understood, and that is the onset of a midlife crisis. It can lead someone to experience major personality alterations and attitude changes that often result in divorce. This is addressed in a different article. This article shall address three points that are often misunderstood.
Most times, seeking divorce is a choice. Not an easy choice, but a choice nonetheless. We could stay in the marriage, should we choose. Perhaps we no longer love or are loved by our spouse, but it is still possible to stay put. Maybe there is a great deal of conflict and discord, which makes divorce a desirable option, but you could live with it. However, sometimes staying in the marriage is not an option. You have to get out – immediately.
If you are in an abusive relationship, get out. If he is violent towards you, head out of the door. If she is malicious towards you, you have no business being in such a marriage. Your emotional and physical safety comes first. If he has been involved in child abuse, you cannot reconcile yourself with that. If she has a significant history of infidelity, you would be naïve to go along with it. In short, if the situation is unacceptable, do not accept it. If your spouse is a threat, protect yourself and leave. What follows only applies where this imperative does not hold.
Divorce is No Picnic
When things sour in a marriage, it is a bitter pill to swallow. Instead of romantic evening in front of the coal fire, you feel increasingly estranged. You struggle to speak to each other without it becoming an argument. A marriage which began with so much promise is now a sad shadow of its former glory. Divorce appears an attractive way out of this predicament. Maybe it is. I have had the sorry task of informing couples that their marriage is over. Usually, one member in the marriage is resistant to the message, and is not best pleased that I declared the union dead.
Sometimes, the couple are so evidently incapable of making it work there is nothing left to save. Divorce is not always the wrong course of action. However, what people need to understand is that divorce often looks a whole better than it is. The one looking for the divorce often has a far higher opinion of what life will be like without the marriage than is likely to be the case in reality.
Yes, the marriage is hardly ideal. I am not trying to downplay the troubled nature of the partnership, but the truth needs to be told: things are often no better after a divorce. The husband or wife you wanted to get rid of is usually far from out of the picture. If there are children involved, a total disconnect is not a realistic scenario. The hardships and emotional toll attendant with divorce is rarely calculated accurately. In many cases, the party pushing for the divorce wildly plays up the problems in the marriage and dramatically plays down the consequences of separation.
It is extremely rare to find someone divorced who will admit that they made a mistake. That is because the amount of hard feeling created by the divorce process typically generates enmity for life (in all but exceptional cases). But as someone who has seen things close up, it is not nearly as clear-cut as the one advocating divorce would have you believe.
Up and Downs
It happens that someone’s marriage suffers a steep downturn. For quite a number of reasons it is possible for a marriage to enter a period of turbulence. Often one party does something devastatingly hurtful, which the other party finds hard to get over. It could also be an accumulation of small things that lead one part to call it quits. However, just as often there is no discernable reason.
Marriages, like tides, fluctuate. They are liable to peaks and troughs. Boredom is just as much a cause of divorce as an act of wrongdoing. Couples can find they have lost interest in each other and the spark has gone. They no longer want to spend time together; they have become estranged. People are going to struggle with the prospect of living such an existence for the rest of their lives. It is not easy living with someone you do not want to be with. It is not a shock when the mind starts to wonder “perhaps I would be better looking for someone new?”
Therefore, I repeat: marriages have peaks and troughs, highs and lows. You may be going through a rather steep and prolonged decline, but there may also be the possibility of rekindling of interest and a revival of the marriage. There are more than a few examples of couples who were close to divorce who pulled back from the brink and went on to have a decent marriage for many years. No one is saying this is the case with you. All that is being said is that it may be, and that is sufficient to give pause.
Your safety is not at risk, so you can afford to take your time to understand your situation properly. You may discover that, “This too shall pass.” Marriages can be brought back on the rails. It happens all the time. You may look at your marriage and think there is no way it can be revived, but you are likely to be burdened by a cocktail of negative emotions that are not conducive for clarity.
Allow me to share just one way of approaching the question of the future of your marriage. Ask yourself please: “has my husband/wife fundamentally changed as a person?” This can happen for a variety of reasons, including mental illness or an extreme life experience. If not, then you should know that the basic factors that led you to choose thing person in the first place most likely still exist, and there is a realistic possibility to revivify the marriage. There may still be overwhelming reasons why the union is doomed, but this point should feature heavily in your consideration.
Just as it is a terrible idea to remain in a bad marriage, it is a terrible idea to prematurely declare the marriage irretrievable. Do not wait until enough toxicity has built up in the marriage that it could poison an elephant. If you are despairing about your marriage, seek appropriate help. A credible person will not try to persuade to stick it out just for the sake of it.
Competent professionals understand the toll of a dysfunctional relationship, but they also comprehend the toll of dismantling a marriage, and they understand that a bad patch in a marriage does not need to be terminal for the relationship. It is best not to dream about the great life post-marriage, and instead conduct a hard-nosed assessment of the reality. Whatever your decision, I wish you endless luck and future happiness.