How do you truly know when to get a divorce? When your marriage is on the rocks, it can feel like your life is in limbo as you wait for some kind of sign to help you decide. Unfortunately, there is no simple test to tell you which direction you should go because every situation is different.
What ends up being the breaking point for one person may just be another woman's normal existence. In violent situations, it may be more clear-cut that you should leave when you or your kids are in danger. But in the absence of danger, deciding whether to divorce or not is a lot tougher decision to make.
In these situations, we often recommend the book "Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay" (#ad). This book is filled with many powerful and intuitive questions that will give you insight into your relationship to help you make those difficult decisions. If you want to be able to reach a clearer, conscious decision about whether to keep working on your relationship or call it quits, it's worth checking it out.
You can also read through the answers to the following questions which discuss making the decision on whether to stay or go and when to get a divorce:
Brenda's Question: I have a full-time job while my husband just pulls part-time hours. He's basically told me he doesn't want or like to work. On top of that, he said he doesn't want to take care of our 3 year old twin boys either. There have been times when I've called the house while I'm at work, only to find out that he's sleeping while the boys are watching TV! Our boys are starting to show signs of being neglected, and I feel like I'm partially at fault because I leave them with him while I work. We've discussed the possibility of divorce, but he doesn't think he'd be happier somewhere else. It feels like I'm in a limbo between heaven and hell. This is torture and it's tearing me apart. He says he still loves us, but I can't help but think this is not just a "phase" for him. Is our marriage beyond "the point of no return"?
Gloria's Answer: Brenda, you don't just have the twins, you basically have three children you're tending to. You need to decide if you can continue tolerating your life the way it is now or if it's time to stop allowing your husband to act like an irresponsible 3 year old.
You're stuck in limbo because you're in complete denial about the reality of your situation. Your boys are suffering, neglected, and possibly in danger, but yet you aren't doing anything about it. It is time for you to get angry and upset - angry with the man you're married to because he isn't being a responsible husband or father and upset with yourself for being a wimp and letting him get away with it. Now let that anger drive you to start making some changes.
To begin, get your children taken care of. They are 3, and they need you to protect them and make sure they are loved and cared for. Next, have a very strong conversation about what is going on with your husband. Obviously, taking on the role of Mr. Mom isn't working well for him. So, why isn't he willing to get out there and contribute to the financial well-being on his family? What's up with that? And I would encourage you to be very clear about how long you will wait before he gets a job, and gets some of his self-respect back. If he refuses or doesn't follow through, be clear on what the consequences will be then.
Stop feeling sorry for the way things are, Becky, and begin to take action. I know you can do this, and your kiddos are depending on you!
Kris's Question: Do you think it's better for a couple to get divorced when their kids are younger or wait until they get older and are close to moving out of the house?
Brette's Answer: In my opinion, I think parents need to do what is right for them self. There have been numerous studies on the effects of divorce on children, but what isn't often talked about is how children are affected by living in a volatile environment where their parents are continually fighting, are mean to each other, or simply unhappy. It is very difficult to be a good parent if you are unhappy and miserable all the time.
When getting a divorce, it's important to take the children into consideration, but it shouldn't be the only factor to consider. You should do what is best for you and your future, and then work hard to make it as easy for your children as possible. I don't believe people should stay in a bad marriage just for the sake of their children.
Erin's Question: I am a 39 year old mother of two teenage children, and have been married now for almost 16 years. It feels like our marriage is broken and I'm thinking about divorcing my husband. We have both had extramarital affairs (he told me about his one affair, but I cannot tell him about mine). And although I strongly and deeply love my husband, I am not sure if we should stay married. We have a nice relationship, but sometimes I feel it's more like best friends. I'm so mixed up right now! I don't know how to repair my marriage or if I should even try. Whenever I suggest marriage counseling, he doesn't think we need it. Should I be thinking about when to get a divorce or should I try to stay in the marriage?
Gloria's Answer: Just because the two of you have been unfaithful in your marriage does not mean that it has to end in divorce. He chose to tell you, and it sounds as if you have accepted, forgiven, and moved on. You have chosen not to tell him, and that is not something to be condemned either. The truth is both of these events are part of your past and do not need to determine your future!
What I am hearing now in the present is a lack of passion. You are best friends, but the passion is missing. I would encourage you to put some time and effort into letting go of the past regrets and begin to fight for the love and passion you know is there.
We women are amazingly creative - plan a weekend away for just the two of you, get the kids a babysitter and surprise him with a candlelight dinner, get out there and buys some sexy underwear, tell the kids you'll be back in a little while and go for a long walk after dinner.
But know that all of that is just the beginning. From there, begin to reconnect intellectually again. Ask him what his dreams are for your future together? How are you working together to make those things a reality? How can you both challenge each other mentally to live life more fully and enjoy all that life has to offer? So often when we have kids, they come first, and the hopes and dreams of the husband and wife get put on the back burner. I think it's time to get them back in the forefront, and turn up the heat!
Terry's Question: I'm considering divorce. My husband constantly lies about our finances. He INSISTS on handling the finances, yet he is mismanaging our money and lying to me about how well we are doing financially. Every few years it gets REALLY bad. I will think we are doing OK (because I work 3 or 4 jobs, one full time), and then I find bills or bounced check notices hidden in drawers, and creditors start calling to ask where our payments are. I believe he does this because he is embarrassed and/or insecure, but it is driving me nuts! We talk and talk, but this has happened 3 times now, and I am tired of his promises and his pathological lies. I can't trust him at all! Got any advice on when to get a divorce? Should I get out while the getting's good, so to speak? I am worried if I do, I will REALLY have to struggle to make up for the debt we've created over the years, which is partially my fault for trusting him when he said we were doing fine, and partly his fault for lying about our financial status. HELP!
Gloria's Answer: Why is it that so many women hate to deal with the finances in the family? Why do we throw up our hands and let the man take on that responsibility? Especially when we are contributing our energy and efforts into the family coffers, and then feel like victims when things go awry?
Terry, I so feel for you because I, too, have been there and made the same mistakes you are! It's time for you to stop burying your head in the sand when it comes to the finances and begin to take on some of the responsibility - not only for earning it, but for managing it as well.
I think the mistake we often make is that because our husband is the "man", he automatically knows how to handle money. Not true! Men are not born knowing how to manage money any better than we are, and as I often say, if we don't know how or feel inadequate, we have the power to learn.
My encouragement for you would be to open up a checking account in your name only. Discuss with your husband the truth about where you are financially right now - with no finger pointing or blaming. Then come up with a plan for the two of you to tackle your financial issues. Finances seem to be a major factor when it comes to divorce, but these are steps that you can do now to save your marriage, if you choose to.
Remember, should you decide to divorce you'd be handling your money on your own anyway. Get the facts, get any support around you that you need, and manage YOUR finances.
Shelley's Question: My husband moved out of our home a year and a half ago because I mishandled our finances. He started dating another woman and keeps threatening to file for divorce, but has not done so yet. It breaks my heart every time he is with this woman. He has admitted to having sex with her. He says she is so much better than me---she was a fire fighter and is now going to school to become an engineer, while I just work at a bank. He says he can't trust me because I kept the money situation from him, and that this other woman has never lied to him and she makes him smile. He says he doesn't love me, but if this is so why hasn't he filed for divorce so that he can move on to be with this other woman. What makes her so much better than me? She keeps sending him pictures of herself which he puts up and when I give him one of me he won't put it up. It really hurts. What do I do? Do I continue to fight for him or do I give up?
Gloria's Answer: Okay, Shelley, it's time for you to stop beating yourself up and begin to have some healthy self-respect. If you messed up some of the financial things in your marriage, take responsibility for it, resolve it to the best of your ability, and move on. None of us are perfect, and it serves no one for you to continue to think you should've been and you are the scum of the earth because of it. Move on!
Next, stop giving him pictures of yourself, stop letting him make you feel less than, stop the conversations with him about this other woman, and stop fighting for him. You have to first begin to fight for yourself - your own dignity, self-respect, and value you offer in this world. He is with someone else, so you file for divorce. You begin to take the initiative to begin creating the life you want. You take on the responsibility of becoming who you most want to become and stop waiting for him to come rescue you.
Stop the tears. Stop the feeling sorry for yourself. Stop beating yourself up, and get off the bench and get into the game of living your life for yourself and your children who want are waiting to see the best in you! She's in there, Shelley - let her out!!
Tracy: It seems like every time we get into an argument, my husband will tell me we need to get divorced. If I ask him if he really thinks our marriage is over, he'll just reply that he doesn't know. However, he is still sleeping with me and we are still being intimate. Is he just calling my bluff? What should I do?
Gloria's Answer: It sounds as if his stating he wants a divorce is only a threat to control you and flex his muscles in an argument. How do you feel about that? Do you want to continue to have that always hanging over your head?
My encouragement for you, short and sweet, is to have a conversation with him about this issue when you aren't arguing. Let him know how you feel when he says this to you. Ask him if he really means it. And if you feel this is unacceptable to have this thrown at you when you are arguing, lay down the boundary that it is not okay.
There will be arguing in the healthiest of marriages at times, but there doesn't have to be the threats.
JoLene's Question: I am considering separating from my husband because of his mean attitude toward my family. He refuses to visit my family, and when they come to our house, he never says hello to them. I love his family and I treat them just like my own family. He fails to understand that by treating my family like this, it really hurts and disappoints not only me, but our children as well. He has the same attitude toward church. I know he loves me and the kids, but we have been fighting about this for 6 years. If I leave him, will he get the point and change? I do not want to lose my kids; they are everything to me. Do I stay in the relationship for them, even if I'm hurting?
Gloria's Answer: I completely understand and can appreciate the fact that you are hurting, JoLene. Yet, my first thought is that your husband is not doing the hurting. YOU are hurting yourself! How? By making the love and commitment for your husband conditional on how he treats your extended family and whether or not he goes to church.
While I do understand how important both of those are to you, I would challenge you to reconsider whether they are grounds for divorce. Honestly, what I'm really hearing though is the threat of divorce, not the reality of it - because the real motivation is to get him to change, not to divide the family.
Think for a minute . . . How would you feel if he were to turn the tables on you and make his love conditional? Statements like, "Unless you have sex with me 3 times a day, I'm out of here!" or "Unless you go to the bar with me at least once a week to just unwind after work, I don't believe you want to spend time with me and I'm thinking about leaving." Is that productive? Does that really motivate you to want to spend time with him? Probably not, and that is exactly what you are doing!
I love that you are setting the example with your children by loving and appreciating your husband's family. Keep doing it, and your kids will model that. If you love your husband unconditionally and accept that he may never change it will also be the best example you can set for your children. It will stop all the hurting of expecting a change that may never happen, and it will also create a wonderful place for your husband to want to be with you. It may even stir within him the desire to even make a few changes now and then.
Gail's Question: I have been with my husband for 26 years. I had an affair over 17 years ago because he was a drunk, but have not been unfaithful since. All I ever hear about is the things I did to him in the past. I cannot talk to any guys or even my male neighbor for that matter because he is so jealous and has been for years. He is very disrespectful to me (as I am to him now), and my feelings are gone. I'm afraid to divorce him because I feel bad! What is wrong with me? There is nothing there anymore, what should I do?
Gloria's Answer: There is nothing wrong with you, Gail, other than the simple fact that you are hurting and you continue to blame yourself for an affair you had many, many years ago. The guilt is keeping you stuck in an unhealthy marriage, and your husband is controlling you with that guilt.
My suggestion for you would be to accept that BOTH of you are imperfect people who made mistakes long ago, and to stop living in the past. It's time to fast forward to where you are now and begin to redefine what you want your present life to look like. Do you want to stay married? Do you want to take on the challenge of rebuilding your marriage now? What do you feel would be in the best interest of your children now?
Talk to your husband openly and honestly about this without blame, guilt, or pointing fingers as to how you got here - it doesn't matter! From there, make your decision based on what is, not what used to be.
Cindy's Question: I have been married for 8 years and for the past 5 years have also been involved with another man (which my husband does not know about). I feel the reason I had the affair is because of my husband's lack of attention and us no longer taking time for just the two of us (we have 3 children). I'm no longer seeing the other man and have filed for divorce, but it's not yet final. I'm no longer attracted to my husband, but I do still consider him my friend. He has begged me not to go through with the divorce but I do not see me changing my thoughts on the physical attraction and me wanting to be with him sexually. I still struggle with am I doing the right thing by going through with the divorce?
Gloria's Answer: I wish there was someone out there who could tell you what the "right" thing to do here is, but only YOU can know that for sure. On one hand, I sense that the marriage has been over a long time, and maybe you only stayed as long as you did for the children. Maybe you stayed because you were afraid and didn't know how you could support yourself and the kids. Maybe you needed time to learn more about yourself and what you truly wanted out of life.
On the other hand, I sense some hesitation. And I wonder if that hesitation isn't around asking yourself some of the "what if's". . .
This is lots to think about and consider. You need to step back and give yourself some time to think. What do YOU really want? What would it be like if you could get your marriage back on track and you were physically attracted to your husband again? What if you could tell your husband the truth about what you need and want in the future? How would it feel if you trusted your decision and promised yourself to never look back?
I want to remind you, also, that while sex is very important in a marriage, it is only one piece. If a woman feels loved, adored, honored, and respected, and feels the same way towards her husband, most of the time the physical part will take care of itself. Or you could accidentally leave your latest copy of Cosmopolitan on his pillow for him to read.
Duchie Asks: I've been married for 7 years and we have four children. He has a son from a previous marriage, I have two daughters (whose fathers aren't in the picture), and we have one child together. My husband took my children and has raised them as his own, which I think is wonderful. However, the problem is that we fuss and argue on a daily basis. He is very jealous and constantly wants to know where I'm at and when I'll be home. This is driving me crazy. I have talked to him about it and he says he will change and he does for about two weeks and then it goes back to same old thing. He even checks into my e-mail at work to see what and who I am talking to. If I order new under garments or anything like that he wants to know why I do that. He is pushing me away and I am seriously thinking of divorce. I worry about my kids, and they are the main reason I'm staying. Will he change?
Gloria's Answer: Will he change? I don't know. But I do know that it sounds like the two of you need to have a very serious conversation. He is acting out of fear, and your job is to figure out why. Is it something from his past that he is bringing into the present? Is it an attitude he picking up from you? Is he the one having an affair?
Set some time aside for the two of you to get to the bottom of what is really going on. Ask him the tough questions and listen to your own instincts. Let him know that his fear is pushing you away. Let him know where the boundaries are as far as checking your e-mails, purchases, etc. and what will happen if he violates them in another 2 weeks.
It can be very unnerving to not know, but I often say when dealing with fears it's like pulling the monster out from underneath the bed. It's often not nearly as scary as what we might think!