How do you know when it’s time to end or mend your marriage? How do you know when it’s time to get divorced? We brought Journey Beyond Divorce founder and Divorce Coach Karen McMahon back to the Divorce etc… podcast to talk about how to figure out whether you can fix a marriage or if it’s necessary to take that step to divorce.
Deciding to get divorced is one of the most difficult choices someone can make. What makes it even more difficult is if you’ve got kids, and you know that your decision will affect more than just yourself. Even Karen was on the fence for three years before she made the choice. “I just didn’t know which way to land,” she recalls. But there are some key things she says you have to look for when making your decision.
Karen herself narrowed it down to two categories: one, something happens – financial infidelity, an affair, a big event that leads to a major reaction that gives you the signal. Or two, you haven’t been happy for a long time. In situation number two, you’ve usually spoken to your spouse about it, and you’ve likely gone to counseling, but you haven’t seen much change.
In either case, if you’re still on the fence about what to do, start the process by staying where you are (unless there is domestic violence and you aren’t safe). But if the situation is one of the two above, a lot of people start by trying to tell their spouse what they want them to do differently. This doesn’t generally work. At Journey Beyond Divorce, Karen advises that you turn that focus on yourself. By focusing on how you work on mending, you’ll open your eyes to what steps you’re actually taking in making an effort to mend. When communicating with your spouse, do you raise your voice and get defensive? Or do you shut down and go silent? What is your communication style?
Handling Sudden Change
So what if from the beginning of your relationship you were louder and more confrontational, which your partner originally didn’t mind, but suddenly it’s starting to become a problem? Your initial reaction may be that this isn’t fair since they’re acting like it’s an issue 10 years into the relationship. But the thing is, if it’s now a problem with your partner, it’s now a problem in the relationship.
Considering whether or not you should try to mend and fix your marriage gives you the opportunity to make a list of everything you want to consider. “The bottom line is, it doesn’t matter what they did 10 years ago,” Karen says. “Now they’re having a reaction to it.” So that’ll go on your list. If you happen to be in a position where you’re putting something like this down about yourself, that doesn’t mean you’re a good or bad person, by the way. It’s just how it is. But if you decide to mend your relationship, you need to first make an inventory of yourself to narrow down what’s been working or what hasn’t been working and see what your priorities are and what you need to work on for yourself.
You can share with your spouse that you’re taking this initiative too. Rather than focusing on fixing the other person, if you keep working on yourself, either you’ll see them moving further away, or engaging and making an effort to work on themselves, too. It’s a difficult step to take but can reveal a lot about what you need to do next in the marriage – whether to try and make it work or consider divorce.
When Giving Changes Nothing
What if you’re giving and giving and nothing’s changing?
Well, that’s not balanced. Part of mending in a situation like that is to think, “what would happen if I found my voice if I started taking care of myself?”. If you start taking care of yourself and standing up for yourself, and you’re met with more criticism from your spouse, then that’s a sign of them moving further away from you. “The question of ending or mending is going to become really clear,” Karen contends.
A similar issue to consider is if there’s a clear imbalance of power in the relationship. If you’ve lost your autonomy or feel a severe need to control the other person, the relationship has lost balance and they’re no longer your partner or your equal in the relationship. Are both of you feeling heard, seen, and understood? And if you aren’t, can you pinpoint where there’s an imbalance? “Again, look at yourself first,” Karen reminds us. Are you not asking for what you need? Are you just handing over responsibilities to your spouse, maybe because you’re afraid or don’t feel as though you can handle them?
Ultimately this is when you can either feel them engaging or moving further away. If you try sitting down with them and ask to understand the finances, or share responsibilities, and their reaction is to include you and help you understand, great! But if they tell you not to worry, that they can handle it, to not think about all the nitty-gritty stuff and keep it under wraps, that’s another warning sign.
So How Do You Know?
If you have a voice in your head telling you something’s not right, don’t ignore that voice. If you have that intuition that something’s wrong, you can start off gently, by speaking to safe people – a friend, a therapist, a coach – but just don’t ignore it. That’s when the mending process comes in. If you can’t sit down with your spouse and open up that conversation, then that’s another sign. And with that conversation, it’s crucial to not blame or accuse, but just keep the discussion in the “I.” Like “I’ve been feeling very disconnected,” and then slowly bringing it to the “we,” saying “we don’t do…” or “could we talk about…”. These early conversations are so important because with these being brought into the light, you’re changing the dynamic of the relationship. You can’t expect your spouse to know what’s wrong in the relationship without having these conversations. And from how they react to you initiating those conversations you’ll get a better vision of what direction you need to take for your marriage, whether it’s ending it or mending it. No matter which choice you make, at least you’ll know you’ve done what you can without making a rash decision.