A good lawyer will never answer the question, “Should I get divorced?” The decision whether to get divorced or not is very individual. It is not an easy decision to make. Marital strife is so emotional and deeply personal. Whether you have been married a couple of years or fifty, the decision to end that partnership is heartbreaking, but sometimes necessary. Instead of answering the question, “Should I get divorced?” let’s explore a few things that may lead you to the answer.
What is the good, the bad and the ugly?
Making lists of pros and cons is as good as any place to start, but instead of just two columns for the good and the bad, add a third column for ugly. If you are lucky, there won’t be anything ugly, but it is ok if there are a few things that belong in that column. I would recommend starting with the bad. List everything wrong about your marriage, your partner and even yourself as a spouse.
Then move over to the good. Be generous and give every benefit of every doubt. When you are in the middle of marital strife it can sometimes be hard to see the good, but even the worst of spouses have some good. If you can’t think of anything good they do as a spouse, are they a good parent, provider, or person? Try to find a few positive things with the understanding that there are some cases where this is very difficult.
Finally, identify and name anything ugly in the final column. This is subjective, but generally this category includes three or four categories: (a) physical, mental, emotional, or sexual abuse; (b) drug/substance addiction; (c) severe mental illness (where it puts you or your children in danger); and (d) affairs and infidelity. This is not the only things that can go on this list and yours may include other things that some people would just consider “bad.” This is a very individual assessment so put things where you feel they should be.
Overall, if the bad and the ugly outweigh the good, it may help you decide that divorce is right. On the other hand, it could all be good except for one ugly fact and that could still tip the scales toward divorce. The importance of this exercise is not to find a reason to divorce, but rather determining whether your marriage is realistically possible to save. Whether your marriage can be saved boils down to three criteria: (1) you and your spouse’s tolerance level. Can you and your spouse endure the challenges that will come while you work on your marriage?; (2) you and your spouse’s willingness to change current patterns that aren’t working in your marriage; and (3) the impact your relationship is having on your children.
Can your marriage be fixed?
No marriage is perfect. We all have weaknesses that we bring to our relationship. We all can improve. That is not to say there is equal fault in a divorce situation, but hopefully everyone can identify a few ways in which they could have been a better spouse. Marriage counseling can have a dramatic impact on a marriage if both parties are willing to put in the effort. Results rarely occur overnight, but with hard work most marriages can be saved.
However, if you are dealing with a spouse that exhibits some of the ugly traits listed above, I would enter into the process of fixing your marriage cautiously. There will need to be strict adherence to an accountability plan and certain ground rules. For example, if your spouse has a substance abuse problem, they will need to seek treatment. The most success is found in in patient treatment programs. If your spouse is unwilling to seek treatment or wants to treat themselves on their own terms, that is often a recipe for disaster.
More importantly, if you are being abused, you need to get out of that situation immediately. Abuse is never your fault and even though you may have participated in a fight, once it crosses a line, no one deserves that ever. Abuse in all its forms is the hardest to come back from in a marriage as it systematically destroys trust as the foundation of a relationship and replaces it with fear. A marriage based on fear should never last. Regardless of what you and your spouse are dealing with, the broad question you should ask is are you and your spouse both willing to put in the effort to fix your marriage. Make sure you are honest with yourself. Most people say things like “Of course I want to save my marriage,” but in the end their actions betray them. It is also very hard to save a marriage if one person is disengaged and not interested in changing things. In the end, it is a very individual situation that you should consider carefully. What works for you may not work for others and that is okay. Make the decision that resonates with you.