Are you in distress about your relationship to the point that you’re considering ending your marriage and asking yourself questions like, “Is my marriage over? Should I get a divorce?”
If you’re like many men and women, you’ve toughed your way through the holidays, not wanting to disappoint the kids or other family members during what should be a time of celebration.
You put on your best happy face and muscled your way through another miserable season, and now you’re feeling completely drained and done.
After years struggling with pain in your marriage, you want to start the year on new footing. You’re seeing signs your marriage is over and believe getting a divorce is the only viable option. You just can’t survive another year as painful as the last one.
I can relate. I separated from my former spouse the day after the New Year.
A friend offered me his beach house and I decided to spend two weeks there, hoping my absence would somehow make my wife want to call off her threats of filing for a divorce.
But it didn’t work. It only deepened her resolve and resulted in ending our 25-year relationship.
I wasn’t prepared for the devastation that came with divorce.
Losing half of my family, many friends, a lot of money, and so many years of shared life together overwhelmed me. Even though I was a therapist and had worked with people who had gone through their own divorces, I had no idea how deeply it would impact me.
Now, I’ve been happily re-married for the last eight years.
There are so many things that my current wife and I have done to make our relationship loving and emotionally connected. But I had a lot to learn about how to make love last. My first marriage might have even survived if I had known then what I know today.
If you’re wondering whether or not to ask for a divorce, here are 9 important questions to ask yourself to be sure you’re ready to end your marriage.
1. Is your partner really the bad guy?
In her book, Hold Me Tight, relationship expert Sue Johnson describes a cycle of conflict she calls “find the bad guy”. Like many couples in relationship distress, you may be in a pattern of arguing where you protect yourself by hammering your partner with all of the reasons that he is failing you. Simply said, you are making him the bad guy.
Think about it. You probably married him because you thought he was really a good guy. In fact, an amazing guy. The love of your life! How is it that every time you argue now, he turns into Frankenstein?
Do his friends and colleagues think he is a jerk? Do your family members think that he is a monster? Have you told them that you are thinking about trading him in for a “good” guy?
If he is doing terrible things to you or others, you need to run. But, you also need to be realistic about this. He may be reacting to you out of hurt. This can change with the right kind of help. Knowing how to communicate or argue in a healthy way doesn’t come naturally.
2. Have you given a qualified experienced marriage therapist enough time to help you rebuild your relationship?
I see about 25 couples a week in therapy — many on the brink of divorce. However, the majority of couples manage to save and dramatically improve their relationships. But you won’t know if your marriage can be changed unless you work with a qualified relationship expert, and couples therapy takes time.
Realistically, you will need at least three months of weekly work for small issues and three years or more for big, traumatizing issues like betrayal. Childhood trauma, mental illness, or an addiction further lengthens the repair process.
For most, it’s worth saving your existing relationship, if it’s savable.
3. Are you objective about what you will lose?
When people are in pain all they can think about is pain relief. They don’t think a lot about the years of stress and struggle that it takes to build a life.
You may tell yourself that you do not need the house you are in, the fancy car you drive, your membership to your country club or gym, or your reputation in your church. You may not be thinking about what it will actually feel like to have friends pick him and ignore you, or to have your kids angry at you for years or not like the new guy you bring into your life.
Divorce costs more than any of us can imagine. Ask friends who have gone through it. They probably won’t tell you unless you ask how bad it was. Most of us are too embarrassed. Take notes.
Then, write out what your divorce will cost you.
4. Are you being realistic about what you want in a relationship?
Have you told yourself that you are no longer in love with your spouse? I understand how painful this feels. It hurts like crazy to not feel connected to your partner.
I remember many vacations to romantic islands where, instead of feeling the paradise, I felt miserably alone, void of the intimacy the venue should have produced. It’s really sad and discouraging. It can cause you to stop trying to create romance.
Most people are not realistic about the day-to-day emotional connection that is required to make romance possible.
5. Do you have unresolved hurt or issues from your past?
Did you grow up in an abusive or emotionally disconnected family? Were you traumatized by an abusive past relationship? Do you struggle with depression anxiety, ADD, or other forms of mental illness?
You may have been so in love when you got together with your current partner that you thought that your past would not affect your present relationship. It’s common for new love emotions to temporarily cover past psychological problems. New love emotions are so intense that they can block feelings of emptiness or anger from the past.
As relationships mature, our brains stop producing the dopamine that works as an emotional painkiller.
If you are not conscious of what is happening, you can easily blame your partner for not making you feel the way you used to earlier in your relationship. The truth is, when the dopamine drug wears off, you’re left with your normal self. Your relationship will not heal your past hurt, at least right away.
Over the years, a secure relationship will heal past relationship hurts and even some forms of mental illness, as long as you are not projecting your problems onto your partner. It is really important for you to own your issues by being transparent with your partner about how you struggle. This will give him more ability to be patient and kind with you when you need him the most.
You may also need to find an individual therapist to help you work through your past problems. You may not want to do your own psychological work. Yes, psychological work is work. It requires vulnerability or you may just be burned out from so many years of trying so hard.
6. Are you telling yourself there is too much water under the bridge?
I had a couple in their 80’s come in for couples therapy. They were still in pain because of his betrayals in their early 30’s. When you love someone, your heart will not release you until you find each other again. Unless, of course, you divorce.
As long as you do not make the decision to divorce, there is hope for change. Our hearts long to be reunited with the person we love, even if we no longer feel “in love” with that person.
Most scientists now believe that humans, like other mammals, are wired for pair bonding. When we bond with another person we do not easily let go of the emotional memory of emotional connection even if it isn’t a current reality.
If you are burned out and feel there is too much water under the bridge you will probably need the help of a couples therapist to provide encouragement. You will need help to escape patterns of communication that are destructive.
But with the right kind of help, many relationships can be restored regardless of how much water there is under the bridge.
7. Are you currently having an emotional or physical affair?
Being in an affair changes everything, whether it’s an emotional affair or physical one. Every new love relationship changes your brain. You feel on top of the world.
You are easily fooled into believing that new love is true love and, if you do not know what is happening, you will tell yourself the new love is the true one and that the old shoe has to go — but nothing could be further from the truth.
Sure, some people successfully marry their affair partner, and some of these relationships are better than the previous one. But all of these couples will tell you that when the new love chemistry wears off, they still have to do the hard relationship work to make their love last.
The big problem is that it is nearly impossible to find your lost feelings of love for your current partner when you are all lit up with new love emotions with another person. And even worse than that, if your current partner finds out about your affair, they will be devastated and more traumatized than you can imagine.
The affair will only lead to more pain and hurt. This is not a good way to start a new relationship, and it will destroy what you have left of your current one.
This counts for emotional affairs, too. Have you opened up your heart to someone else? Are you sharing things you should only tell your therapist or your current partner? If so, you are in an emotional affair. Do not be fooled: Emotional affairs ruin relationships just like sexual affairs do.
8. Are you struggling with addiction?
Addiction will rob you of your capacity to be openhearted and emotionally connected. It is a way of artificially regulating your emotions.
In time, you will learn not to seek out your partner when you need him the most to help you feel better. Instead, you will isolate yourself and use your favorite addiction to make you feel better. Your addiction will become your love object.
There are so many things that you can become addicted to — the obvious ones being drugs and alcohol. Sex and porn are big ones, too. Food, gambling, gaming, and work can all be addictions.
The universal path for addiction recovery is honesty and the support of relationships. Recovery groups provide a safe place for you to tell the truth when you are using or in emotional pain. It’s a way to have other people in your life who safely support you.
If you are covering up your emotions with an addiction, it is a bad idea to abandon your love relationship.
9. Are you doing your own spiritual work?
Human beings are meaning-makers. We have an incredible capacity to create beautiful things and to reproduce this beauty in the lives of our children.
No living creature on the earth comes even close to human’s ability to change the planet and grow the creation. Most people believe that there is something amazingly special about human existence. All major religions teach there is a light in each of us that is a reflection of divinity.
I love the Sanskrit word namasté said at the end of a yoga practice. While it literally translated to, “I bow to you,” one of the most common alternate interpretations is, “The divine light in me bows to the divine light within you.”
Doing your spiritual work is about taking time on a regular basis to let go of negative emotions. It is about letting the loving light that lives in you come to the surface. It is also about sending that love and light to others that you love and care about. Especially to the one that you are in a life partnership with.
There is a lot of science that suggests that meditation will change your brain and make you a more optimistic, less anxious, less depressed and more compassionate person.
Compassion for yourself and for your partner may be the most important thing that you need to restore your broken relationship.
How do you move forward?
All of the questions above were meant to give you hope for a way to restore your relationship, rather than choosing divorce. They are not intended to shame you. We are all blind until we see. Sometimes, seeing requires a little help from our friends or even therapists. Everyone deserves to be loved and cherished.
It is true that love takes two, but change can also start with you.
Before choosing divorce, consider would it be like for you to decide to make some changes to give your love relationship a chance to heal and grow.
If you’re wondering, “Should I get a divorce?”, dig deep and ask yourself these important questions before deciding your marriage is over.
Michael W. Regier, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and Certified Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist and EFT Supervisor in Visalia and San Luis Obispo, California. He and his wife Paula have developed an online learning course based on the science of attachment and healthy relationships and are authors of the book, Emotional Connection: The Story & Science of Preventing Conflict & Creating Lifetime Love.
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This article was originally published at michaelregier.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.