Here are some ideas that can help you make the right decision for you.
Deciding whether to stay in your miserable marriage or divorce isn’t the no-brainer you might think. There are so many factors to consider, not the least of which is the nature and degree of your “misery” itself. Throw in children, finances, length of marriage, religion and other influencers, and your decision just got tougher.
When you feel paralyzed by a seemingly impossible decision, it’s only natural to want a superpower force to swoop in with the answer. But we all know that rarely happens. And when faced with the decision to stay in your miserable marriage or divorce, you are likely to get more questions than answers. Even Glenda the Good Witch would point her starred wand at your feet and remind you that the answer lies within you.
In other words, you got yourself into this marriage. >You have to do the painful work of deciding whether and how to stay in it. Help is always available for those who seek it. But only you can decide to accept it.
(However, there are certain circumstances that demand you divorce. Find out what those are in this article: How To Know When You MUST Get A Divorce.)
Every marriage is as unique as the partners entering into it. Each spouse comes to the altar with a life history full of experiences that either strengthen or weaken a marriage. And the marriage becomes the stage on which those strengths prove their worth and those weaknesses rear their ugly heads. It is both sanctuary and healing ground. But it is always a place to learn and grow.
As you take stock of your unhappiness, it’s important to remember that all love relationships navigate through predictable stages. John Gottman consolidates the journey through love to three stages. Other sources expand to five, seven, or even twelve stages of love.
The “aha” moment in all of these explanations of love’s course is that too many people give up too early. They stop at the disillusionment stage> – right when reality sets in. This is the time in a marriage when the hormonal veil of “he’s so perfect…she’s an angel” evaporates. And now the real fun begins.
Or at least the work.
There are many signs of an unhappy marriage. You may have a few or you may have many. But chances are you have at least one. No relationship survives unscathed. Stretch marks, after all, are a sign of growth.
So, when deciding whether to stay in your miserable marriage or divorce, try to filter the signs of discontent through that reality check.
Here are some of the biggies when it comes to signs of an unhappy marriage:
- Sex has all but disappeared.
This is important because intimacy is what distinguishes romantic love from all other relationships. Even the lack of visible affection – hugs, kisses, hand-holding – can be a sign that something is very wrong.
- You fantasize about a happy life with someone else.
The mental escape into a fantasy of happiness that doesn’t include your spouse is the start of emotional detachment. Even if you don’t have a specific person in mind, the fact that you have excluded your spouse is telling. It’s a way of starting the numbing process so that the pain of possible separation in the future won’t be as great.
- You don’t feel heard and/or you don’t listen.
We all hunger to be heard at a deep, soulful level. Feeling heard is equivalent to feeling validated. Feeling validated is equivalent to feeling valued. And feeling valued is equivalent to feeling loved. Indifference or disregard is like a stripping away of that value…and ultimately of love.
- There is abuse.
This sign of marital unhappiness stands apart from all the others because it requires immediate intervention and separation.
If you are being abused – physically, verbally, emotionally, sexually – you need to get help. Even if your abuser refuses to get help, you need to secure safety for yourself, your children, and any pets you may have.
There is no amount of your “being better” that is going to make an abuser a better spouse. Abuse is a cycle with deep psychological roots, and it needs the help of trained professionals.
- There is addiction.
Regardless of the source of addiction – alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling – you run the risk of codependency if you stay. Even if you do stay, you will both need to get help for your individual roles so that you can lead a healthy life without enabling the addict.
Because addiction is often interwoven with violence and other forms of abuse, it is a valid ground for separation or divorce.
The majority of reasons for marital unhappiness center around communication and unmet expectations. Couples don’t know how to express their feelings and needs, so they detach or act out.
You have to believe that “if you knew better, you would do better.” That is both logic and wisdom that comes with maturity. But couples rarely invest the time to “know better” before entering into marriage. After all, they are both “perfect” in one another’s eyes, so therefore their marriage will always be perfect. Or so they hope and hold onto believing.
There is no magic formula for helping you to know if you need to stay in your miserable marriage or divorce. But if you haven’t examined the source(s) of your unhappiness and how you reached that point, then you have work to do.
Research has shown that people who report unhappiness at some point in their marriage almost always end up happy if they stick it out. In other words, unhappiness is rarely permanent.
The deciding factor is first deciding that the unhappiness is temporary and approachable. The next step is using the unhappiness as a springboard for growth, however inconvenient that may be at the time.
Did you go into marriage assuming you knew all you needed to know about communication and relationships? If so, go easy on yourself – most of us do. But use the wake-up call as a motivation to get counseling and invest in the dynamics of a healthy marriage.
Think about how different your marriage would look if you both knew effective ways to express your concerns, needs, wants…and love. Think about what your parenting skills would look like if your marital skills were better. What kind of relationship modeling and stability would you provide your children if you were first better spouses?
Ultimately, the only way to know if you need to stay in your miserable marriage or divorce is to examine what you have done to save it. No one said that would be easy. But the real reason you married in the first place is that, deep down, you knew it would be worth it.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a life and divorce coach who helps people, just like you, who question whether to stay in a miserable marriage or divorce. You can download your FREE copy of “Contemplating Divorce? Here’s What You Need To Know”. And if you’re interested in working with me personally, you can book an introductory 30-minute private coaching session with me.
Looking for more ideas for what to do about your unhappy marriage? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Unhappy Marriage.
Commit to avoiding the mistakes that only make things worse.
It sucks. It just does. The hurt, the anger, the loss (of seemingly everything — companionship, security, self-esteem). The process of healing after a divorce or breakup can feel like insult on injury. It’s tough enough trying to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. But now you have to fight against being your own worst enemy.
The inherent challenge of moving on from a breakup is fighting the urge to connect. You build a relationship by striving in all you do to connect more genuinely, more intimately. To suddenly have that call-to-action ripped out from under you is a real blow. It’s like expecting a moving train to stop on a dime and go back to where it came from.
But whether or not it is apparent to you now, this time of healing after a divorce or breakup is a time of great potential. Sure, you didn’t want or plan to be here. But the beauty of life is that it is an equal-opportunity benefactor, and it imbues every situation with opportunities for exponential growth.
If you’re in the process of healing after a divorce or breakup and feel maddened by the frustrations and temptations, read on. Sometimes the message of “what to do” is more impactful if written as “what not to do.”
You may recognize your own behavior in the following mistakes people make in the aftermath of a breakup. But don’t stress. Absorb the recognition and the lessons as to why those mistakes don’t serve your effort to move on. And trust that everything is falling into place to facilitate your highest good and happiness.
Here are the 6 biggest mistakes people make when healing after a divorce or breakup.
- Contacting your ex right after the breakup.
Yes, it’s natural. You’ve been calling and texting your ex all day every day for so long you almost don’t know how not to. But now you want to know what your ex is thinking, doing, feeling. You instinctively want to keep tabs, vent your anger, and hear those three-word phrases, “I miss you,” “I love you.”
Rushing to contact your ex only delays your healing after a breakup or divorce. It’s like pushing the hold button and keeping the relationship — even in an unhealthy state — alive. One more day on life support, with no promise of a future.
When you resist the natural urge to contact your ex for anything other than essential business (e.g. kids), you start healing. You may not feel the healing, but you will be growing stronger from your self-control.
- Obsessing over your ex’s social media presence.
Okay, so, if you can’t make contact directly, why not do it indirectly? Sit in bed with nothing but your smartphone to light up your tear-stained face, and stalk your ex in private.
Head straight to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Look for any sign of happiness or despair in your ex’s life. Expand photos and evaluate facial expressions and anyone who might be hiding in the background. Read all the comment streams to see what your mutual friends know and say. Check to make sure you are still on your ex’s friends list and in his or her old posts and photos. Just. Keep. Hanging. On.
Surely this isn’t how you see yourself five years from now, so why start now? You have a thousand other social media friends who are cheering you on.
Take the plunge and unfollow/unfriend the one who is no longer central to your life. Set some boundaries and protect yourself from seeing things that will upset you during this vulnerable time.
- Showing up in all those old, familiar places.
Remember that, just as you weren’t the only person in your relationship, you aren’t the only one in your breakup. Both of you are drowning in emotions and lifestyle adjustments. Both of you need to find a way to move on. And neither of you will ever achieve that vision of love and happiness by lurking in the shadows of something that will never be.
Granted, you may legitimately bump into one another at some point. But take your ex’s favorite haunts off autopilot and fight the urge to see if s/he is home by curfew. You both need space and time for healing after a divorce or breakup.
- “Casually” asking mutual friends about your ex.
You want to know. I get it. But chances are you don’t even know what you want to know. Do you want to hear that your ex’s world has fallen apart? That s/he is miserable without you?
Your curiosity in these early stages of a breakup are usually about putting bandaids on some of your own emotions.
Someday, when you’ve come through all the hurt and you look back on this relationship as a mere stepping stone to happiness, you will understand. And your curiosity will be genuine and grounded in a desire for your ex’s happiness, too.
In the meantime, don’t put your friends on the spot. Your breakup was (and probably still is) hard on them, too.
- Wallowing in your misery and isolating from the world. You may feel on the outside of all your friendships now that you are single. And if you’d made your ex your whole world, it may have been some time since you were really part of “the group.”
But this is no time to waste away in the corner of your shattered life. Remember, when you’re healing after a divorce or breakup, life sends you nurses in the form of friends. And just as your friends want to be there for you, you need to allow their love to do its work.
Trust that goodness will bring about more goodness. And allow yourself to feel the love.
- Rushing to get into a new relationship.
You may know it with your head, but your heart may not want to hear it. You’re not ready to get into a new relationship when you’re still healing from a divorce or breakup.
Feeling lonely isn’t a good enough reason to take the plunge. And no amount of blaming your ex for your problems and breakup is going to give you good reason, either.
You need this time to grieve your loss and learn from this relationship, not seek to replace it.
It’s also essential that you spend time examining your own role in your relationship. How did you nurture it, and how did you contribute to its erosion? Rushing to fill the void of love in your life is usually an indication that you don’t want to look at your own responsibility.
Besides, the last thing you need is to get on a dating app and see your ex on there. Trust that you have love all around you in just the ways that are necessary for your healing and future happiness.
Healing after a divorce or breakup can be messy. And, as with a bad cold that gets passed around a home, you may wonder when you will ever feel better.
Sometimes the best step forward is simply not taking a step backwards. If all you do in the early stages is to commit to avoiding the mistakes that only make things worse, you will be making progress. And you can give yourself a boost of confidence with these 7 signs that you are healing.
Trust life to show up for your greater good. And most importantly, trust yourself to recognize when it does. You’ve got this.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people just like you with healing after a divorce or breakup. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.