I suspect if you are reading this article, you’re at the point where you’re thinking of moving on from a marriage that doesn’t feel satisfying anymore. For many, deciding to leave is the loneliest journey they’ve ever taken with multiple twists and turns along the way. You may have talked to your friends or a therapist about your thoughts and gone through the pros and cons of staying or going. Or you may have kept everything to yourself. Fighting your conflicting thoughts as they bounce around your head while you’re trying to plot the smoothest course through unknown waters.
Whatever your process, this choice is yours alone and nothing can change that.
I want you to know that you may experience a lot of judgment towards you and your decision, and that’s okay. Judgments are just thoughts based on other people’s beliefs, which doesn’t make them right. As a therapist, I wish to tell you that what you decide is what you decide, for good or bad. Nobody lives in your skin and nobody feels how you do. And no matter what opinions others have, no one can understand your marriage experience the way you have.
So, can you make the process easier? If I’m honest, there is nothing you can do to make it easier, especially if it involves children. Deciding to leave can bring heartbreak, chaos, alienation, years of hurt and even ruined relationships with your family and children (if you have them). I don’t mean to sound heartless, but this might be how it has to be if you are to find happiness for yourself. And, yes, your happiness is as valid as anyone else’s.
1. Be sure:
Ending a marriage is a big decision and there can be an important factor which might push you in this direction. If you’re experiencing depression (whether or not aware) this can leave you feeling numb inside, and from this you might find you stop feeling affection for your partner. If this happens, it doesn’t mean you don’t love them; it means depression has robbed you of the ability to feel love. Therefore, it’s easy to conclude you are no longer in love. If you feel this way, it often follows that you believe leaving the loveless marriage is the right step.
So, here is my first caution: If you are experiencing depression, then I would encourage you to explore your thoughts on your marriage with a therapist before you do anything else (hopefully, you’ve done this anyway). Depression robs us of rational thinking and misleads us into thinking all kinds of things that might not be true. As a good rule of thumb, if you once had a good marriage and then you stopped feeling love, it might be a sign you’re depressed.
You might also want to ask yourself, “Have I done everything I can to make this marriage work?” Because a relationship is often like a plant, if you don’t water it enough, it will die. Meaning there might be things you haven’t done or considered for strengthening your marriage. If after doing all you can, you’re sure leaving is still the right thing for you, then at least you know you’ve tried to find a solution first.
2. Be kind:
I urge you to be kind and mindful of your partner’s (and children’s) reaction to your decision. Although you might have been thinking about leaving for many months or even years, your partner hasn’t. They may not realize this decision is coming, and your announcement might hit them like a comet crashing to earth. Having empathy and kindness at this point of the process can often make future contact with your partner (and children) healthier.
How can you be kind? Well, don’t just walk out with your bags packed and send a text to say you’ve gone. A relationship deserves more than a cursory “see ya” no matter how long you’ve been in it. Treating people with respect is the adult way to act. No matter how difficult it feels, facing your partner and talking is the right thing to do. Explain what is happening, what your plans are and be upfront with what has led to this decision, but never point fingers or play the blame game.
From this decision, your partner may feel so hurt they act irrationally. If they do, try not to match them with any tit-for-tat argument. Work on calmness. I would suggest practicing what you will say and stick to it like a script. There will be time later to go into more detail and to work out the logistics of what the ending means.
3. Feeling Massive Amounts of Guilt:
After making the final decision you might feel relief, but soon after, you might experience a lot of guilt feelings. We associate guilt with the belief we have done something wrong and hurt another person. Faced with a partner in tearful disbelief you will not feel good.
The thought processes behind this guilt might be something like, “I’m a terrible person for leaving. I’m the scum of the earth.” These types of thoughts are common and can lead to complicated emotions in the decision’s aftermath. One thing you can do is re-frame these unhealthy negative thoughts into healthy remorse, rather than unhealthy guilt. Work on thinking something like this: “I feel like a terrible person for leaving, but I know this is the right thing for me. I may have hurt my partner, and I feel bad about that, but it doesn’t mean I’m the scum of the earth; it means I’m a fallible human who’s made a tough decision.”
Easier said than done I know, but again, a good therapist can help you work through your unhelpful negative thinking.
Next week we’ll look at the final four considerations.