There’s never a good time to do certain things … like get a root canal, or discover you have a brain tumor. Or get a divorce. But, when you know deep inside that your marriage is in serious trouble, and you can’t remember the last time you were happy, it’s natural to wonder whether it may be time to divorce.
The problem, of course, is that deciding to divorce is no ordinary decision. It’s not like you are trying to figure out whether the best way to lose weight is to go Paleo or just get off the couch and exercise more. You’re trying to decide what you should do with your LIFE!
Plus, you’re not just trying to decide whether to divorce. You’re also trying to decide, if you do get divorced, when should you do it. That’s a whole other can of worms.
Is There Ever a “Right” Time to Divorce?
No matter how much you agonize over your decision, you are never going to find the perfect time to end your marriage. The little voice in your head can always find at least a few dozen reasons why getting divorced at this particular time in your life is a really bad idea, like:
You don’t have a job. (Or) You just got a job and you can’t take time off to get divorced. (Or) You have a job but you make too much money and you will get taken to the cleaners if you get divorced.
Or maybe the voice will target your kids:
Your kids are too young. Your kids are too old. You don’t want your kids to have to change schools. You don’t want to ruin your kids’ lives. (Or) If you get divorced your kids will hate you!
Or, maybe the voice will target your home:
You just bought your house. (Or) You bought your house before the real estate market crashed and it still isn’t worth what you paid for it. (Or) You’ve had your house forever and it will need a ton of work before you sell it. (Or) You think anybody is going to buy your house?!!!
The truth is, no matter what stage of life you are in, how old your kids are, or what your financial circumstances, you can always find a ton of excuses for not getting divorced … or at least, for not getting divorced right now.
How Do You Decide When to End Your Marriage?
When you are trying to figure out whether you should get a divorce, you will often find your mind throwing up roadblocks to divert you from the question. So, you start by thinking, “Should I get a divorce?” and your mind says, “What? You can’t get a divorce now! You’ve got a family vacation planned in two months!”
So, you tuck the question of whether you should divorce into the back of your mind and make a mental note to think about it again later. But, after your vacation is over, something else comes up. And then, something more comes up. And on and on it goes. Meanwhile, you are getting more frustrated, more unhappy, and more dissatisfied with your life.
Eventually, at some point, your psyche just can’t take it anymore. That’s when you find yourself exploding like a water balloon being filled from a fire hose. That’s when your spouse does some little thing to annoy you, and you find yourself screaming, for no apparent reason, “I want a divorce!”
Usually, when that happens, it’s at the worst possible time.
How Not to Explode
The key to maintaining your sanity, and to getting divorced at the least bad time possible, is to do some serious soul-searching as soon as you realize that maybe you might want a divorce.
How do you do that?
Sometimes, the best way to find the answer to a question, particularly a huge “change-your-life-forever” question, is to start by asking yourself more questions. (Yes, I know it sounds crazy. Stay with me here. This actually works.)
Here are 18 questions you can ask yourself to help you figure out whether and when you should divorce. (HINT: It will also help if you physically write down your answers to the questions!)
18 Questions to Help Decide If It’s Time to Divorce
1. Is your spouse physically abusive?
If the answer to this question is “yes,” then you’ve already answered the question of whether you should get a divorce. Now, you’ve just got to figure out how you can safely do it as soon as possible.
2. Is your relationship toxic?
Toxic relationships may not be physically abusive, but they are mentally and emotionally abusive. If your relationship with your spouse is so bad that it is toxic, then you need to either get professional help to turn it around, or get ready to walk away. Now.
3. Is your spouse having an affair that s/he refuses to end?
Unless you are willing to have an open marriage, you and your spouse both need to stop seeing other people and focus on each other. If your spouse isn’t willing to do that, you may need to end your marriage sooner rather than later.
4. Have you done everything you can to try to save your marriage?
If, like most people, you take your marriage vows seriously, you are going to want to make sure you tried everything you could to save your marriage before you get divorced. Otherwise, you may find yourself regretting your decision later. (Not to mention that you will be dealing with mountains of guilt, then, too.)
5. Have you tried marriage counseling?
Marriage counseling is not a magic bullet that saves every marriage, but getting professional help can often make an enormous difference in your marriage. If you haven’t tried marriage counseling, you haven’t tried everything. (Unless, of course, your spouse won’t go. In that case, getting individual counseling for yourself can be a Godsend … at least for you!)
6. Do you know in your heart that your marriage is over?
Sometimes, you just KNOW. If, deep down, you know your marriage is over, then give yourself permission to end it now. You don’t have to spend the next 10 years proving to yourself that you were right. Do what you need to do, and do it as soon as possible.
7. Do you find yourself thinking about divorce a lot?
Happily married people don’t spend a ton of time thinking about divorce. If you do, that may be a sign that you are already leaning toward divorce, and may be ready to move forward sooner rather than later.
8. Are you ready to divorce?
While you will never be 100% prepared for divorce, you will make your life much easier if you prepare yourself before you pull the plug on your marriage. Make sure you have some kind of a plan for where you will live, and how you will support yourself. Educate yourself. Organize yourself. Get copies of your financial documents. Talk to an attorney. Prepare yourself as much as possible for the storm that’s about to come.
9. Can you afford to get divorced?
How are you going to pay for your divorce? Do you need to save some money first, before you start your divorce? Can you borrow some money from someone? Are you willing to do some of the legwork in your divorce yourself to save money? If so, what have you done so far to prepare yourself for divorce? (See Question #8.)
10. Are your kids stable?
If your kids are already going through a tough time in their lives, if they are acting out, doing drugs, or behaving badly in school, you may want to wait until they are stable before you start your divorce.
11. Is your spouse physically sick?
If your spouse is recovering from an illness or an injury, you may want to maintain the status quo until your spouse is back on his/her feet. (Most people feel horribly guilty for leaving an ailing spouse.) On the other hand, if your spouse is chronically ill, you may not want (or be able) to wait until s/he recovers. In that case, you may want to plan more before you divorce. You are definitely going to want to talk to a lawyer and take a realistic look at your finances before you do anything else.
12. Does your spouse have a job?
Filing for divorce right after your spouse has lost his/her job is generally not a great financial decision. If your spouse is usually employed but doesn’t have a job at the moment, you might want to wait until s/he is working again. (Of course, if your spouse is chronically unemployed, waiting for him/her to find a job could mean you stay married forever. That may not be your best option.)
13. Are there financial reasons for getting divorced now?
If your spouse doesn’t always have a job, but s/he is employed right now, then moving forward now might make financial sense. If your elderly parents are in ill health and may die soon, leaving you a big inheritance, getting divorced now will make that money a non-issue in your divorce. (Yes, you can keep it separate even if you are still married, but this is simpler.)
14. Are there financial reasons for waiting to get divorced?
If you plan on retiring next year, getting divorced this year may not be in your financial best interest. (Or, it may delay your retirement.) I know this sounds cold and calculating. Maybe it is. But unless you are a Rockefeller, it makes sense to know the financial effect of whatever decision you make before you make it.
15. What will you give up if you don’t get divorced now?
What dreams are you delaying because you are staying married? If you have already decided to get divorced, but you don’t move forward this year (for whatever reason) what won’t you be able to do?
16. Are there solid reasons to wait to get divorced until some time in the future?
This is the flip-side of Question #15. Maybe one of your kids is getting married, and their wedding would be much easier if you and your spouse were together. Or maybe there are other reasons why delaying your decision to divorce makes sense.
17. Can you handle staying married for another year?
If you are ready to get divorced now but are afraid to pull the trigger, what will it cost you in time, energy, money, vitality, and self-esteem to stay in a marriage that’s over? More importantly, can you make it through another year without exploding and making everything worse?
18. Are there legal reasons for divorcing now or later?
Depending upon where you live, when you get divorced might matter. Certain states have maintenance/alimony formulas that are based in part upon how long you have been married. Talk to a divorce lawyer in your area to find out whether there are any legal ramifications of divorcing now or later.
The Illusion of Finding the “Perfect” Time
There will never be a perfect time to divorce. You will never be totally comfortable with your decision. You will always have some doubts about whether you are doing the right thing. That’s normal.
But, if you know in your heart that you should get divorced, yet you find yourself unable to move forward because you’re waiting for the “right time” to do it, remember this much: putting off your decision IS a decision.
When is the right time for you to divorce? Answer these questions. Then you tell me.