Contemplating Divorce

Whether you should stay or go

Is There a Right Time or a Wrong Time to Leave Your Spouse?

Can You Ever Really Know?

Those who have contemplated divorce for a long time have been stuck in what I call the Marital Indecision CycleTM. This is the cycle wherein couples live in a relatively calm routine but, due to hurt feelings or a buried resentment resurfacing, for example, tensions begin to escalate. After a while, the tension increases to the point of an eruption—often, a fight or crisis of some kind. This storm may last for a while but after it is over, there is often remorse on the part of one or both. Perhaps things were said or done that were out of line and purposely hurtful to the other. Tensions de-escalate and before long, the couple is back in their routine again. Then tensions begin to escalate, the next fight occurs and the cycle comes around again.

Until the day comes when there will be no turning back: the day when enough is truly enough. This day has been called, "D" day and the "day of [family] wreck-oning." It's often a difficult day because it means that the choice you resisted or the fears you'd kept at bay for so long are now at your doorstep.

For some—especially those who have struggled in their marriage for years—this day can bring a feeling of immense excitement or liberation.

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But what if the day you know the marriage is over in your heart of hearts happens to be the day of your daughter's 10th birthday? Is that the right day to leave? Or if the day comes just before the holidays or while the kids are still in school, or while your in-laws are in town? Is there a "right" time or a "wrong" time to leave?"

Before I address this question, let me first say that I haven't come across many people who felt they left at the perfect time. Most people will always question whether they left their spouse prematurely or whether their exit was long overdue.

The answer is there may not exactly be a "right" time but there is absolutely a wrong time to leave.

That said, "right" and "wrong" are relative terms. Those who are in a great deal of emotional pain feel completely justified in up and leaving when they reach their limit. Yet, it often is these very same people who, in the moment felt it was "right," later question extensively whether there might have been a better time to exit.

Where there is a lack of clarity around when to leave, people almost always know whether the way they left was appropriate or not. While not every hurtful situation can be foreseen, there are many circumstances (such as those listed in the fourth paragraph) where it is fairly obvious that the timing of the split will leave scars.

There are other situations in which hindsight is the only mechanism people have to see the wake of wreckage they've left behind. One such story is that of Megan, a 14-year-old girl, whose father walked out on her and her mother quite suddenly. This young teen had been in the Junior Olympics for gymnastics and she was at the pinnacle of her career.

With two households to support, Megan's parents could no longer afford to continue paying for her coach, the gymnastics program or her travel expenses for competitions.

Megan's life and destiny were changed forever. Although Megan felt relief as a result of the fighting coming to a halt, she was devastated to lose her focus and her purpose. She became clinically depressed.

If Megan's parents had asked for guidance with how and when to split, they could have created a sober financial plan, researched gymnastics scholarships (which they later found out existed), and had a well-thought-out map with which to navigate the process.

As this case shows, it's almost never good to leave impulsively and without some type of plan in place.

The only exception I can think of to this rule is if there is abuse going on in which case, it may be recommended that you leave quickly. And if there is physical violence or threats of violence, I strongly recommend that you seek professional guidance from a counselor who is trained in dealing with this type of situation as well as an attorney who has experience with domestic violence cases.

I welcome your comments and feedback—especially if you, your spouse, or your parent, left the marriage impulsively,

The concept for this article was taken from the book entitled, Contemplating Divorce. Therapists who are eligible for CEUs through the BBS or NASW may earn 6 CEUs by reading Contemplating Divorce. For more information, submit a comment with "CEUs" in the headline.

 

Susan Pease Gadoua, L.C.S.W., is the author of Contemplating Divorce and Stronger Day by Day.

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