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Divorce or Keep It Together? What You Need to Know

Explore these 9 factors so you can make an informed decision.

Source: Ron Lach/Pexels
Friends can help you think through the pros and cons of your decisions.
Source: Ron Lach/Pexels

Lucy and Larry are the best of friends, and both are in long, unhappy marriages. Lucy complains that her husband is remote and withdrawn, and Larry complains that he and his husband are constantly quarreling. Lucy feels lonely in her relationship, while Larry is often triggered and upset by the tension and arguing. For months they debate whether to divorce or stay in their unhappy relationships.

The decision to stay or go depends on finding clarity, but finding clarity depends on these factors.

  1. Think about the dynamics of your relationship. What are the patterns of interaction? Is there mutual respect, admiration, and emotional support? Do you still share common goals, values, and interests? Are you able to support each other's personal growth and development?
  2. Think about your needs, your wants, and your goals. If you stay in your relationship can you fulfill your long-term goals? Do you believe divorce would realistically offer greater opportunities for personal fulfillment and growth?
  3. How will staying together or divorcing affect your overall quality of life, including your emotional well-being, financial stability, and mental health? Often there are unexpected losses during divorce. Making well-informed decisions is crucial.
  4. Do you have children? How will divorce or staying together impact your children? Try to make decisions that prioritize their stability and happiness. With few exceptions, divorce negatively impacts children, especially when parents are in conflict. Educate yourself about how to divorce in a way that reduces the negative effects on your children. For example, will you work with your spouse to co-parent your children should you decide to divorce? Do you believe that your spouse will co-parent well with you?
  5. Have you sought help? Seeking guidance from a qualified therapist or marriage counselor can help improve communication, identify underlying issues, and provide strategies for resolving conflicts. Lucy and Larry both spend months in marriage counseling with their spouses and feel it helps them to consider whether they’re facing temporary challenges or deeper fundamental incompatibilities. Look for specially trained discernment counseling in your area.
  6. If you have children, try to explore avenues for reconciliation through couples therapy, individual self-improvement efforts, and open communication. Perhaps, with effort, motivation, and commitment to change, you and your partner can find new ways to strengthen your bond.
  7. Be realistic: divorce can have significant financial and health implications. Most divorcing partners experience a serious drop in their standard of living and lifestyle. You’ll be dividing assets, and debts, and paying or receiving child support or spousal support. Non-working parents are often expected by the courts to contribute to their own support. If you haven’t worked for a while, you may need retraining or vocational counseling. Some of the hardest things about divorce are unpredictable. The stress of divorce can affect your physical and mental health unless you learn to minimize it.
  8. Consult with a qualified family law attorney to obtain personalized legal advice and guidance. Laws relating to divorce vary in different jurisdictions, so you’ll need to understand the costs, requirements, procedures, and potential outcomes if you decide to divorce. Consider mediation or a collaborative divorce instead of a court-involved process.
  9. Consider a trial separation: In some cases, a trial separation can provide respite, clarity, and perspective. During this time apart, both partners can reassess their feelings, priorities, and the feasibility of reconciliation. Counseling during a trial separation can help you decide whether or not to reconcile.

Ultimately, you’ll need to listen to your intuition and inner wisdom. Your feelings and instincts about the relationship are important data. While it's important to think through the factors above and seek advice, in the end, you are the best judge of what is right for you and your family. Whether you choose to stay together or pursue divorce, strive for a resolution that promotes mutual respect, dignity, and emotional health for all involved parties.

After thorough consideration and exploration of options, Lucy and Larry want to make decisions that match their values, priorities, and mental health. Ultimately, Lucy falls in love with a co-worker and leaves her marriage. She is now happily remarried and is no longer lonely in her marriage. Larry is afraid to be alone, and so he stays in a volatile relationship. However, over the years, he and his husband have learned to defuse arguments more easily, and have found new pleasure as grandparents. When Lucy and Larry reflect on their decisions many years later, they talk about the “road not taken,” but neither has regrets about their decision.

© Ann Gold Buscho, Ph.D. 2024

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