- A partner who perpetrates physical abuse has given up any moral right to the sanctity of marriage.
- Couples who engage in, tolerate, and thus, normalize emotional abuse endure their marriages; however, they do not thrive.
- A person whose partner regularly checks out with substances is essentially on their own.
Marriage counselors have a lot of techniques and insights they commonly employ to help a couple rediscover what is great about their relationship or learn how to open up about the issues keeping them from solving their problems. And why shouldn't they? Human problems are capable of human solutions. But what about the other end of the continuum? How bad does a marriage have to be before we call it quits?
Know When to Cut Your Losses
In his revised and updated 2016 edition of The Evolution of Desire, University of Texas at Austin Professor David Buss writes, "We are the descendants of those who knew when to cut their losses." In other words, there are those relationships that live at the other end of the toxic continuum and are so toxic that they threaten our safety and perhaps our very lives.
Fortunately, in the United States and elsewhere where religious prohibitions have been voted out, there exists a remedy for such failures in mate selection: divorce. We get to admit our choice ended up a very bad one, indeed, and that marital matters have not miraculously been remedied by time.
We then can go down to the appropriate governmental offices and put a freakin' wooden stake through the heart of our mistake and start over. Think of it as a sort of flipping over your "Etch A Sketch" of a life, giving it a good shake or two, and then moving on—hopefully, the wiser.
As straightforward as the legal process of divorce is, very few marriage counselors seem to be willing to share with their clients when enough is enough. I, however, am not that counselor, which is why I give you five great reasons to get a divorce:
- Top of the list, without a doubt, is physical abuse. There could hardly be a more egregious refutation of the entire reason the two of you entered into your partnership. Remember? You were going to join forces in facing the challenges the universe presented with care, compassion, and love, and by doing so, maximize your odds of success in solving life's problems? But, some time after, your mate attacked you in an overt threat to your safety, your health, and perhaps, even your life. In perpetrating physical abuse, they have given up any moral right to the sanctity of marriage. They are self-disqualified from further consideration. Get out! (And yes, this boundary should have been very clear from the beginning of the relationship, ideally with a built-in structure allowing each of you the financial resources to move on without the other; also yes, I'm a counselor who has helped a lot of couples overcome domestic violence, but that was only after a lot of pain and suffering before they even got to my office.)
- Right up there with domestic violence is emotional abuse. Let's include name-calling, putdowns, guilt trips, all of it. There's a whole lot more (silent treatment, anyone?), but you get the idea. Isn't this the opposite of partnership? Couples who engage in, tolerate, and thus, normalize emotional abuse endure their marriages; however, they do not thrive. You didn't sign up for this, did you?
- Refusing to do anything about an obvious problem like substance abuse. Remember the whole goal of marriage? To develop a strategic partnership by joining two individuals' strengths in order to face life's challenges together? But, if your mate regularly checks out with substances then you are essentially on your own. Although you're still legally married, you have lost the essence of the partnership. Get your affairs in order and move on.
- Your mate is incapable of love—or, at least, incapable of loving you. Ouch. That's a hard one to admit because it's such a horrible example of failure in mate selection. Greg Lester, Ph.D., (the most prolific trainer in the field of personality disorders) estimates, conservatively, that 17 percent of the general population has a personality disorder. For some of them, love is a bit beyond their capability. For those of us who do love, this can be difficult to comprehend. The idea that there are human-shaped objects who look like people but who are incapable of the most defining activity indicative of humanness—loving other humans—is horrifying. Your asking them for love is like asking an injured person to run a marathon. They just can't do it.
- Pathological levels of passivity in solving life's problems. Don't we all know of someone (hope it's not you!) married to a nice enough person but one who just can't helpfully participate in problem-solving conversations? They're not drunks, they're not physically or emotionally abusive, and they might even love, at least, somewhat. But when it comes to being a true partner they are AWOL and you are on your own.
The Truth Can Be Hard to Swallow
Now, you might disagree with the above list and/or disagree with the idea of divorce altogether, but you have to agree that there are at least some occasions upon which we should follow Buss's advice and "cut our losses." After all, our ancestors did, and we wouldn't be here if it weren’t for them.
Most of our denial about whether or not to get a divorce evaporates when we ask ourselves one simple question: Would I advise my adult child to stay in a relationship that was just like mine? Think about it: loveless, abusive, all alone except for the company of someone so impaired I might as well actually be alone? When we think of our precious children and whether or not we'd tell them to stay—most of us would sadly inform them, "You need a divorce."
To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
Facebook image: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock