THE BLOG
06/10/2013 02:28 pm ET | Updated Aug 10, 2013

The Last Straw: That Moment When You Know the Marriage Is Over

Many divorced people can remember a moment when a little voice in their head told them loudly and emphatically, "This marriage is over!" It's a moment when a line is crossed and there is no looking back.

A friend of mine Sara had one of these dramatic watershed moments a few years ago on New Year's Eve. Sara had spent a miserable evening with her husband who had refused to celebrate the occasion and had fallen asleep on the sofa watching reruns of old basketball games. Sara went upstairs and lay in bed watching the movie Pride and Prejudice, the version starring Keira Knightley. Sara watched the newly married Keira and Mr. Darcy kissing like crazy in their stately garden and decided on the spot that she could not live the rest of her life without love and passion. Six months later she was divorced.

Sara's story is reminiscent of the recent divorce case in the U.K. where the erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey played a prominent role in the breakdown of a marriage. After devouring the book, the wife, a banker, asked her husband if he would recreate some of the scenes with her. He refused. This exchange was later cited in divorce papers as evidence of his "unreasonable behavior," one of five legal grounds for divorce in Britain.

A former client of mine who we will call Rod had been unhappy in his marriage for some time when he also experienced a moment of revelation and decided to divorce his wife. An ongoing problem for Rod was his spouse's attachment to her mother. The mother in law was at their home every weekend and on every holiday. Over time the situation became more and more intense. The mother in law was eventually accompanying them on every family vacation. Rod's requests for more privacy and autonomy were completely ignored. The tipping point came after their only child left for college. Rod came home from work one day and found his mother in law sitting with her feet up in his favorite chair. She had moved into the son's bedroom and Rod hadn't even been consulted. Rod moved out the following day and never looked back.

A woman who signed as DS wrote to my advice column AskTilly.com after she had her own lightbulb moment, asking if we agreed it was a sign that she should divorce her husband. DS had been working at her computer one day when her left arm went numb. She knew this could be the first symptom of an impending stroke or heart attack and called her doctor. He told her to get to his office immediately. DS called her husband, assuming he would come and drive her, but he casually said to let him know what the doctor had to say. DS, with one arm immobilized, drove herself to the doctor's office. The doctor checked her symptoms and ordered her to the hospital immediately. The doctor himself then called the husband who once again blithely said to let him know how it all progressed. Poor DS wrote that as she lay in the emergency room hooked up to machines, she felt totally alone. She realized it was no longer tolerable to have a husband who was so disconnected, and we wholly agreed with her.

One of my favorite "last straw" tales involved a man in our neighborhood named Ralph whose wife was having an affair with a co-worker. They had an arrangement where they had a secret rendezvous at a motel every Friday afternoon. Another co-worker who had it in for the couple decided to let the cuckolding husband know what was going on. He texted Ralph one Friday and told him where the lovers were hiding. Ralph decided to make a clean break of it. He called the motel and asked to speak to his wife. He calmly told her that he had left a suitcase with some of her clothes in her parked car at the motel parking lot. He then suggested she inquire about weekly rates at the motel since the locks on their home had just been changed. "See you in divorce court," he said, and hung up.

Sometimes it takes a series of incidents before the marriage becomes intolerable. A cousin of mine was married to a man who over time was overtaken by symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder. They had married young and she at first tolerated his eccentricities and rigid ways. But as the years passed, his behavior was becoming harder to bear. He was a total clean freak and would become very upset at finding a scrap of dirt on the floor. He mopped and swept almost every day. He also was a compulsive remodeler, obsessed with making the house more and more perfect. He rotated through the rooms and by the time they were all remodeled and repainted, he would start the process all over again. He was also impossible in public, very intolerant of other people, and very vocal about it. He would yell at people who ate too loudly in the movie theater and leave notes on parked cars that were not parked exactly parallel to the curb. Finally my cousin reached a breaking point. They were waiting in a supermarket checkout line with a full basket of groceries. Her husband was getting very irritated with the delay and suddenly exploded. He yelled at the check out person and stormed out of the store, leaving his wife to face the stares and whispers of all the shoppers who'd witnessed the scene. Back home my cousin told her husband to either get treatment or get a divorce. He refused to admit he even had a problem. It was a sad end to a marriage. He now lives alone, a virtual hermit in a perfect little apartment while she's out in the world dating again.

If you have had a memorable "last straw" moment, please share below.

Check out this blogger's site www.AskTilly.com for advice on love and life.

To make a personal psychotherapy appointment with Christine, contact chris@talktherapynow.com