I stayed in a loveless, thankless, unhappy and unfulfilling marriage too long. About two years too long, and about a year after it became completely and embarrassingly evident that divorce is what would be best for both of us, and for our daughter.
I wanted to get a divorce a full year before my ex asked for it, yet the only reason I really got a divorce is because he asked for it. I tried to stay in it: "I won't divorce you until our daughter turns 18." Then, I tried to save it, "I don't care what's happened, look - I took off my pants!"
Turns out, you don't have to be active in your divorce. Your spouse can divorce you whether you like it, want it, or not. If you resist the process, it takes longer, costs more, and is a lot uglier. Even though I tried to save the marriage by having more sex, that didn't work either. Any attempts at post-break-up, pre-divorce sex pretty much don't work. Ever.
Finally, I accepted the fact that the divorce was inevitable. Even though deep down I wanted the divorce, too, more than words could express... I was afraid. I was afraid of being over 30 and single. Over 30 and a single mom just seemed like about the most horrible thing ever. Looking back, I can say 30 is young and I had my whole life in front of me, but then it sure didn't feel like that.
Instead of telling myself the truth and asking for a divorce the minute I knew I wanted out, I spent a lot of time being unhappy, wishing I was loved and cared for, and having a little too much wine watching re-runs of The Wedding Planner.
How do you know when it's time to pull the plug on an unhappy relationship? No, it's not the first minute or time you're unhappy. Relationships have ups and downs, and go in cycles, sometimes are happier and better than others. No, I believe there are a few factors to consider, and somewhere in there you'll know for sure:
- Either of you are unfaithful, or you wish your spouse would have an affair (so you could leave and make it their fault) or you're thinking of having an affair. Either or both of you are not getting what you need, physically or emotionally, if you're looking to other people.
- If you didn't have kids, you would've broken up long ago. The kids need positive role models of happy adults, so that's what they can grow up to be. Your kids will learn what they are meant to do, based upon what you actually do.
- When you have different lives and don't spend time together. Unless you look forward to spending time together no matter what you're doing (or even if you're doing nothing), you're not partnered up right. Happily remarried, I definitely look forward to spending time with my husband, even if it's just watching a great show or going to the grocery store. With the first guy, I avoided it at all costs.
- You bicker or fight constantly. What are you not saying that needs to be said? Bickering and fighting can be a sign of a deeper, more significant issue. Sometimes what you really want to say is, "I'm done." If that's the case, take a hard look at saying that, instead of continuing down the path you're on.
- Someone has a drug or alcohol addiction and they refuse to get help. Addiction is a strong word, so let's start with this: if you need a glass of wine to "deal with your day," that could be a problem. I want the occasional glass of wine and some chocolate, I don't need it. If your spouse or partner drinks or does drugs daily, heavily, then you need to take a hard look and make some tough decisions, as this is the model your kids see.
I'm not advocating for divorce. I don't think it's glamorous to be a single mom. I do know for a fact life is too short to stay in an unhappy relationship. If you're telling yourself it's for the kids, or you'll just wait it out until they're old enough, well, why on earth would you do that? The week my marriage ended, one of my best girlfriends asked me if my husband was the role model I wanted for my daughter. I said, "no." Then she asked, "If she grew up and married someone just like him, how would you feel?" Oh crap. Seek out professional help in making your decision, navigating this new terrain, and taking on your new life.
By all means, if it's time for your relationship to end, end it. Both for yourself, and if you have them, for your kids.
Honorée Corder is the author of The Successful Single Mom book series, and the upcoming If Divorce is a Game, These are the Rules.