"You need trust in any relationship, much less a marriage," Eva Longoria, discussing her divorce from Tony Parker on the Piers Morgan Show, on April 7, 2011.
Should you get a divorce? Some experts (mostly religious) would say, "No. Never." On the other hand, in some countries, you can get a divorce simply by saying "I divorce you" three times. So the range of divorce runs very extreme -- ranging from extremely difficult to far too easy -- and knowing whether or not your issues rise to the level of ending the solemn vow, 'til death do us part,' is a choice no one should take lightly.
Below are eight considerations that help you to determine what is normal in the ebb and flow of long-term companionship or whether it's time to leave. Divorce is one of the most difficult things you'll ever do, but sometimes that is exactly what is necessary to raise healthy children and live a worthwhile life. Since divorcing means you'll be supporting two households on the same income, it is important to ask the right questions and do a sober evaluation of the answers.
1. Domestic Violence
This is a very easy call. If your partner has hit you, screamed at you or stalked you, it's time to get educated on domestic violence, even if it has not (yet) risen to the level of injury. Why? Because abusers are trapped in a cycle of abuse, remorse, and recurrence, and the episodes tend to become more frequent and violent if action is not taken. Abuse can be physical, verbal, emotional, psychological, spiritual, monetary or sexual. If you don't know whether your spouse's frequent bad moods are warning signs of coming horror show attractions, then check out the Ocean Park Community Center's website at OPCC.net. There are a lot of resources there.
One thing for sure, if your spouse is loving and honoring you, then you would not be questioning whether or not s/he is abusing you.
2. Constant Bickering
We've all known The Bickersons - that couple you never want to get caught in the middle of at a party. Some of them are passionate allies who love a heated debate, while others are in serious trouble in their marriage. Bickering is a symptom, but it is not the problem. (Yelling, hitting and demeaning are a problem. That's abuse.) What's key is to discover what it is that you are arguing about all the time and determine, with the help of a professional and additional resources, whether that dis-ease in the marriage can be cured or not.
3. Lackluster Love Life
If everything else is going right in your marriage, but the love life is on the ropes, then, believe it or not, there is still hope. Passion is a casualty of routines and the tedious discussions about who left the toilet seat up, who didn't get the OJ after work, who will drop the kids at soccer practice, who forgot to pay the cell phone bill, etc... Date nights once a week are a great start (where there is no discussion of the kids or bills). But if you really want to improve your sex life, start by improving your relationship with your own mind and body. Start dancing, exercising, working out, etc. and you'll find that feeling better and looking better are closely aligned with having more fun between the sheets. If you are already in great shape, it may be your soul/heart that needs more of a workout, so try a new hobby, job or charity. When you feel great about yourself, that is very sexy. If your partner doesn't notice the shift, then there is very likely another problem in the mix.
And, if the issue is clinical, take Tony Curtis' advice. There are more than 50 ways to please your lover.
Believe it or not, although adultery is one of the Ten Commandments, traditional wedding vows say nothing about being monogamous. Various sex surveys have claimed that about 28% of married men are cheaters, while 18% of women are. So, is this a deal breaker for you? If you are religious, then it probably is and you should have no problem filing for divorce and getting the emotional support that you need from your community and family. With a cheater, you are at greater risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) than a monogamous couple is and that is a big consideration. However, there are high profile people worldwide, throughout history, who have had very public bouts with their cheating spouses, and have opted to stay in the marriage. Why? Some do it for the sake of the kids. Others for the public, financial and social benefits. The Duchess, a film, tells the story of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, and Lady Elizabeth, from 18th century England, while Why I Stayed by Gayle Haggard tells the story of a preacher's wife who chose not to leave her cheating husband. If you have a cheater, however, then chances are you are dealing with other problems as well.
5. Financial Infidelity
The money habits of your spouse can gravely impact your life - more than almost anything else, so this is one of the most serious considerations for divorce, outside of domestic violence. Are you living with a spendthrift or a gambler? A person who hides money from you, won't let you buy anything and keeps you living in poverty or at an income level that is lower than his/hers? The sad truth is that single mothers are the biggest group living in poverty in the United States, and too many abused women are afraid to leave because they feel that they can't afford to. Community property is handled differently state to state, but at minimum, it is very important to have a bank account in your own name, to have your name on the family real estate, to have your own Individual Retirement Account (s) and 401Ks and to approve all of the investments that your spouse is plunking down money for. It is also important that each of you has money of your own that you can spend (within reason) without getting approval from the other.
Stay-at-home spouses are usually the most vulnerable and undervalued in the marriage, so if you are a stay-at-home spouse, it is even more important that you value yourself, the contributions you make to the marriage and that you put your name on what is rightfully yours. After all, if the stay-at-home spouse were paid for all of the jobs s/he performs as Chief Everything Officer of the family - cook, personal shopper, tutor, nanny, housecleaner, accountant, valet and more - the family couldn't afford him/her. And no person in the family should be living at an income level below the breadwinner. The spouse who treats you sub-class in the marriage is also more likely to leave you within nine years, due to the 10-year rule.
6. The 10-Year Rule
If your marriage is long-term, defined by many states as 10 years or longer, then the spouse that earns more money might end up paying alimony for life, or until the ex re-marries. If your spouse is itching for a divorce after 9 ½ years of marriage, it could be the 10-year rule they are trying to duck under, to minimize or eliminate paying alimony. So, be aware of what the laws are in your state because divorce laws vary widely across the nation. Many states have general divorce guidelines available for free online.
7. Religious Considerations
If you are religious, then chances are you will consider your priest, bishop, preacher, etc. to be the supreme authority. If serious conditions are present -- such as domestic violence, which most abusers will lie, lie, lie about until they die - then you owe it to yourself to get educated and informed by a professional as to the probability of having a happy ending to your very real problem.
Whether you are dealing with drug, alcohol, sex, bro-mance, porn, Farmville or gambling addiction, addictive personalities will create all kinds of problems in the marriage. Many times, you get the trifecta -- they cheat, gamble and abuse you. The success rate for rehab is low, but not zero. If you've already tried getting help multiple times, and you are trapped in the cycle of abuse, regret, apology and recurrence, then, at minimum, it is time to separate. If kids are involved, the biggest consideration is breaking the generational cycle - creating a healthy home for the family that is not centered around the drama and tragedy of the addict. If you don't have kids, you have to ask yourself why you want to have a home polluted by addiction instead of a sanctuary where your soul can rejuvenate daily. If the addict is serious about keeping the family together, then s/he will need to address her problems and mend her issues outside of the family home. Setting ground rules before the addict returns, and consequences for breaking the rules, is important to make sure you don't fall back into old patterns. Getting emotional support for yourself, to ensure that you don't adopt a new addict to cure, is also paramount.
There is a big difference between all and nothing. For most people, the only way they can objectively contemplate whether or not a permanent break - divorce - is the right answer is by having time apart first. Be aware, however, that once you separate, it may be your spouse who wants to put the divorce into hyper-drive. Which is why you need to evaluate whether or not your bickering is normal (and curable) or symptomatic of a toxic home life that needs a complete remodel, before you do anything.
There are some essential actions you should do prior to leaving, if you determine that is the best choice, and I'll address those in another article. Of course, if you or a family member has been threatened or hurt, then you need to get safe immediately, have the abuser arrested and consider filing a restraining order.
About Natalie Pace:
Natalie Pace is the author of You Vs. Wall Street. She is a repeat guest on CNBC, ABC-TV, and FoxNews and a contributor to HuffingtonPost.com, Forbes.com and Sohu.com. As a philanthropist, she has helped to raise more than two million for Los Angeles public schools and financial literacy. Follow her on http://www.facebook.com/NWPace, and on YouTube.com/NataliePaceDOTCOM. For more information please visit, http://www.nataliepace.com.