All marriages, even the healthiest, experience difficulties and challenging times. Sometimes couples are unable to resolve their issues and decide to pursue separation and divorce. But deciding to leave a marriage is an extremely difficult decision. Clients often tell me in a very concerned way, “I can no longer see a future with my partner.” While not being able to see a future with your partner is certainly not a good sign, this statement is usually a symptom of significant relationship distress—and not a reason to end the relationship in and of itself. If the distress can be treated and couples are able to heal and move forward, they can often create a new shared dream of their future together.
Not everyone can move forward to create a new shared dream. There are signs that you and your partner may not be able to resolve your relationship difficulties. Here are a few signs that may indicate that it would be healthier to move forward with a divorce:
- The Betrayal Seems Unforgiveable: Couples can heal from betrayals but sometimes betrayals cut too deep. Whether it was cheating, lying about finances, drug/alcohol abuse, etc. you may find yourself believing you won’t be able to forgive your partner or move forward. This is especially true if this is not the first betrayal. As one client explained, “I had already given him two chances after catching him having online affairs. The third time I realized this was who he was, and I had to leave.”
- Lack of Respect: You feel disrespected by the way your partner speaks to you or speaks about things that are important to you. Mutual respect is important in any relationship. Without it, the foundation will never be strong enough to support a long-term relationship. A client realized one of the reasons he needed to leave his marriage was because his wife belittled and criticized his work, his friends and even his hobbies, leaving him to feel she did not respect who he was as a person.
- Abuse: Any kind of emotional, physical or sexual abuse is a huge red flag. In these cases do not stay around to see if your partner can “fix it.” The risk is not worth your psychological or physical wellbeing.
- No Ownership or Responsibility: One or both of you is refusing to take ownership of your role in the relationship problems. Blaming is a barrier to progress and until both of you are able to own the actions and behaviors you have engaged in that are contributing the marital problems, you will stay stuck.
- Feeling Completely Disconnected: You no longer share things that are important to you with your partner (and may even be sharing them with someone else instead). Even when you’re around each other you both disengage and spend more time interacting with your phones or your computers. You rarely have fun with each other anymore and are not making an effort to go on dates or even enjoy a shared hobby together. As one client explained, “We were so disconnected we weren’t even trying to fight with each other anymore.”
- Your Gut is saying “Get Out!”: Unfortunately women are more conditioned in our culture than men to ignore their gut feelings. But we should all pay attention to our gut feelings—if your gut is saying something is very wrong, there is likely something very wrong. Pay attention to your gut and let it guide you.
- Little Effort is Being Made: When you get married you make a commitment to share your life with your partner. This takes time and effort—always. This means continuing to plan date nights, carving out time to sexually connect, getting meaningful gifts for your partner, taking trips together, writing them a nice card on a special occasion, showing up for important events in their life, etc. After spending the year taking care of her husband who had been in an accident (on top of working and managing the household) one client stated she realized the marriage was over when she opened her Christmas gift to find a cheap pair of earrings ordered from Amazon. “After all I sacrificed that year, he couldn’t even go out and pick out a nice gift for me, but he had time for his fantasy football league with his friends. That’s when I knew I was done,” said one client.
- You Imagine a “Happier” Life Without Your Partner: Not all fantasy is a red flag and in fact fantasy can be a type of health escapism. However fantasizing your life without your partner could be a sign that you are psychologically detaching from your partner. If you notice that mostly you fantasize about a life without your partner in which you are much happier, that is not a good sign. Especially if your fantasy is achievable (we can all imagine being happier not working and living on a beach in Hawaii…but its different to imagine being happy alone, working and going about day to day tasks in a little one bedroom apartment).
- Emotional Or Physical Affairs: You feel tempted to have an emotional or physical affair (or are already having one) this may be a sign that you are already done with your marriage. Emotional affairs can be just as damaging as physical affairs so be cautious if you notice you are sharing some very personal things or even the day to day chatter with someone other than your spouse. Throw in some flirty emojis over text and very quickly things can escape all via technology.
- Your Partner is Refusing to do the Work: Unfortunately, if your partner is refusing to seek help and partake in individual or couples counseling there is not much you can do. None of us can force someone change.