Should I Wait or Should I Go?


Is there ever a good time to tell a spouse that you no longer want to be married? It’s human nature to put something like this off, of course. Especially if you are a people pleaser, conflict avoider, or simply use avoidance to deal with problems. But there are other reasons that people put off giving their partner the truth, often for years.

Financially, divorce looks like a lose-lose proposition. After all, most states offer a ‘no fault’ option, and divorce often means that assets will be divided up close to 50/50.

Since the economic downturn of 2008, many people are under water in their homes and own more debt than assets. This means having to come to the table with money in hand just to sell the family home. And still have nothing to show for it, with no equity in the house.

Then there’s the debt. No matter who racked it up, you’re both likely going to be responsible for it in some way. And the question of who is going to pay for the children’s expenses, and if there will be ‘spousal support’ in this case? It’s hard to imagine how anyone can be financially whole after divorce, right?

But more significantly, there is the big emotional dilemma that I see people struggling with most – “Will my spouse change _______ (fill in the blank) so I don’t have to divorce him/her?” This question has some deeply troubling problems.

First of all, for the person asking this question – which is a complaint – there has to be some resentment bubbling under the surface – maybe not so far down. These kinds of complaints usually develop over long periods of frustration, disappointment, and lost dreams.

Second, this question puts the onus on the other partner, doesn’t it? Rather than taking responsibility for the resentment that is now eroding away what used to be love, too many people place the blame squarely on the shoulders of their partner. Though there may be an understandable part of this, to want someone’s behavior to change.

Even so, the resentment belongs to the person experiencing it – it is his or her problem to take care of.

When I confront people about this third party in their marriage – resentment – they usually act surprised, as if resentment doesn’t play a role in their marital drama. But it does! It takes on a life of its own, slipping out when least expected.

Sadly, even if the other spouse did ultimately make the changes complained about, the resentment has taken root, grown a head of its own. And resentment is toxic to love. Therein lies the problem.

Several years ago, I worked with a woman who would do absolutely anything to avoid ending her marriage. She put up with erratic behavior, put downs, and even sexual abuse from her husband. She knew he was secretly abusing alcohol and street drugs on a regular basis.

I worked with her weekly for a while, as she was beginning to feel pretty lousy, even contemplating suicide, as the conflict raged inside her. At one point, her appendix burst. The body doesn’t lie.

My client had a career, was a promising young doctor. She demonstrated that she could deal with the stress of med school, residency, and long hours, even with a young child at home. She was not fearful of financial burdens. Her greatest attribute, stamina in the face of intense discomfort, was becoming a liability. She would not ‘quit’ this marriage, and her inner dilemma was eating away at her.

It took many months of talking with my client to help her understand that it was her dilemma that was slowly killing her, not her husband’s behavior. She kept herself in a hellish limbo by not acknowledging the power of her own resentment and anger toward him, instead focusing on him to change his behavior.

Ultimately, this couple did divorce. But it was not a clean separation or divorce. And it was long overdue, in my opinion. There may have been less struggle had my client been willing to understand that the resentment she experienced, though totally understandable and a result of her husband’s bad behavior, was fatal to the marriage.


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