Divorce is rampant in America; 50% of first marriages end in divorce, and over 70% of subsequent marriages fail as well. Even with those staggering statistics, some people stay in marriages that should have ended years, if not decades, ago. At the same time, many of the divorces that do happen could be prevented. I don’t judge people who’ve gotten divorced; I believe that everything happens in divine order. It’s just that sometimes we do things to have the experience of “I’ll never do that again!” And sometimes we do things out of ignorance; we just don’t know that there could be another way. There are times when the relationship can be repaired, and times when it can not. Here are some ways to tell the difference. It’s time to leave when:
1. There is abuse involved. Whether it’s physical, sexual or emotional abuse, that is a clear sign that the relationship needs to end. Abusers nearly always escalate the abuse. It’s a vicious cycle that traps the victim into uncertainty, low self esteem and an inability to trust his or her own judgment. Unfortunately, this is usually when the relationship continues long after it should have ended.
2. You’ve grown apart and neither of you wants to work on improving the relationship. This one’s fairly simple. You can usually end the relationship amicably with a no-fault divorce. Many times, couples stay together long after the relationship is over for the sake of the children. You’re not doing anyone any favors by doing that. Studies have shown that kids need one present, loving person in their lives to grow into emotionally stable adults. They don’t need an intact nuclear family if it’s not a happy one.
3. You have serious problems- usually around lacking trust- and one or both of you are unwilling to work on the issues at hand. In order to heal these kinds of problems, most people need professional help. Seeing a therapist or a life coach to help you heal is a sign of strength, not weakness. Just understand that if you don’t want to heal them during this particular relationship, they will surely resurface in your next one.
On the other hand, many relationships end when they could potentially be saved, as when:
1. Someone cheats. Last week I wrote about how to recover from an affair. It might not be easy, but it is certainly possible. You’ll probably need professional help to learn how to trust your partner again, and it may take some time. But it’s worth it in the end, because leaving the relationship won’t make your sense of betrayal disappear. Instead, it will resurface in your next relationship.
2. You’ve grown apart but still like each other. People naturally grow apart if they don’t take the time to work on their relationships. You’re not the same person you were when you first met, and your partner may have changed too. But by consciously connecting on a regular basis, you can rekindle the spark of romance. It won’t feel the same as it did when you first met, but it can still be a powerful connection. Make a weekly date night, make a joint bucket list, and talk about your hopes and dreams together.
3. You fight too much. It’s not true that people who fight a lot aren’t meant to be together. It just means that they haven’t learned how to express themselves and get their needs met. This one too may require professional help, but the dynamic can be changed. Some people (my daughter, for example) argue for the sheer sport of it. There are many communication skills you can learn to tone down the rhetoric of your arguments. I’ve written about some ways to improve your arguments here.