One of the more difficult decisions that face many of us in our lifetimes is the decision to stay married or to divorce. Sometimes the decision as to whether to end a marriage is not left to us; our partner may choose to end the marriage and choice is no longer a factor. Many times, however, the question of divorce is mutually discussed without a firm commitment from either side.
The catalyst for divorce is divergent. Sometimes it is as simple as the reality that people grow apart over time. Sometimes years of little skirmishes have combined to form one seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Other times the thought of divorce is driven by an event, and often that event involves infidelity. Regardless as to why you are thinking of divorce, the reality is the same. Divorce creates stress. It is one of the three most profound stressors a human can face, along with death of a love one or moving. Certainly, divorce is life changing . If you have children, the life change affects not only you but children and grandchildren. It becomes a burden affecting what would otherwise be joyous events such as weddings, graduations, baby-namings and Christenings. It defines you when you check the “divorced” box on forms and applications. It impacts relationships as friends may take sides or try to straddle the vulnerable middle. It is a life changing, game changing, spiritually challenging, emotional roller coaster.
Before the decision is made to move forward, the ramifications of divorce and the alternatives to divorce should be fully considered, and an unemotional intellectually honest decision needs to be made. This is not to say that love and trust have nothing to do with continuing a marriage. It simply means that even love and trust need to be examined sometimes analytically if we are going to make good decisions.
If you have the choice to divorce or not, I have some suggestions as to how this decision can best be made. One useful exercise that can help the process was first suggested by Benjamin Franklin in his Poor Richard’s Almanac. Ben suggest you draw a line down the middle of a page. On the left side list all the reasons not to divorce, and on the right side list the reasons to move forward with married life. In the acclaimed television series “Breaking Bad”, the high school teacher protagonist used this devise to determine if he should kill a fellow drug dealer. The left side was riddled with extensive reasons why one should not kill, while the right side had only one reason not to: “If I don’t kill him he will kill my entire family.” So, obviously the number of reasons on each side of the list may not as compelling as the enormity of the consequences. Not all choices are as obvious. Sometimes the choice is hard, even impossible.
Another useful exercise is to picture yourself five years hence. Where do you see yourself if you stay married? Where do you see yourself if you divorce? You need to be realistic. Input from professionals helps here. You need to understand the economic consequences of your divorce as well as it’s impact on you and your family.
The decision to divorce is personal life changing and usually irreversible. Think it through before you take that first step. If you think it through before you act you are less likely to regret your choice. Many divorces allow the individual and their family to live better, happier lives. The point of this article is not to say “Do not divorce”. The point is to suggest that the decision to divorce has major consequences to your life and the life of those you love. I know that this seems obvious. What is not always obvious in the moment, is that time is a useful tool in decision making. Time allows us to test our initial reaction to a situation and be sure that our choice is the best one available in the situation with which we are confronted.