(This is in response to a request.)
Note: I am not a professional, just some girl. Take all advice at your own risk.
So… How do you know when a marriage is over? How do you know if things have gone too far to rediscover devotion? How bad is too bad? At what point does your depression and hurt start to affect your family? Or, the big question: as a Christian, is there ever a reason to leave outside of abuse or infidelity?
I will do my best to answer that looming question: “Should it be over?” I can’t promise that I can give any advice that will be help you find solace, but I want to at least try.
- Do you really want it to be over? When you think about divorce, is there a rock in your belly? Do you get incredibly uncomfortable? Is there some little voice in your head screaming, “no, this isn’t right, stop thinking this way?” If there is, listen to it. You will go through the rest of your life wondering if you left a relationship that could be salvaged.
- Does your spouse want it to be over? Don’t wait until you’ve made up your mind to discuss the state of your marriage with your spouse. If they don’t want things to be over, they may be willing to make concessions and change. If they don’t want to work on the relationship… I’m sorry, but it’s over. A marriage takes two people who are devoted. They don’t have to be devoted in equal measure, but they do need to both be devoted.
- Would leaving cause your children undo distress? If you have children, it is your parental duty to ask yourself this question. Is your spouse a good parent? Are they strongly bonded with your children? Would leaving mean that your children would be deeply hurt, or that they might resent you? Are they old enough to be aware of your relationship with your spouse, and if so are they hurt by the tension in the home? You must weigh the benefits of leaving against the harm of staying.
- Are you in a healthy and stable position? Are you capable of leaving without putting yourself in jeopardy? Are there friends or family that can act as a security blanket should unexpected debt or complications arise? Again, if you have kids: will your children be clothed, fed, able to continue in school, etc? Unless you have reason to believe you are in immediate physical or emotional danger, you should never leave a comfortable situation for one that could cause you problems. Take the time to plan for the future.
- Are you emotionally and physically capable of being single? Will leaving mean that you might cause yourself harm? Whether it’s a struggle with depression or a disability that might keep you from holding a full time job, are you prepared to foot it alone? Are you dependent on your marriage for your security? Can you take care of yourself? If you are a parent, ask yourself if you truly are prepared to pay all the bills yourself, to be on 24 hour call, to be the only one who stays up with sick kids and picks them up from school? You may say, “I’m already like a single parent”, but unless your spouse doesn’t give you any cash, doesn’t pay for any of the kid’s things, and comes home and goes in the other room without ever interacting with the kids you are in a co-parenting situation.
- Do you do well with solitude? Has your spouse ever gone away without you? How did you do? Were you relieved, or did you hate the silence? Could you sleep in bed alone? Did you count the hours until your spouses return, or dread the moment your spouse was back in the house?
- What do your friends think? You may say, “this isn’t about them, it’s about me.” Well… yes, of course it’s about you, but sometimes those we love see things we don’t see ourselves. They may see damage that you are taking on that you haven’t noticed, or they may see the potential for resolution that you are ignoring.
- What does God think? Yes, God doesn’t always send us the memo, but there are ways to figure things out. Read your Bible. See if you feel a reinvigorated desire to work things out. Talk to your pastor. Seek counseling with a trusted mentor. Most of all, what do you feel when you pray? Do you despair? Do you find comfort? Is there a voice in your head screaming “leave” or a voice screaming “stay”?
- Coldly evaluate the facts: Make a list if you have to. Evaluate the cost of leaving. Evaluate your resources. Be honest with yourself about what it means, and see how you are feeling when it is laid out in front of you.
- How are you feeling now? Look at yourself in the mirror. Ask yourself, “am I ready to be divorced? Am I ready to be alone?” Be honest with yourself about how you feel. Then, look at your spouse. Ask yourself, “is this a person worth loving?” If the answer is yes, you aren’t ready to go. Not unless your spouse tells you they are ready to have you gone.
Now, from a Christian standpoint I can say that traditionally the only reason to divorce is because of abuse or the breaking of vows. While that is a wonderful idea, divorce rates very clearly state that it isn’t own that is terribly prized. The question cannot be what others believe or what others ask of you, but simply what you ask of yourself. Prior to marriage, what did you think? Is it something that truly matters to you? Can you forgive yourself, forgive others? If you had a friend in the same situation, what advice would you give them? Some people may say, “your emotions are untrustworthy, hold with your faith, not your heart.” I won’t say that, because I believe that God created us to be a certain way, and sometimes when we are left alone in the darkness crying out, the ONLY voice we hear is our hearts.
Then there is the question of breaking a vow. When I was married, I swore to love and honor my husband. All I can say is that if the loving and honoring stops, the vow is already broken. There may be a chance to rediscover that love, but only if your spouse is willing to bear with you.
Only you can answer these questions. I can’t. You must do what you need to in order to look yourself in the eye and turn to God without shame.