Countless people struggle with deciding whether to stay in a marriage or leave it. Some stay in misery for years, while others hoof it the moment times get hard. Neither of these two approaches is effective or healthy. When it comes to deciding whether you should end a marriage or leave a marriage, here are several questions to ask yourself to help with your decision:
1. Is my partner a willing partner? This is one of the most important questions to ask. If your partner is not willing to look at him/herself, change, repair any damages she/he may have done or seek treatment when necessary, then the chances of change are poor. When someone sits back with their her arms figuratively held defiantly across their chest taking the position of “I am who I am, so take me or leave me,” then, unless you’re prepared to live with the situation and him/her as is, leaving may be your best option. This is particularly true with an active addiction, issues of untreated mental illness or affairs.
2. Is my partner accountable? Is your partner able to admit when s/he makes a mistake and repair it, or does s/he defend, rationalize or justify his or her behavior? It’s very difficult to mend a marriage if someone is not willing to acknowledge their humanity and own their mistakes. It’s also very hard to change things when one person refuses to see his or her mistakes and instead frequently blames the other person. If your partner seldom apologizes, frequently defends or turns the situation around on you, then this is one point against staying.
3. Has there ever been a time when we were happy and in love? Some couples started off on the wrong foot and never found their groove. They may have originally married to escape their home, avoid being alone or out of obligation due to a pregnancy or years of investment into the relationship. Whatever the case, marrying for the wrong reasons makes staying together even more difficult. This is especially true if there was never an attraction or love from the start. The bottom line is: It’s difficult to get something back that you never had in the first place.
4. Is there a third person in this story that is fogging up my lens? It’s nearly impossible to decide if you should stay or go when there is a third person in the picture. A third person creates intense emotions for everyone involved and blurs the picture. If you’re in an affair, the affair partner will look great while your spouse won’t even come close to measuring up. Get the third person out of the equation and see if you and your partner are able to fix what’s broken. If your partner is having the affair then s/he will have to end it and repair the hurt s/he caused before healing can occur.
5. If s/he changed, would I want to stay married? When you’re thinking of leaving, this is a great question to ask yourself. Don’t worry about whether or not your partner will change, simply ask yourself whether or not you would stay if s/he did change in the ways you’ve been yearning for. These “changes” have to be in one or two key areas that truly hurt your relationship. For example, if a key issue harming your marriage was your partner’s anger, and s/he truly fixed the anger, would that change things for you? If the answer to this question is “No. Even if s/he changed this piece, I know I still wouldn’t want them,” then this is another point for leaving. If you don’t care about the change they make, then there’s no way for them to make things better for you. There may just be too much water under the bridge.
If you’re seriously thinking about leaving your spouse, then take some time to sit down in a quiet space and journal the answers to these questions. Be careful not to allow fear to determine your decision and instead truly tune into what your wisest self knows to be the best decision for your long-term best interest (as well as that of your children).
Challenge: Get a journal, put aside plenty of time, and walk through these questions. Ask yourself, “If I had no fear, what would my decision be?”