Should you divorce? You might be so tempted to throw in the towel on a long-term relationship after a heated argument. However, the matter deserves deep thought and a long pause. Divorce, or a breakup for those not married, is final; it is a major life decision with financial and emotional consequences for both parties. This fraught decision can reverberate and deeply impact children if you have them. This is definitely one decision that nobody should make in haste. However, continuing to live a life filled with endless arguments, strife and heartache is no solution either. If you are on the precipice of deciding whether to continue working on your relationship or ending it, here are several points for your consideration.
Abusive relationships are unhealthy, traumatic and completely disruptive to a harmonious existence. They can also inject detrimental triangulation in the family dynamics where kids are involved. Anyone in an abusive relationship should seek help. Sadly, many individuals don’t recognize it as such because abuse can take on many forms.
The most obvious is physical and sexual abuse, which includes hitting, punching, pushing and rape. Such relationships not only cause physical and emotional trauma, but they also present a tangible threat to your life.
Verbal abuse often co-exists with physical and sexual abuse. However, it can also occur on its own. It includes constant criticism, screaming, yelling, and making threats. Verbal abuse may also include elements of financial abuse. This sometimes occurs in households where one person earns the bulk of the household income and uses this fact to control, belittle and put down the other partner.
Sometimes, verbal abuse takes on tinges of psychological manipulation, termed gaslighting. This is defined as denying and undermining a partner’s emotions and feelings, driving them to constantly doubt themselves. Gaslighting can come into play when infidelity is involved, for example. When continuous invalidation convinces the other partner that their perceptions are wrong, they lose their own emotional compass and bearings. Consider this psychological abuse. The manipulation introduces very deep cracks in relationships, resulting in the abused party losing all faith in the partner’s ability to love him or her.
Dealing with Abuse
If you are in a physically or sexually abusive relationship, then understand that it is unlikely to change. You require an exit strategy. Statistically, the most dangerous time in such relationships is when one partner tries to leave. This is when abusers can become more threatening and treacherous. You require support from experts in your community to formulate a plan that is safe for your circumstances. As a first step, you could reach out to your family physician. You should also rely on family and close friends to play a pivotal role in helping you leave.
In general, the other types of abusive relationships described above cannot be “fixed” without professional intervention. And a key component of the recovery plan must include the willingness of the abuser to change and undergo extensive psychotherapy to deal with the triggers that cause their offensive behaviour. The abused person also has a mountain to climb to learn how to let their guard down, forgive, trust themselves and others again. Children growing up in abusive households often require therapy to undo the trauma caused by witnessing abuse. Furthermore, they need to unlearn behaviours to ensure they do not model the dysfunction when they grow older.
For some individuals, the inputs required to resolve abusive relationships are simply too great. Speaking to a therapist about your goals will help you arrive at a conclusion about sticking it out or proceeding with a separation or divorce.
Commitment To The Relationship
A key indicator of a partnership that has hope includes individuals who can communicate with each other and remain mutually committed to salvaging the relationship. Can each of you acknowledge the disconnection you are experiencing and try to figure out what the problem is? You will find it unproductive to attack your partner about their behaviour and personality. It will only put your partner on the defensive. Instead, focus on your hopes for the relationship when discussing your problems. For example, “I have noticed we have been arguing a lot lately, I want to figure out how we can get back on track, I miss laughing with you.”
You can also try conveying the link between your partner’s behaviour and your emotions. For example, “When you raise your voice at me, I feel scared.” Describe emotions other than anger. Recall instances when you felt sad or hurt by your partner’s words or actions. Focus on yourself by using “I language”. You may find writing to your partner to be more effective. Indeed, he or she may find it easier to appreciate your perspective when elements of a personal confrontation are removed.
Also, it is important to note that many of us are not schooled properly in emotional intelligence as children. Consequently, some people are genuinely uncomfortable and inexperienced in talking about their feelings. You too might find it difficult to label your experiences with clear names. In this event, consider engaging the services of a therapist. Many people forget that their spouse is a collection of his or her “former self” with their own sets of problems; some of those problems might predate you. A couples’ therapist can get to the root causes that put up roadblocks in your relationship.
If you have tried everything, and your partner refuses to participate in a solution, then considering divorce is a logical next step.
Contempt vs. Respect
Holding contempt for your partner is a strong predictor of divorce, according to world-renowned couples psychologist, Dr. John Gottman. Contempt is more than fleeting annoyance or irritation. It includes deep dislike and derision for the person you are sharing your life with. On this issue, consider how you perceive your partner and your behaviour towards him or her. Do you judge them as unattractive, ignorant, lazy, or lacking in intelligence? Have you found yourself denigrating and disrespecting your partner? Or is the shoe on the other foot? Do you feel regularly disparaged and looked down upon by your partner? Have you started to feel like your partner profoundly dislikes you?
Seeds of contempt are best plucked as early as possible and definitely before they become deep-rooted. Neutralizing them requires you to actively focus on the qualities you appreciate, respect and like in your partner. In this instance, try to remember why you fell in love with your partner in the first place. Without a concerted effort to recreate mutual admiration and respect for each other, contempt will spread like an invasive weed. It will kill off all the goodwill that your relationship is capable of holding. A separation or divorce is often a better decision compared to living in a relationship that has gone toxic. After all, both of you deserve to feel liked and loved.
Even if you’ve been locked in a conflict cycle for a while, can you picture yourself spending positive time with your partner? If so, consider it a good sign! Couples who are able to make each other laugh, even during a fight, have the ability to tap into the positive energy of the relationship. Therapists call this “repair attempt”. If you share common interests and continue to celebrate occasions like birthdays and anniversaries then your relationship has life. You might be able to get it back on track with some effort.
However, if you dread spending time together, and have reached a point where you are relieved when your partner is not around, then you have a steeper hill to climb to address the challenges. In particular, ask yourself whether you prefer comfort and closeness with other people. While it is healthy to have good relationships outside of your partnership, intimacy with another, even if it is platonic, is a problem. Your partner should be your first stop shop for emotional support. A gap in this dynamic can inject infidelity, secrecy and mistrust into your relationship. Invariably, a rupture is predictable in the long run.
Common Goals and Values
Our worldview shapes how we behave in society and who we socialize with. It is also foundational to how and where we spend our time and resources. All of this influences us as we move through life. Changing our beliefs as we learn from our experiences and environment is a normal aspect of human development.
Most couples enter relationships because of their shared value system. However, they don’t count on drifts that occur over time. You don’t have to agree on everything and it is fairly common for people in a relationship to hold opposing views about a politician, the state of the economy, how to discipline the kids, and more. What you need to watch out for is how far apart you diverge from each other in the course of your relationship. A shared sense of values is the backbone of a solid relationship. You will find it difficult to reconcile with someone whose key values and ethics grow miles apart from yours.
Such situations crop up in long-term relationships when one partner decides to join a new religion, goes through a major occupational change or significantly alters your socioeconomic status, for example. Here, you will need to question your fit for the long haul in this relationship. If you cannot bridge that gap to align your values closer to your partner’s, then your relationship will become a constant source of stress and disharmony. You might want to consider a divorce compared to the alternative that may include constant disagreements about important matters.
Similarly, when you first met your partner, you both likely held a similar picture of the type of life you wanted to build together. Achieving this life will require you to grow into it together. Challenges can start to surface when one of you continues down this path while the other becomes complacent and comfortable with the status quo.
An example of this situation is when you want to change a negative lifestyle habit, like alcohol or substance abuse, smoking or gambling. But you discover that your partner does not want to change. This may not become a drawback as long as your partner remains supportive of your growth and interests. However, you will still end up on different wavelengths if your self-development and progress turn you into a different version of who you used to be. Over time, having little in common with your partner will create reduced connectedness and cause you to grow apart. When your lives end up becoming different journeys that do not merge, you may be left with little choice but to part ways and divorce.
Do You Still Care?
If you have been locked in a difficult conflict cycle for a long time, you might not know if you have come to dislike your partner or the consistent battery of arguments. One way to find out whether the flame has gone out completely is to imagine your partner laughing, holding hands and being affectionate with a new partner. Pay attention to what feelings get triggered by this image. If you feel sad, hurt or jealous, then you may very well have a romantic attachment to support renewal in your partnership. On the other hand, if you feel nothing but relief or liberation, then you have lost love for your partner. And in this event, you should explore a separation or divorce.
Major Life Stress & Divorce
Major life events can shake up even the most solid of relationships like an earthquake. These include having a baby, going through a job loss, suffering a chronic illness, experiencing the death of a loved one, and yes, even going through a pandemic. You may be at the end of your rope with relationship strife. Yet, we ask you to hit the pause button before calling the divorce lawyer.
Major life stressors often magnify small cracks that exist in every relationship. You need to take the time to explore whether the problems would exist at all if you were not carrying the extra emotional load of your present situation. Perhaps you require more support or time to adjust to the new realities of your life? It is likely a bad idea to jump to a break up in the midst of a major life stressor. Indeed, it is hard to see clearly during a storm. You will be better served by waiting for the dust to settle.
On the other hand, if chronic and long-lasting issues have become substantially worse by the major life stressor, then it is time to communicate with your partner to find a resolution. Consider a few sessions with a couples’ therapist at this stage. You should only proceed with a divorce under these circumstances if your partner refuses to partake in a solution.
Seeking Professional Help
Couples’ therapists receive extensive training drawn from decades of proven research into what makes relationships work. This specialized knowledge allows them to understand relationship dynamics with far more insight than laypersons. Unfortunately, unhappy couples often rely on the advice of family and friends who may be least equipped to understand relationships from a psychological perspective. Consequently, many end up in repetitive and exhausting conflict cycles that rarely lead to a resolution. And they wait far too long after problems begin to pursue therapy.
Even with a therapist, climbing out of a deeper hole takes longer and requires more effort. Regardless, divorce is an enormous life decision worth giving all you have. A well-trained couples therapist can help you get to the root cause of the problem. Your therapist can also frame the issues in a manner that will allow you to make informed choices about reconciling or separating. The skills you will gain from therapy sessions will allow you to conduct yourself better going forward with improved self-awareness and communication. If you have children, then seeking out professional help becomes imperative. If you and your partner must continue to co-parent after a divorce, then your therapist can help you manage this with less animosity towards each other and to the benefit of your children.
At the end of the day, the quality of our closest relationships has a direct bearing on the quality of our lives. Everyone has the right to evolve their lives beyond endless disagreements and into happier and loving ones.
About The Author
Laura Devlin is a Registered Psychological Associate with over 10 years of experience, and a managing director at Beaches Therapy Group. We have helped numerous clients come to a resolution about their relationship problems.
Mr. Rogers was famous for saying. “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
Contact us to discover how our therapy sessions are a worthwhile investment towards happy and healthy relationships.