No relationship is without it’s rough patches. Over the years, a steadiness can set it that feels disconcerting. Then there’s the fact that life throws a lot of punches our way and all the exhaustion from all the bobbing and weaving can affect the way we think about our relationship. Many more factors come into play. Opinions change. Emotions change. Boredom creeps in. Stress does, too. Especially right now, in the grips of coronavirus, the stress of life could be obscuring the true picture of your relationship. But if you find yourself thinking “Should I ask for a divorce?” there are some hard questions to yourself before asking the big question. Questions about what you’re providing emotionally. About whether or not certain circumstances out of your control are changing the way you see your marriage. About whether you’re doing enough or simply deflecting the blame. About compromise, About growth.
Self-interrogation is essential before considering a divorce. There are things we must investigate and acknowledge before making big leaps. Here then, are a dozen questions anyone considering a divorce should ask themselves to really understand whether or not they’re jumping to conclusions. Because once you utter the words “I want a divorce” it’s nearly impossible to go back.
What is my vantage point?
Stress puts us all into a heightened state. It may make us more overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, and irritable. In other words, minor annoyances or mid-size arguments can seem like cataclysmic events. Looking at what your marriage was when you weren’t stressed can alter your perspective about what’s making you upset. Understanding the lens through which you’re looking is crucial. Ask yourself: Is the way I’m feeling about my partner a result of their actions are they being exacerbated by outside influences? “You can have a bad year in a marriage, but you could also have some great ones after that,” says Denna Babul, a relationship expert, public speaker and the author of the book Love Strong. “You have to really put it in perspective and ask, ‘Is this happening because of an overarching theme, which you may think it is, or am I making it worse because we’re in a worse situation?’”
Are my emotional needs being met by someone else?
Casual emotional infidelity creeps into many relationships. It’s important to really ask yourself if you’re leaning on a co-worker, friend, or some other person in your life for emotional connection. It doesn’t necessarily have to be someone of the opposite sex. It simply boils down to whether or not there’s a person in your life who is filling a need that should be being filled by your significant other. If so, then that’s important to wrestle with. “If we took the time to understand each other, every marriage would work,” Babul says. “It’s just that we get tired and we go, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. So I’m going to go find some that fun stage from the beginning and I’m going to let all my good endorphins come out to make me think that I’m incredible.’”
Do I feel empowered in this relationship?
Are you surrendering your own needs in order to please your spouse? Do you feel afraid to tell them “No” because of their reactions or yours? Are decisions difficult for you because you’re afraid of the fallout? These are important questions. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Do I feel empowered to go after my dreams,” Babul says. “Do I feel empowered to speak up, do I feel empowered when I’m with them? Or are they draining my energy?” If you’re not being empowered by your spouse, this can lead to feelings of resentment and anger over time. Look back at the course of your relationship. Have the majority of the decisions been your spouse’s because you’ve been vetoed or because you just haven’t spoken up? Has your spouse often made decisions or plans without you, assuming you’d be okay with it? If you don’t feel empowered by your partner and you’ve explained this to them, then there is a problem in the marriage. If you haven’t, you should.
Do we understand each other’s core values?
This runs deeper than just sharing the same moral compass. In a marriage, most people share the same beliefs about what’s right and wrong. Understanding each other’s core values speaks to a larger understanding of who your spouse is. It means knowing what your spouse values most and honoring that. “It’s things like someone saying, ‘Okay, my dad cheated on my mom, so trust is a big one for me,’” Babul explains. “‘So if I trust him, maybe he won’t cheat on me, but can I trust him to hold my secrets? Can I trust him to not share something I’ve told him?’ And when trust or any kind of value that you deem important for yourself is broken, that’s a big problem. So if you walk into a marriage and you know their core values and you know, your core values, then you kind of understand your deal-breakers.”
Is my spouse trying to change what I value?
In keeping with the theme of core values, it’s also important that your spouse respects what you value and doesn’t try and reshape it to suit their own needs or values. We all change in a marriage, we grow and learn to live together and create a unit based on shared ideas and ways of looking at the world. But when someone doesn’t respect what you value and wants to change that part of your personality, that can become an issue. “Let’s say the husband’s wife is an introvert,” says Babul, “and he wants someone with more energy. Well, that’s not going to change. So you’ve got to deal with who your spouse is and be okay with who they are at their core. So if they are trying to change you, and I’m talking about a change that you don’t feel is necessary, then that’s a big problem.”
Am I always compromising?
Compromise is a key part of any relationship, but it has to be a two-way street and both parties have to be okay with the resolution. If you’re always giving in and letting your spouse have his or her way, and then calling that a compromise, then you may find yourself in a problematic situation. But if not, then that’s something to consider. “It’s okay to say, ‘I’m going to bend a little on this, but on the back end, I’ll get this or that out of it,” says Babul. “But if you’re the one who is doing all the compromising and letting go of a part of yourself, then you’re going to get angry. Compromise can be good if you do it with the right intentions.”
Is my spouse growing with me?
We all grow as people. Our interests can change. Our perspectives can change. We evolve, hopefully becoming better in the process. Happy couples grow and evolve together. But when you or your partner remain rigid, leaning into bad habits or destructive mindsets, and remaining unwilling to change them, it can cause the marriage to become unhealthy. Babul often frames this in the sense of weak love and strong love. “Weakness could be that someone causes you to anger easily or make you feel misunderstood. But when someone loves you strong, or you feel that you can love strong back, it empowers you. But if someone is taking all the weight, and they’re pulling you down and you can’t get back up, then that’s not equal. And I think that’s why a lot of marriages fall apart, the focus changes or either a person’s not willing to continue to grow.”
Would my life be better without my spouse?
This is a really tough question to ask yourself, but it needs to be asked. This is about finding your happiness and it’s entirely possible that that just isn’t something you can do while being married to this person. Look at your life the way that it is now, and then envision that life without your spouse. Depending on which option looks more attractive, you’ll have your answer. According to Babul, “It comes down to envisioning, ‘I’m stagnant. And, if I get away from being stuck here, will I then go and get the things that I hope I would get with my partner?’”
Is my spouse nicer to me than to other people?
In marriages, especially long ones, we tend to forego basic niceties, assuming that they’re just implied. We think, Well, my spouse knows that I love him or her, so I don’t always need to say it or show it. Or we think that we can tease them or say hurtful things because we know that, at the end of the day, they’ll still come home. But that isn’t always the case. Kindness, respect and courtesy aren’t things that should just be implied or assumed, especially in a marriage. When absent, resentment and hurt feelings can take root. “If you emailed a coworker or a neighbor you’d say, ‘Hey, how are you doing? Any chance you could pick up Billy?’” says Babul. “I think in marriage, we take all that for granted.” It’s important to ask: are you being taken for granted? Is your niceness being taken for granted? Are you giving more than you’re receiving?”
Would my spouse know the reason why I’m leaving?
Have you really communicated your dissatisfaction? Have you expressed that your needs aren’t being met? Or is your spouse going to feel completely blindsided? Does he or she know what is wrong? Have you given them a chance to understand how you’re feeling? Make sure that you’ve been up front from the start and give your spouse a chance to fix the things that aren’t working.
Do I still want to connect physically with my spouse?
This isn’t only about sex, although that is a key component in a marriage. What runs deeper, however, is the desire to touch your spouse. To hold hands or just be close to them physically. If you’re not supplying that, well, it’s “People can be turned on by a spouse and think that they’re the best thing ever,” Babul says, “But it becomes, ‘Okay, after five minutes of sex, I don’t get any other attention. He’s gotten his needs met and I’m over here still floundering around.”
Am I truly listening?
Have you really taken the time to connect with your spouse and listen to them? Not just idly nodding your head while scrolling through your phone, but putting your phone down and hearing what he or she has to say. Marriages need that time for connection, even if it’s just a half hour a day. Are you connecting? Are you validating? “Most women value their spouse’s opinion so much,” says Babul. “And that’s what they’re looking for. ‘I want to hear what he thinks about this.’ And when a guy says something like, ‘Oh that’s such a dumb fight, I’m not even talking about you and your friend getting in to an argument,’ it devalues what she is bringing to you. So I would say the best advice I could give to any man, if I could get on a microphone and stand on top of the world, I’d say, if you plugged in 30 minutes a day with your wife, you’d be golden.”