On television and in the movies, when a couple decides to divorce they typically feud and fight, divvy up their assets, and make a fresh start. Real life divorce is (usually) a bit more complicated. Particularly when children are involved, surveys indicated that disgruntled married parties contemplate divorce for years before taking any action.
So how do you know if you should give your marriage another try or call it quits? Recently The New York Times asked marriage experts to name the top questions you should to ask yourself before contacting a lawyer or mediator. Here are five important ones to consider:
- Have I clearly communicated my concerns to my spouse?
Its important to remember that even in the best of times, your spouse cannot read your mind. When busy couples are juggling careers, children, and other family obligations (such as aging parents), communication wires are easily crossed, and marriages can suffer. If you and your spouse are living parallel lives, it might be time to seek a therapist or marriage counselor to mediate the initial conversation and determine if your estrangement can be mended.
- Would I be happier alone?
Sometimes the grass seems greener on the other side of divorce. But if trading one relationship for the prospect of another is your motive, you might want to hit pause on your decision and spend some time working on yourself before leap-frogging into another commitment. “You have to look fiercely and realistically at whether what you’re getting in the relationship is worth what you’re giving up,” says Nancy Colier, a Manhattan psychotherapist. “Perhaps your spouse doesn’t interest you as a sexual partner as much as you would want, but maybe your spouse’s co-parenting skills, willingness to help with everyday chores or companionship can offset the negatives and make the trade-off worth it.”
- What is my biggest fear about ending my marriage?
Are you staying in an unhappy marriage because you’re afraid of harming your children? Are you reluctant to give up the lifestyle that your marriage affords? Is the thought of telling your family, friends, or church community that your marriage “failed” holding you to vows that no longer have meaning? Or are you terrified of starting over and the prospect of being alone? If you’ve been unhappy in your relationship for some time -even after working with a marriage counselor or therapist – it may be time to face your fears about divorce and be honest with yourself and your spouse.
- How will I handle the financial implications of divorce?
If money (or the lack-thereof) has been holding you back from ending your marriage, mapping out a monthly budget and long-range financial goals will help you face those fears. Married or single, there will be bills to pay, mortgages due, and children who need child care, new clothes, and orthodontia. “What I recommend to people is that they start thinking about the financials as early in the process as possible,” Colier says. “That means meeting, if you can, with a financial adviser, talking to lawyers and writing down what this is going to cost.”
- How can I minimize the impact divorce will have on my children?
Navigating shared custody arrangements doesn’t have to be contentious. In fact, many divorced couples find that co-parenting brings a “new normal” to their relationship. If both parties agree to put the needs of the children first, emotional drama can be minimized. Relying on expert counsel helps. A family law attorney can develop a custody plan that will be beneficial for everyone involved. (For more tips on divorce and kids, read 10 Things Parents Should Avoid In A Divorce.)
Although no one can answer these questions for you, you don’t have to go through the process of determining whether or not to divorce on your own. Seeking the help of a trusted therapist, spiritual director, family law attorney, life coach, or mentor can help you sort through the answers and make the decision that’s best for you.