When I’m with a group of people, I often hear from them about a “friend” in trouble in their marriage. Nearly universally, they tell me why they would be better off getting a divorce.

When I ask why, they said things like, “They are a jerk,” “They cheat,” “They don’t help with the kids anyway,” etc. All valid complaints, to be sure, but when I ask whether their friend has thought about what divorce looks like for them and/or their children, the answer is almost always “No.” This is, in my professional estimation, one of the biggest mistakes people make when in the discernment (deciding) stage of divorce.


If you are contemplating that the marriage is already in trouble and wondering when it’s time to divorce, here’s what you need to know and do:


1 Figure Out Finances First

If you don’t control or participate in them, insert yourself now. Find ways to get your arms around assets and income, liabilities and debt, the current budget (if there is one), retirement accounts etc. Take the time to understand the ways in which you contribute to your finances. Consider all sources for how money flows in and out of your accounts, including if part of your assets comes from a trust or some other form of family wealth.


It’s unlikely, unless you are part of the family with money, that you will end up with any money from that source in the future. Your goal is to know the full picture of your finances and the impact your divorce will have on your future way of living.

I frequently see clients who lack this base knowledge, and it is a big wake-up call for them. If you don’t think money most important, that’s just fine, but you do need to understand it and the impact on your daily life. When it’s time to divorce, your finances will define your life choices going forward and unless you have a plan for how you will manage what you have and/or how to earn more, you may find yourself very unhappy with the decision to leave.

Remember, even if you end up with about half of the marital estate, that may still change your lifestyle drastically.


2 Do The Work of The Marriage

As you consider when it’s time to divorce, think about what it is that isn’t working and why. Are there ways to solve the problems without a divorce? Take some time to put them down on paper and then read through each of them from yours and your spouse’s perspective. Write down potential solutions (big and small) that may help mend the relationship.


Easier for the Children?

If you imagine that getting a divorce makes taking care of the children easier, talk to some single parents and get their views. You may discover that although you do more for and with the kids, you are able to make more decisions about what happens in their lives now. When you divorce, you may have to share decision-making with a spouse previously less involved who now wants a larger role.


Household Work All Fall to You?

If it’s about who does housework or other chores of daily life, assess how divorce will impact this; you will likely find that all the cleaning, the groceries, the lawn care will fall to you after divorce. Instead, consider fixing the communication piece as part of the need for a shift of responsibilities.

When I hear these types of problems, I often press my clients to dig a bit deeper as they are largely superficial responses and there is likely a larger, more systemic problem in the troubled marriage. Sometimes, instead of wondering when it’s time to divorce, there are issues that can be resolved by considering what can be done while you are still married.

hands clasped when it's time to divorce

Feeling disconnected?

Consider what role you play in that. Do you no longer carve out time for each other, like date nights? Do you just live with each other like roommates vs. engage with each other like friends and lovers? Are you having sex? In my professional experience, it is absolutely positively necessary for two healthy adults to be connected in a sexual relationship to be happily married. If you’re not, explore the possible reasons why you’re not. Are you exhausted, stressed, depressed? Are you mad about a culmination of all the other stuff that’s not happening, like childcare or household help? There are simple ways you can start to reengage with your spouse in your day to day.

Although it’s true that you may need joint therapy or coaching to work through the complex dynamic of a troubled marriage, it’s also true you can likely do some independent work too. You know your spouse’s complaints just as they know yours. Is there any part for which you can figure out why and do better with them?

Oh, and if you missed it the first time, I’ll reiterate: you need to have sex in your marriage to have a contented spouse. If it’s not working, figure out why and try to fix it before exiting the marriage if you have the choice to do so. Otherwise, you may just re-create a similar relationship pattern with someone else.


3 Put Kids in Their Proper Place

Kids impact our life satisfaction. Although we have children for many reasons, most of us feel love that we have never experienced with and through our children. However, it is also true that people with children have overall less life satisfaction. I was surprised by this information, but with four of my own children and now a fifth child in a blended marriage, I understand why.


Although I wouldn’t change having all of them for anything in the world, I do recognize that we, as parents, have come to define a lot of our world, and happiness, on our children’s experience of it too.

That’s not only a lot of pressure on them but on us too. We truly raise our children, whether dandelions (likely to thrive anywhere under any conditions) or orchids (a lot higher maintenance) to leave us and live their own lives. After they grow up to be citizens of the world, we are often left alone with our spouse and that can overwhelm couples.


Maintaining your marital relationship is a critical priority while raising children if you want to have contentment after they leave our well-padded nests.

As you raise your kids, don’t forget to nurture your spouse too. Make your parenting a team effort. Examining how the kids impact your marital relationship and how to do better with each other will help strengthen your marriage.


4 Do Your Own Thing Too

Maybe part of the reason for your marital distress is a feeling of losing your own identity. You may be a spouse, parent, worker, and friend but find little time and energy for what you enjoyed before you took on all these roles. It is critical to return to yourself and find pleasure in passions you may have had previously or want to develop now.


Sometimes, clients sit in my office and ponder when it’s time to divorce because they have lost themselves in their marriage. While it may feel like divorce solves the issue because all the pressures of life developed after marriage, this isn’t necessarily the case.


If you find yourself struggling or this resonates with you, spend time brainstorming what you would like to do, just you, to bring some joy or contentment back into your life. Is it solo travel, a book club that you start, a new activity, connecting with an old friend, jogging, exploring your city, horseback riding? It can be anything, really, that connects you to your authentic self again.

It may take time so be sure to give this the space it deserves even as you navigate the rest of your busy life. You may find it allows you to be more content in those other roles, including your role as a spouse, too.


when it's time to divorce talk to a coach

5 Connect the Dots

When you recognize what leads to discontentment in marriage, and examine every conceivable element prior to separation and divorce, you have all the pieces to make an informed decision on when it’s time to divorce.

You want to think carefully about money, relationships, kids, work, and your life too. This means integrating each of the categories above to make sure you’ve resolved the difficulties you can, changed the behaviors that aren’t serving you and rediscovering intimacy with your spouse (worth mentioning one more time). It also can be a good time to include therapy or coaching if you haven’t explored this option already. If you are unable to find a path forward after exhausting the above, it may be time to talk to your spouse about the possibility of a separation and/or divorce.


Communication now is crucial because if you’ve never talked about what’s going on with you and why you are thinking about it, it’s more likely that your spouse will be in denial and claim to be blindsided by the news.

So do your work, and if you still find yourself, on balance, leaning towards divorce, let them know—kindly, gently, and cooperatively. Make clear your intention is to be grateful for what you had that is good and that you hope to do the work of the ending as supportively as you may have done the beginning too. You cannot control their response nor their level of cooperation, but my professional experience tells me that talking sooner, using a transparent model of intention about money, kids, family, and friends, works better for the family system. You may disagree on issues with each other, but you can also agree to let some things go so each of you gets what is most important to them. You can interview family law professionals in line with cooperative goals and still have an advocate if your spouse decides to behave unreasonably. The two are compatible and will help your family system.


Marriage isn’t easy. Divorce is harder. As you navigate the path that is right for you and your family, remind yourself that if you have children, you are likely to always be in connection with someone you may find difficult now.

Think carefully, in all the ways outlined above, about how that looks in marriage and outside of it too. Everyone who is married has trouble. But divorce adds new layers of complexity. Find a way to make sure you have taken every step you can to solve what happens in marriage, including your role in it, before deciding to divorce. After that, continue to be kind, empathetic and consider the best interests of your children too. Do the hard work of discernment first and you can find contentment in your decision no matter the path you take. I see it in my office every single day.


Cherie Morris - When it's time to divorce 5 things to consider
For more support on the discernment (or any stage) of divorce, you can contact Cherie Morris, J.D., CDC, for a no obligation Discovery Session, right here.

She also has lots of free resources, including an advice column on her website, as well as her book, Should I Stay Or Should I Go, and is available for speaking engagements too.

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P.S. Want more tools and resources to stay positive during a divorce? Download my Free Divorce Survive & Thrive Kit below!  
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DISCLAIMER: The commentary, advice, and opinions from Gabrielle Hartley are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice or mental health services. You should contact an attorney and/or mental health professional in your state to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. 


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