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Should You Stay or Go? Ask These Six Questions

woman sitting on cliff

Deciding whether you should stay or go from a marriage can be excruciatingly difficult. Our fear of the unknown, coupled with guilt and feelings of failure often trumps rational decision making. 

Before I decided to leave my second marriage, I read countless books and blog posts, hoping for a clear sign that divorce was either the clear path forward or the absolute wrong thing to do. 

Looking back, I knew the answer all along; I just didn’t trust myself enough to decide. With the benefit of hindsight, I’ve put together these six questions to help you decide whether you should stay or go.  

1. Why Do You Want to Leave Your Marriage?

Unhappy Couple

Are you lonely, bored, or depressed? If this is a second marriage, is your spouse asking you to prioritize their needs over those of your children? Does staying in the marriage require you to subvert your values to keep the peace? Has your spouse been emotionally or physically abusive? 

Asking why you want to leave the marriage will help you home in on whether the marriage is reparable. For example, if you feel lonely, bored, or depressed, you might consider whether these feelings result from your marriage or other underlying mental health issues that could improve by seeking therapy or other treatment. If you want to leave because your spouse dismisses your needs, you might ask whether marital counseling could improve how you both communicate.    

You should never stay in a marriage that is emotionally or physically abusive. But before you leave, consult the National Domestic Violence Hotline. It is free 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Advocates at the hotline can help you arrange to leave safely.  

2. Have You Sought Counseling or Therapy?

Couple in therapy session

We often let marital issues fester until they reach a point where we’re convinced that nothing can bring back the love we once felt for our spouse. A licensed marriage and family therapist can help you have an honest conversation as you sort through the problems that brought you to this point. This provides good information for deciding whether your marriage is salvageable. 

Even if your spouse chooses not to attend, working with a therapist individually can help you get clear about what is right for you. Therapy may also offer you comfort in knowing you did all you could to save your marriage and help you navigate the emotional land mine of divorce if that is where you land.  

3. If You Have Attended Counseling, Has Anything Changed in Your Relationship?

happy couple in therapy session

It’s great that you went to counseling. Now what? Has anything changed? Do you have a better understanding of what’s gone wrong in your relationship, and are you both committed to improving it? If things are changing for the better, now may not be the right time to leave. But if you’ve tried everything under the sun and your marriage still isn’t working, you might ask yourself whether it’s worth your unhappiness.  

4. Are You Seeing Someone Else?

Woman taking off wedding ring

A long-term marriage with its ups and downs can pale in comparison to the exhilaration and romance of new love in an affair. It’s unfair competition and can lead to bad decisions if it influences your choice to stay or go from your marriage. You will need all the clarity you can get without this complication. I’m not saying that relationships stemming from affairs end badly in all circumstances. But if you want to avoid compounding the emotional fall-out from divorce, particularly if children are involved, you should avoid other relationships until you leave the marriage.  

5. Is Your Spouse Seeing Someone Else?

Unhappy couple sitting back to back

If your spouse is seeing someone else, you will be on the wrong side of the unfair competition described above. Working through your marital issues will be difficult, if not impossible with another person in the mix. If your spouse refuses to stop seeing someone else as you try to revive your marriage, your marriage may not be salvageable. Don’t hang on too tight.  

6. What Does Happiness Look Like?

Woman looking down a path with flower fields on each side

It’s easy to imagine life without the challenges an unhappy marriage brings. Peaceful days, freedom to do as you please, and finding love again all come to mind. But these things can take a backseat to the loneliness that may also accompany a marital split. Will divorce give you the freedom to be yourself and become a better you? Or do you view it as an escape from your problems? 

Divorce may reduce the daily noise that is making you miserable, but how do you plan to build a new and better life for yourself? What have you learned from your marriage? Divorce is only one side of the equation. If you don’t think about how you’re going to navigate the highs and lows of being single and embark on a life-improvement journey, you may be deciding whether you should stay or go in your next relationship too.  

We never enter marriage thinking it will end in divorce. Instead, we have high hopes for a future with the person we love – our forever love. People change and so does life, leading some once-happy marriages to end in sadness and acrimony. You shouldn’t leave a marriage without trying everything you can to make it work. But that doesn’t mean you should sacrifice yourself to avoid it at all costs. So, ask yourself these six questions to help you make the best decision on whether you should stay or go.   

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7 thoughts on “Should You Stay or Go? Ask These Six Questions”

  1. I’ll be married forty years this fall. Honestly marriage is something you work at everyday. It’s not really happily ever after line in fairy tales. You’ve offered some really great tips here.

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