Stay or Leave Your Marriage: The 3 Things to Do Before DecidingApr 06, 2022
Tired of being in marital limbo, torn between trying to work it out or filing for divorce? No matter what you’ve tried, nothing seems to be working out and you’re at a crossroad of whether to stay or go but you’re feeling stuck and unable to move forward.
I’m going to share with you the three things that you must do if you’re trying to figure out whether to stay in your marriage or get a divorce so that you can trust you’re making the best decision with no regrets. These three things can help you end your indecision paralysis and decide how you want to move forward with confidence.
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Step #1: Turn Inwards
What this means is to make your inner world the source of your attention and focus–- to pay attention to your thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, and overall well-being. When we’re dealing with relationship problems, we tend to focus a lot on the other person– what they're doing or not doing, all of the things going wrong, and our overall dissatisfaction.
What I want to encourage you to do is to take your power back.
Focus on how you feel, what you want, and what's going on in your internal world. There is so much wisdom there that’s waiting for you to tap into it.
When you’re in this place of trying to decide whether it’s best to stay or leave, it’s natural to feel a lot of anxiety, fear, doubt, and overwhelm. Making any decision while you’re in this state may lead to a decision that is motivated for various reasons but may not exactly be what you truly need or want.
One thing I want to suggest as an added bonus while you’re trying to get more clear on what to do is to practice what I call a “marriage detox.”
This is where you mentally set aside all of the problems and your complaints about your partner and relationship even just temporarily. Commit to a certain amount of time that feels doable to take a break from overthinking, analyzing, and focusing on the problems.
This is when you suspend all judgments of yourself and your spouse, stop the blaming and shaming and let go of trying to control things. It’s best to simply let things be for a moment so that you can create a sense of distance and space from everything that’s going on as you sort through the mental clutter and get to what’s really in alignment with you.
Use this as an opportunity to focus on yourself, tend to your own self-care and rediscover what truly matters to you. Take this time to nourish yourself instead of giving all of your power and energy away to the problems in your marriage.
Why turning inward matters:
As I mentioned a moment ago, it’s important to get clear on what you really want, what's driving you, and what matters to you. It’s hard to reach this type of clarity when you’re feeling many intense emotions and your mind and body are literally in survival mode which tends to happen when dealing with a major breakdown in our relationships.
Turning inwards not only helps with emotional regulation, but it also helps to become conscious of your own needs, and it strengthens your relationship with yourself which is key, especially during this major pivotal point in your life. You’ll need to be able to trust yourself and work with your own inner knowing, your intuition so that you can feel confident that you’re making the best decision.
It’s easy to fall into traps of self-doubt, guilt, and fear, especially if you have children and don’t want to hurt them or if you love your spouse and feel guilty about wanting more for yourself. Doing this work and learning to tap into your inner knowing will save you a lot of heartache and help you to find clarity so that you can move forward in whatever direction with more confidence.
Some Tips for turning inward include:
1. Understand your attachment style.
There is a wealth of information online about what’s called the “attachment theory” in psychology. In a very brief nutshell, attachment theory provides a descriptive and explanatory framework for understanding our relationships with other people.
The premise is that the quality of bonds we formed in early childhood with our caregivers (typically our parents) shape how well we relate to others and how we respond to intimacy in adult relationships.
For example, if your earliest relationship was with a primary caretaker who made you feel safe and understood as an infant; if they were able to respond to your cries and accurately interpret your changing physical and emotional needs, then you likely developed a secure attachment. As an adult, you’ll feel self-confident, trusting, enjoy close, intimate connections, and navigate the ups and downs of romantic relationships in a healthy way.
If instead, you experienced confusing, frightening, or inconsistent emotional responses during infancy and if your caregiver was unable to consistently comfort you or respond to your needs, you’re more likely to have experienced an insecure attachment. These infants grow to be adults who have difficulty understanding their own emotions and the feelings of others, limiting their ability to build or maintain stable relationships. They may find it difficult to connect to others, shy away from intimacy, or be too clingy, fearful, or anxious in a relationship.
The category of insecure attachments has several subsets and goes into much more depth if you’d like to learn more about it.
One thing to note is that you may have a mix of different attachment styles and attach differently with different people. These aren’t static and certainly can be changed so that you’re able to build stronger, healthier, and more fulfilling relationships with others.
The benefit of understanding your attachment style (or styles) is that you’ll uncover vital clues as to why you may be having problems in your relationship. You’ll make sense of your own behavior, how you perceive your partner, and how you respond to intimacy. Identifying these patterns can then help you clarify what you need in a relationship and the best way to overcome problems both within yourself and in your relationship.
2. Start to pay attention to your thoughts, emotions, and sensations in your body.
Turning inward and paying attention to your inner experience will provide incredible insights related to your beliefs, thought patterns, behavior patterns, and the messages your body has for you. They are all connected and constantly communicating with you-- if you slow down enough to listen and tune in.
One way of tuning in is taking up a practice of deep breathing. You can simply start breathing more mindfully which is proven to immediately calm the nervous system.
When the nervous system is activated, we are quite literally in survival mode, and the part of the brain responsible for logic, reason, higher thinking is shut down so that you can use all of your energy to react to the perceived danger. You’re more likely to react on impulse in that state than discern what is the best action to take.
Instead, when you breathe deeply, you’re telling your brain that everything is okay, you’re safe and it can calm down now. Once your nervous system calms down, you’ll then be able to reengage the prefrontal cortex which is the part of the brain that is responsible for cognition and decision-making. Reflecting, and doing deep introspective work is best when done in a calm state.
Along with deep breathing, having yoga and meditation practices are also powerful for helping you to strengthen your connection with your mind, body, and spirit.
3. Commit to honoring yourself.
This includes making small commitments to yourself and following through on them. This helps to repair self-betrayal and to show yourself that you are dependable and trustworthy. Doing this will build confidence in yourself.
4. Practice self-forgiveness and self-compassion.
Forgive yourself for any perceived mistakes or transgressions, for anytime you felt you showed up as less than the person you want to be. When you practice self-forgiveness, you also practice self-compassion which is crucial for moving through the grieving and healing process.
Step #2: Work on Your Relationship and Intimacy Skills
Even though I’m a divorce attorney, I am a true advocate for improving relationships and working on intimacy skills if there is a chance of reconnecting and warding off divorce altogether. Nothing is better than seeing a couple grow a deeper connection with one another, having a more conscious relationship and finding their way back to one another.
Most of us were not modeled on what a healthy relationship, especially a healthy marriage, looks like. We haven’t learned how to develop intimacy and sustain it for long term.
The type of intimacy I’m talking about is beyond just physical intimacy. We need to foster a more holistic connection that includes intimacy through the way we relate emotionally, intellectually, through our experiences with one another as well as on a spiritual level.
You can work with a marriage counselor or a coach specialized in relationships to learn relationship-building skills to try to better understand one another. It’s important to not only work together but also receive individual counseling and support.
If you do work with a counselor, it’s best to find a therapist which you both have rapport and commit to it for at least 6 months. Remember to not use the sessions as a way to get the therapist to point out all of your partners flaws or only talk about your problems. It should be something where you both are willing to commit to the process and open your hearts to one another, even if it feels closed and shut down right now.
By strengthening your relationship-building and intimacy skills, it’s likely that your way of relating to each other may change. If you grow closer together, then great! That’s the goal of course. So keep doing what you’re doing because it’s working.
But if you’ve tried to reconnect and nothing is changing or at least not in the way you would like to see them progress, then at least this will inform you of the health and quality of your relationship. At that point, you’ll have to decide if the status quo is enough for you, even if it’s just for the time being.
If you do decide to end your relationship or marriage, you’ll know you’ve tried all you can on your end to be closer to your partner which can help to reduce some of the guilt you may feel if you do decide to walk away.
Step #3: Get Advice and Educate Yourself About Separation and Divorce
I’ll be the first to say that divorce is not the answer to an unhappy marriage. It’s not an easy process and it can be very traumatic for all involved so it’s best not to take it lightly or jump into it without careful consideration. You should do your due diligence to really understand what will likely happen during a divorce and how life will be post-divorce so that you can make an informed decision.
The grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side and many aren’t exactly better off after a divorce but it’s worth understanding what you can expect should you take that route. This is taking the practical and logical approach to deciding whether to stay or go.
I want to emphasize here that to be able to trust that you’re making the best decisions, you’ll need to use both your intuition and your logical/rational mind.
It’s equally important to gather information, do research, and find out as much as you can so that you’re also making an informed decision. That way you can trust that you’ve explored this decision on all levels– you’re thinking logically or strategically, you’re taking a calculated risk but you’re also tapping into your heart, into your own inner knowing.
It's best to talk to local attorneys in your area, find out what your rights are and what you can expect from the process. You can even talk to people who have gone through a divorce but keep in mind that no two divorces are the same.
Get as educated as possible on the process and what will likely happen in your specific situation.
Following these suggestions can help you gain clarity and assess what is in your best interest moving forward.
If you want to learn more about the separation and divorce process, I’ve put together an online course called Divorcing With Dignity. This program is designed to educate and guide you through the entire divorce process so that you have more clarity, confidence, and actionable steps to take if you do decide to get a divorce. Click here to learn more about the Divorcing with Dignity Online Course.