by Phil Rich, Ed.D., MSW.

Divorces are usually difficult for everyone involved. In many cases, the choice to divorce is deeply felt by both parties as a failure, and even more so when there are children. Accordingly, it's important to realize that choosing to divorce is no simple decision.

Marriage as a Choice

Divorce is an option for most people, even if one to be avoided. Knowing Healing Divorce Book Photothat marriage and divorce are choices can be a liberating and empowering thought, and knowing you have this option can help you get through a difficult time. Having the choice to get out of a marriage can give you the peace of mind you might need to work through marital issues and stay in the marriage.

Considering Leaving

If you're thinking about a divorce, something's wrong. The first step is to make sense of what's bothering you -- maybe it can be changed. The second step is figuring out if it can be changed, and the third step is deciding if you want it to change. The first two steps involve an appraisal of your marriage. The third involves an appraisal of yourself -- do you want to continue in this marriage?

Before you set a divorce into motion, it's important that you ask yourself if your dissatisfaction reflects a passing "phase" in your relationship. Can you move towards a renewed intimacy? Are you going through a patch of rough times that can be worked through? Above all else, do you want to remain in this relationship?

Pluses and Minuses

Leaving a significant relationship is difficult for most people. But for every reason to leave a marriage that's not working, there's also a reason to stay. Sometimes the reasons to stay are obvious: children, the sanctity of marriage, concern for your spouse, or financial constraints. But people also stay in relationships for less than rational reasons. In other words, there's always a reason to stay, even if the reasons sometimes involve denial, rationalization, or plain fear of being alone. As you think about your marriage, it's important to tune into both sets of reasons.

The Erosion of Your Marriage

Sometimes marriages erode over time, in ways that are so subtle that neither partner even notices the change. In other cases, there's a clear turning point in the marriage, after which the course of the relationship changes for the worse. In still other relationships, the behaviors of one spouse are corrosive to the marriage and sometimes to the other spouse. What factors have most influenced the downturn in your relationship?

Corrosive Marriages

"Corrosive" is an excellent word to describe behaviors that eat right through a marriage. In fact, it's unfortunate that more people don't leave marriages where there's gross abuse and neglect that is neither good for them nor their children.

People choose to remain in such marriages for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes they think/hope the problems will eventually clear up, or they believe they really are loved beneath it all. In other cases, people feel they have nowhere else to go, or no-one else will love them. Sometimes people stay because they simply don't realize they can leave. And it's not at all uncommon for people to stay in an abusive relationship because they fear leaving. Here, the best recourse is to seek professional, and possibly legal, advice and protection.

The Slow Drift

Perhaps your marriage no longer meets your needs. Perhaps slowly evolving changes have led to a marriage in which you feel emotionally neglected and unrecognized, or where your spouse spends less time with you and more time with personal interests or friends. Here, you may start to tackle the issues of what to do and how to go about it. If you haven't decided, then one of your first questions must be, do you want to save your marriage? If so, it is critical to first discuss these issues with your spouse if there's to be any chance of your marriage improving.

Other Stakeholders in Your Marriage

Your spouse is a "stakeholder" in your marriage, of course, because it is his or her marriage also. But there are probably other stakeholders in your marriage as well; people who have serious investments of their own in your marriage.

Children under the age of 18 depend on their parents in every significant way, but besides the minor children, there are other stakeholders: adult children, parents and siblings, in-laws, and shared friends are the most typical. For the most part, as you consider what's best for you in this situation, recognize and consider the importance of your marriage to the other stakeholders as well.


Divorces are powerful events. But before they can re-shape your life, they first shake and disrupt it and the lives of many others. Take the time to think carefully before your decision.


Burns B., & Whiteman, T. (1992.) "The Fresh Start Divorce Recovery Workbook." Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Engel, M. L., & Gould, D. D. (1992). "The Divorce Decisions Workbook." New York: McGraw-Hill

Kramer, P. D. (1997). "Should You Leave? New York. Scribner.

Rich, P., & Schwartz, L. L. (1999). "The Healing Journey Through Divorce: Your Journal of Understanding and Renewal." New York: John Wiley.

Schwartz, L. L., & Kaslow, F. W. (1997). "Painful Partings: Divorce and Its Aftermath." New York: John Wiley.


Phil Rich, EdD, MSW, DCSW is the author of "Understanding, Assessing, and Rehabilitating Juvenile Sexual Offenders," the eight books in "The Healing Journey" series of self help journaling books, and two books in the "Therapy Homework Planner," series, all of which are published by John Wiley & Sons. He is the Clinical Director of the Stetson School, a long-term residential treatment program for sexually reactive children and juvenile sexual offenders.


Please help support our SelfhelpMagazine mission
so that we may continue serving you.
Choose your
support amount here: