How do I know if I should get a divorce?
March 13, 2010 5:39 PM   Subscribe

How did you know when your long-term relationship was over?

I'm seriously considering divorce after a few years of marriage.

As a part of my decision-making process, I'd like to know how other people knew when their long-term relationships were essentially over.

I'm not so much looking for sudden realizations, like discovery of an affair or something, but more gradual ones.

I realize posting probably means that yeah, I have a pretty good idea mine's over, but I'd like more input. Throwaway email:

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (39 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
When I realized I was asking that question.

Which, I know, you already said, but I can't reinforce it any better than that. Are you happy? Do you believe you would be happier if you weren't in that relationship, even taking into account all the pain it will cause you and people you care about?

Then do it. And good luck to you.
posted by Etrigan at 5:45 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Even before we started fighting all the time, there was a lingering, almost bittersweet dread in my chest as we drifted off to sleep. There were still some good times, but increasingly few and far between. And during the good times I would feel a slight panic inside, like it was all unraveling but if I could just hold on hard enough, maybe we could make it work.

We finally ended it a year or so later. I really regret letting all that emotion bottle up inside, because we pretty much hate each other now, but on the other hand if we had let go too early, perhaps it I would always regret not knowing.

Take care of yourself and good luck. Maybe you could try some counseling? Part of our problem was that we became trapped in certain emotional/behavioral cycles that became very difficult to break once we became enmeshed in them after three years. Of course, we were very young, so it was just easier to let go.
posted by jnaps at 5:53 PM on March 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

When I found I was making conscious decisions whether to say things - specifically, do I keep this to myself or do I risk the argument that will ensue if I mention it?
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:08 PM on March 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

Good luck, I hope you get through this soon. It's not fun to be asking yourself that question.

5 year-relationship, 1 year of marriage. It was some combination of the following that eventually made me decide to leave:

I started feeling embarrassed by my partner's style, sensibilities, and methods of conversation. I started feeling like I could 'do better' than her. I started wanting to cheat on her. When I tallied up the reasons for staying in the relationship, most of them were practical (social ties, logistics, cost).

Most of all, thinking that I would never be intimate with another person terrified me.
posted by ripley_ at 6:09 PM on March 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

One day, when given the opportunity, she didn't want to do something with me, that she had always wanted to do.

When questioned about it, she hemmed and hawed and didn't have an answer. It was completely out of context, as if a lifelong vegetarian had suddenly said, "Hey, let's hit McDonalds on the way home. Why? No reason. I just want a hamburger."

And I knew it was over. Her gradual pullback couldn't be hidden any longer; she had finally reached a point where she couldn't do anything except lay her cards on the table and be the bad guy.

The only tragedy was that I had allowed this to go on for so long, that it was only an accident that allowed me to realize it. We wasted a lot of time together.

Most people don't want to give you bad news. If you're sensing it, but there's no direct evidence, odds are you're dealing with a passive-aggressive person, or a person that has fallen into that behavior, perhaps without even knowing it.

You need to confront this in order to protect both of you.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:10 PM on March 13, 2010 [7 favorites]

I met some one else. I called my LDR partner and broke up with her.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:29 PM on March 13, 2010

anonymous: “As a part of my decision-making process, I'd like to know how other people knew when their long-term relationships were essentially over. ¶ I'm not so much looking for sudden realizations, like discovery of an affair or something, but more gradual ones.”

Look, I get the feeling you're mythologizing this whole thing, thinking that there's some grand "marriage" in the sky that can suddenly be "over" without anybody knowing it. Stop it. This isn't magic.

A marriage is just an agreement between two people. The marriage is "over" when you or your partner decide it's over. That's it. There is no mystical sign you should be looking for, no prophetic sequence of events, no emblem that appears in the sky. And you won't "just know," either.

The only thing that can give you the certainty I think you're looking for is actually thinking about it for a long time. Think about practical things – do you share ideas about having children? Do you share ideas about where you want to go and how you want to live? Do your ideas on these things conflict in serious ways? Is this a person you can imagine spending time with over the rest of your life?

The most important thing to do is to ignore your feelings and consider this rationally. Feelings don't count for much; your future happiness is at stake. If you make a move based on feelings, then you'll just end up hurting yourself, because you'll try to spare your (ex) partner's feelings, or you'll try to make it feel better for yourself in the short-term by sacrificing long-term happiness.
posted by koeselitz at 6:35 PM on March 13, 2010 [10 favorites]

An ex of mine (who is still a good friend 18 years later, so YMMV) and I knew we were done trying to repair our relationship and it was time to move on when we both realized we had started thinking about the things we could do if we broke up, the things it would free us up to do, and that there was a kind of regret then at the thought we might stay together. I remember the conversation where we admitted that to each other; it was bittersweet but it was also the end of some very painful and futile efforts to work things out, so there was relief there, too.
posted by not that girl at 7:20 PM on March 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

You'd be getting very different answers if you'd asked "In your marriage, have you ever contemplated divorce?" Then you'd be getting answers from people who stayed married. You phrased it in such a way that you pretty much guarantee you will be getting answers mainly from people who left.

I don't know any married people who haven't contemplated divorce, BTW. Marriage isn't easy. There's a reason that getting married involves standing up in front of witnesses and swearing an oath not to leave.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:37 PM on March 13, 2010 [20 favorites]

When I was trying to figure out if I wanted to divorce my second husband, I worked my way through the questions in the book Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay. By the time I got to the end, I was sure I wanted out and fairly shortly thereafter made the decision to end the marriage.

A year or so ago I was having some serious issues in my current marriage (of 9 years, at that time) and I again worked my way through the book. It helped me to realize that I wasn't quite ready to give up on this one. A year and a few hard conversations later, we are happier than ever.

I don't regret either decision I made based on this book.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:49 PM on March 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

When I started fantasizing about living on my own.
posted by sadtomato at 7:59 PM on March 13, 2010 [6 favorites]

When the smallest, most innocuous questions that she would ask started bothering me.

And when she held my hand it felt like I was holding a friend's hand, not my girlfriend's.

And when she talked about kids and I thought, "Not in a million years, not with you, I can't." Definitely a big tip-off.
posted by fso at 8:03 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

When I realized that I identified with the Jim Reeves song, "You're Free To Go."
posted by HopperFan at 8:15 PM on March 13, 2010

When she stopped being willing to work on it. Rather than talk things out that we disagreed with, she would just go silent and hit the computer. You need two willing to talk to have a discussion.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:30 PM on March 13, 2010 [6 favorites]

My relationship was not your typical LTR. It was on-again-off-again for a bit more than 4 years, and there were many extenuating factors. But for a long time, we truly believed that we were each other's "the one." I knew that he wasn't when I went to a wedding with him, and I could not, for the life of me, imagine us getting married. I sat there and kept trying, and all I could come up with were disastrous scenarios of fighting and capriciousness and one of us leaving the other at the altar. After the ceremony, we looked at each other, and I could tell he had had a similar realization. We wound up breaking up for good at the reception.

Granted, for the few months prior, we had been having some trust issues and also, we knew I was going to move away within the year to go to grad school. But what really did it was sitting at a wedding and just realizing that that was never going to be us, no matter what.

This probably doesn't work if you're already married.
posted by millipede at 8:52 PM on March 13, 2010

When I met her parents.

I realized she wanted to recreate her parents' marriage, as dysfunctional as it was, with me as her father-surrogate. I felt sorry for her, but no. I wouldn't perpetuate her parents' issues into another generation.
posted by SPrintF at 8:53 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

When I noticed my partner discuss plans and projects to craft a life and a lifestyle in which I was an optional extra, not a feature, then I knew it would either unravel or explode. It sort of did both a few months later.

It was the realization I had no essential or intrinsic part in my partner's future that let me know.
posted by evil_esto at 9:03 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

When he made a perfectly reasonable ultimatum and I refused. And then he didn't end it. And then I was disappointed.

When I realized that I was his "consolation prize" because he didn't believe he could find a girl that met all his standards.

When I started only hanging out with the people that hated him so I'd have an excuse to bitch about him.

(3 different LTR -- all I dragged out longer than I should have.)

I'd agree with the other comments, however, that there is no magic "this isn't going to work" moment. There's just the moment when working on it just seems like... too much work and you don't really want to.
posted by Gucky at 9:11 PM on March 13, 2010

I was standing in the hospital cafeteria when my phone rang. My brother was still in the ICU after a major, nearly successful suicide attempt. My friend Ann had flown me down immediately since I didn't have the money for a plane ticket. She was calling to talk to me about flying my partner down to be with my family, and she sounded uncomfortable. "I will absolutely, and without hesitation, help Bill fly down to be with your family if that's what you think the right thing to do is. But do you think that's the right thing to do? This is a very delicate time, and he is not always good at making appropriate decisions in difficult times. He often says inappropriate things." I thanked her for her advice, told her we wouldn't be using her second voucher, and walked grimly through the hospital back to my brother's room. She was right.

Later, on the phone, I said I needed to stay open to what this meant for me - that only time would tell whether I would still feel comfortable living so far from home. He immediately said, "Well I can't possibly move to Texas." I was tired and scared and sad and didn't know which way was up or down, and in a situation like that I'm pretty sure that the only right answer is "We're going to get through this, whatever that means. Don't worry about details right now, we'll figure all that out later."

At one of the most difficult moments of my life, I realized my partner wasn't just unhelpful, he was actually a liability. We stayed together for about a month after I got back. We got through Christmas, and at the end of January, I left him.

I like to say that I knew it was over when he announced that he wanted to move us to New York so that he could do a PhD at NYU. (When I asked him what he wanted to study, his only answer was, "...oh something. Maybe Anthropology.") But I could have lived with some of his less-desirable qualities, including his incessant complaints about his job coupled with an inability to make and implement a plan for his life. His penchant for making jokes that sounded like desperate, unfunny pleas for attention; his inability to make healthy decisions about eating or exercise; and his stories about the ghost that lived in his mom's house, were all just silly annoying details. When it came down to it, all I really NEEDED was someone who could be there for me in my darkest moments. And he couldn't.
posted by greekphilosophy at 9:19 PM on March 13, 2010 [22 favorites]

When what once was endearing has become irritating.
posted by Neiltupper at 9:24 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I started crying during sex.

(also, I'm married [8 years living together, 6 years partnered, 4 years married] and pretty sure we haven't thought about divorce - I know I haven't)
posted by geek anachronism at 9:33 PM on March 13, 2010

We'd been together for 5 and a half years and I still didn't know if I could see myself spending the rest of my life with him. Sometimes not having an answer is the answer in itself.

There's also the classic Dear Abby question: are you better off with them or without them?

Good luck. It's never easy.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:13 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

There are so many places I can look back to and say "there, that was a seminal moment in the deterioration of my marriage", but nothing is ever that clear when you're right in the middle of it.

The biggest mindset change was probably when I started asking "How can I be happy in my life despite my relationship with my wife?".
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:38 PM on March 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

When I told him I wanted to eventually get married, and "yes" wasn't the answer. (of course things got all kinds of complicated later, but that's another story).
posted by nat at 10:56 PM on March 13, 2010

I just wanted to say - at the risk of being argumentative - that a lot of people will tell you anecdotally when they "knew it was over," but you have to remember: that was only true for them. And I would argue that for a lot of people these things are really just excuses, or at the very least moments of crystallization of particular things they value or care about.

What I mean is: there have been good, healthy, worthwhile marriages where one partner was annoyed at the other. There have been fantastic marriages where one partner was frustrated, where one partner was oblivious, where one partner was insufferable. For some people, it was worth it. For some people, the best decision they ever made was to stay with the person they were annoyed at.

What's the difference between them and you? Only you can decide that. And you can't say "it's because we don't feel it any more," or "holding hands doesn't feel right any more," or "I love you, but I'm not in love with you" - all of that is romantic bullshit that means nothing. Let go of your feelings and make a command decision: is the marriage going to work or not? Then act on your decision.
posted by koeselitz at 11:13 PM on March 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

When I met someone else whom I liked more than I liked him. When I realised I would love for him to tell me he'd met someone else too.

When I started thinking about how to best split up our stuff.

When I realised that we wouldn't work out longterm and realised I'd never been able to imagine that anyway. When I panicked at the thought that he might convince me to stay.

When I finally broke up with him and felt relieved at all the stuff I no longer had to deal with.
posted by bent back tulips at 1:11 AM on March 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

2nd johnnygunn and selfmedicating.
Here's how I knew it was not quite over yet: I knew that she felt like something was wrong, too. So we worked it out, and now I'm pretty happy (and I'm pretty confident she is, but I won't speak for her.) We're not happy smiling paradise couple all the time, but I suspect no one is. We were only able to do that, though because we're pretty serious about the commitment we made to get married, and that divorce is not an available option. It's a last emergency resort to get out of a truly dangerous situation. It's amazing what you can work out when you take 'break up' off the table.

I would have known it was "over" if I got the sense that she felt everything was just fine and was unwilling to change anything for my sake, while I was unhappy. Still, divorce probably would not have been an option. We'd have had to work out something a little more non-traditional (than we already have), maybe.
posted by ctmf at 5:29 AM on March 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Three relationships, three pivotal moments:
  • Was on a long roadtrip with my then long-term boyfriend and had food poisoning the night before. Driving through Barstow, hadn't slept, both cranky. I started flipping through my cell phone, looking for somebody to talk to, some comfort. I came across his name in the list and I could feel my heart lift at the thought of calling him and hearing his voice. He was sitting right next to me, but he was gone. The guy at the other end of the phone was a fantasy in my mind. It no longer existed. By the time we both arrived home, I was gone too.
  • Spent 4 years with someone, living together for the final two. We had just returned from a wonderful vacation the week before (theme alert here), and we were finally settling into our routine again. I was going through my mail and I had just received an acceptance letter from my top choice undergraduate university. I didn't feel like telling him. I was excited, but the thought of now working this new adventure into our stagnancy was something I just didn't feel like dealing with just yet. As if we'd have to work things out, rather than just enjoy the moment. That was a big sign to me that we were not moving forward, and I was pretty apathetic and joyless about the whole thing. And he didn't seem to notice either way. Basically, neither of us were going to fight for it anymore, which isn't very exciting.
  • Returned home from a long trip (correlation is not causation here; I travel a lot) and found my long term boyfriend had bought me a present, which he left for me to discover. I was so excited...but it was a box of rotten chocolate that had been sitting on his desk for quite some time...he bought it for a friend, but never got a chance to give it her. So he re-wrapped it and gave it to me. The second I opened it, we looked at each other and just knew. We'd been struggling for some time. In my heart of hearts, I know he didn't do that maliciously or passive-aggressively (maybe unconsciously and in a self-sabotage sort of way, but that's another story). He loved me dearly, but a gift is something that adds to someones life, makes their day a little better, and he just didn't know how to give it.
In all of these cases, the offenses were completely forgivable (including the first two stories, where the stonewalling and withdrawl was not theirs, but my own). In the end, what I needed and what I could give and what he needed and what he could give were no longer in any sort of symbiosis whatsoever. And the daily thoughts and events we experienced together became signifiers that there was absolutely no hope that things could change for the better.

I always say that the mark of a good relationship is liking the person you get to be with your partner - the qualities they inspire and bring out in you. I think in this case, you have to ask yourself, "Is there any hope I can be who I want to be again, with this person's influence and support?" If not, then you gotta go stand on your own, unhindered and free to find yourself again.

I wish you the best of luck, and I hope some success stories involving resolutions between couples will be shared here as this thread evolves.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:06 AM on March 14, 2010 [13 favorites]

Cool Papa Bell said it best. It was tragic that I'd let it go on for so long but I didn't know how to say it and I agonized about how to tell him for almost a year. My first apology was that I hadn't called it quits earlier.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 6:21 AM on March 14, 2010

I realized that my relationship was over when I joined mefi in order to post a question like this. By the time that I was able to ask it, I knew that I didn't have to.
posted by modernserf at 6:29 AM on March 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

I've known relationships were over by the way I started to feel relieved upon realizing that we'd started to drift apart.

I know my current relationship is healthy because even we fight and have big stressful issues to deal with, we always have this strong, comfortable meta level of communication that gets us through. We occasionally shout at each other: "So divorce me already!" - and as long as we can do that, I think we feel pretty safe that it's not actually even close to heading in that direction. I don't think we could snap it so easily and with so much laughter if it were close to true.
posted by Eshkol at 8:18 AM on March 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

It wasn't a big thing that made me realize it was over - it was a series of small things. One day I stopped caring if he was home, or not, because I was happy doing my own thing. I realized that I didn't feel any drive to confide in him because I had other people to hear me. I stopped making plans for the future that involved him, other than peripherally, because I didn't see the point in making him a part of it. Sex became less of a connecting experience and, after a while, stopped altogether.

To be fair, I tried to change those things - by asking him, talking to him, telling him - and it had no impact. It takes two to tango and.. nothing shifted. Then I had to decide if those little things were important to me, or not, and whether I could, or couldn't, live without them. I discovered that I couldn't live without those small things even though we didn't have screaming fights or hatred toward each other. When it was time, there were no unresolved miseries. Everything was just.. empty. It all felt clean and empty and.. finished. No acrimony or deep sadness.

But those were the small things that told me - not you - that it was over. It all depends on how you define a happy relationship. In my case, the things that made me happy were the things that had disappeared and which I couldn't live without in the long term.I made an effort, it didn't work. There was no way to get those things back and that meant it was over. We divorced and now, many years later, I am in the happiest, easiest, most fabulous relationship - with all the small and big things I want and need.
posted by VioletU at 8:44 AM on March 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

It was more a series of moments, the accretion of which got harder and harder to ignore.

When we'd gotten into a terrible car accident, luckily both unhurt. As the tow truck approached the wreck, he pushed me nearly into the highway to get out of the truck's way faster. I tried joking about that one, but it wasn't funny in the haha way that the person I loved would literally throw me under the bus to save himself. At least not at the time, but it's a pretty funny image to me now.
When I took a weeklong vacation without the SO, and realized I didn't miss him, not a lick. Actually, it was shortly thereafter on the same trip, when I realized that I had really missed myself.
When I couldn't bring myself to dance with him (and I loved dancing, I'd just forgotten how to do it around him).
posted by inkytea at 2:32 PM on March 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

When she ran off with the kid who worked at Starbucks.

Ok, that's a bit arch...but there's something there. In my case, my wife had been unfaithful a couple of times prior. We split up, we "worked on" things, and everything seemed okay.

Two years later when I saw the same pattern of behavior happening in front of my eyes, my gut told me it was over well before I actually had proof.

By the time came to toss her belongings on the curb and change the locks, I was already on my way to recovering.

If I had to pinpoint a single moment when I knew it was ending? It was when I realized that she assigned greater priority to her time spending time with this new friend than she did spending time with me.
posted by kaseijin at 11:09 AM on March 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've never been married, but for one long term relationship (4 years) I knew it was over when I realized that I was taking him for granted and I didn't care to enough to fix it. That was my first relationship. When we started out we were really just kids. We grew up to be very different, not-so-compatible people.

For another long term relationship (3.5 years) I knew it was over when I realized we were having the same fights over and over again, nothing was changing, we weren't growing or maturing as partners, and it was holding me back. I gave the relationship one too many chances and then the resentment began setting in.

In both of these relationships, there wasn't one crystalizing moment when I just KNEW. I spent many long months filled with heartache, wondering if it was worth another shot, if I was expecting too much and if this was as close to happiness as anyone ever got, and if staying or going would be the mistake. Of course, even in a stale relationship sometimes you're happy... but then you wonder if you're truly happy or simply comfortable.

Eventually enough is just enough. You're fed up. You might have one last fight or bicker that turns out to be the last straw, but in hindsight you already knew it was coming.
posted by keep it under cover at 8:03 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I started smoking pot every time we'd have I knew it'd be...sorta fun.

When crying myself to sleep on a closet floor was more comforting than talking about anything with my ex-husband.

But mostly the Christmas several months before I announced that I wanted a divorce : I gave him books and DVD sets and little toys and treats - everything I knew he wanted and adored - and he gave me a bunch of plastic barrettes from the dollar store.
posted by noxetlux at 11:37 AM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've never been married, however, I have been in two very serious relationships that were both leading to marriage. The most recent one, the guys actually broke up with me, but it was I that did the "I don't want to marry you anymore" line. I was devastated at the breakup (as you can tell by a few of my posts in the last 2 months), but I pretty much got over it and his drama a few weeks after the breakup. How did I get to the "I don't want to marry you" point? I guess it was, surprisingly enough, as I was cleaning our house and I found his socks in the middle of the living room. I HATED how he never cleaned up after himself. Trivial as it was...everything snowballed for me from that moment on. I started to think of all the things that I HATED and requested for him to modify over the past few years and never had. And with us engaged, I realized that this would be my life if I married him: HATING things he did. I realized at that moment how selfish he was (again, refer to my previous posts), how he was never able to put me first, and how he never considered things I needed. All from a pair of dirty socks in the living room! I think after a few years of letting the little things slide...the little things added up into this one big thing that I couldn't imagine living. I am quite glad he broke things off because I would not have had the heart to break things off as soon as it happened and would have probably ended up marrying him and THEN getting divorced. It is a difficult realization, and I was devastated in the beginning, but now...I know I dodged a huge bullet.
posted by penguingrl at 3:26 AM on March 18, 2010

When he said he was going to take our son away from me and use my times at therapy as validation that he can do so.

No man should ever threaten to take a child away from a parent when there is no just cause, especially when the other person is in therapy trying to FIX the marriage. It's not like I'm the one punching holes in doors or screaming in front of our child when arguments arupt.

There are probably 50 other things I can mention but that one literally made my heart sink. I shouldn't be or feel threatened by a spouse and a child shouldn't be used as a pawn in an argument or a divorce.

Now if only I can figure this shit out as to how to do this safely, soundly, and with little pain to anyone.

Good luck. There will be one piviotol moment where you go, "you know, I feel nothing for this person anymore".
posted by stormpooper at 5:39 AM on March 23, 2010

I knew when I caught him fucking a teenager. Bit of a dead giveaway, that.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 5:15 PM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

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