Sometimes, the best-laid plans are laid to waste. Despite all your hopes and dreams in the beginning, and all your good intentions now, it seems impossible to continue your marriage. For many of us, the twentieth-century notion of “till death do us part” has become an anachronism. When life becomes too painful, with too many battles and battle scars, few of us question the notion, at least intellectually, of moving on.
Sometimes, Dr. Baris notes, so much hurt has been engendered over the years that it is simply impossible to get beyond it—at least in the context of your current relationship. When people harbor deep, abiding anger, and when, despite therapy, that anger cannot be resolved, it could be time to let go.
Even in the absence of anger, one or both partners might start to lose respect for the relationship and a spouse. That might signal the end as well. One couple we know, for instance, divorced after the husband made some poor investments and lost his business and the family home. The woman, who insisted she bore no anger, said she could no longer remain married to someone for whom she had “no respect.” In another instance, a man divorced his wife, who he'd met in the fiction-writing workshop at the University of Iowa, after she gave up her artistic career for a high-paying job at a public relations firm.
Sometimes, people divorce because they grow apart. A couple from the Chicago area spent 20 years in a traditional marriage; he went off to work, and she stayed home in the role of homemaker. They had it all, from the two kids to the house in the 'burbs to the cars. When the youngest child left for college and the couple had untold hours to spend together, focusing not on child or family issues but on each other, they found they had little in common. His involvement in business and marketing was simply boring to her, and he couldn't relate to her interests in gourmet cooking and international travel. Their taste in movies and even friends had become widely divergent. There were no affairs and no long-simmering anger or resentment issues. It's just that when both people reached this new crossroad, marked by the departure of their children, his arrow pointed east and hers west.
Younger people with relationships of much shorter duration often reach this juncture as well. When people get married too young, they might find they have gone through enormous changes during the relationship and have grown apart. They've simply gone through more personal development; they have a stronger sense of identity, and in light of that, they would not make the same marriage choice today. Frequently, in such cases, the decision to divorce is mutual. Often, these people can walk away from marriage without feeling particularly angry, especially if they don't have any children. They both just throw up their hands, shrug their shoulders, and say “This doesn't work.”
When Is It Over?
How do you know when you've finally reached the point of no return, when putting your relationship together again is simply too much of a stretch? In the end, of course, the answer is personal. But if your answers to the following questions are irrefutably “yes,” it might be time to let go:
- Does every situation, no matter how seemingly trivial, evolve into a fight?
- Do you or your spouse continually refer to hurtful events in the past?
- Is all the respect gone from your relationship? Do you feel it is impossible to bring that respect back?
- Have your goals and directions changed whereas your partner's have stayed the same? (Or vice versa.)
- Is your partner no longer fostering your individual growth?
- Have you and your partner both changed so much that you no longer share moral, ethical, or lifestyle values?
- Have you and your spouse lost the art of compromise? When you disagree, are you unable to forge a path together that is acceptable to both?
- Do you and your spouse have a basic sexual incompatibility? Do you feel completely unattracted to each other? Despite help from professional therapists, have you stopped making love?