How do you know it's time to leave?
Updated: Dec 9, 2022
I was married for seven years when I came home one day and asked my ex husband for a divorce. And while he feigned surprise at first, it was soon apparent that he also knew it was coming.
Of course he knew. Nobody gets divorced today because of something that happened last week or even last month. I went through several stages of unhappiness and dissatisfaction before I even admitted to myself that I didn’t want to stay with him. I tried voicing my needs, yelling at him, threatening divorce, trying to change him, trying to change myself. I tried therapy – solo, group, for couples – then traveling through Europe, then moving to Florida. Towards the end, right around the time we moved south, I just became passively silent. What I have learned over the course of the years, while trying to save our marriage, is that you can’t change another person. I realized that, for me, the only two options were to either accept him just as he was or to leave him. I didn’t want to accept him, so I braced myself and we had that difficult conversation.
In our day-to-day life, that conversation didn’t seem to bring much change. We were still barely talking, he was still falling asleep on the couch and we kept not having sex. But there was a shift, slight but crucial, because now there was an agreement that we were working towards dissolving our partnership rather than trying to make it work.
Six months later, we filed for divorce. Another three months later, we were officially divorced. It’s funny how things move quickly once we gain clarity.
How do you know when it’s time to leave? There is no one-fits-all answer. Each relationship is individual. Like Tolstoy said: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
You define your happiness or unhappiness. You define what you are looking for, what blessings and abundance you accept, what you’re willing to tolerate, what you are willing to keep as a permanent problem in your life and what you’re ready to change.
And it’s possible that you’re ready to leave, ready to change, but you’re scared of the unknown. We also define our own fears, which ones we’re willing to conquer and which ones we will keep hiding from.
There is one crucial question that you can ask yourself to bring more clarity:
Am I willing to stay with this person if nothing changes?
If the answer is “no”, you’re due for a serious conversation with your partner and a lesson in boundaries with yourself. Often I hear “If only he would stop drinking so much” or “If only he would pay more attention to me” and, upon digging deeper, it turns out that this is a perpetual problem, sometimes present for many years. It has been addressed over and over again, no permanent solution has been found and now you’re walking around unhappy, as if you were chained to this situation.
But you’re not. The truth is, you’re choosing to honor your fear over your sense of well-being. Your reasons for doing this can be many, but it’s likely that they stem from a long time ago.
Re-visit your beliefs. Write down what bothers you. Be honest about what you would like instead. Take responsibility for your contribution to the situation. Sit in silence with yourself. Embrace the sadness. Start the difficult conversation. You may be surprised by where it takes you. You may find a solution together. Or you may get a confirmation that it’s indeed time to leave.
Whatever your choose, honor yourself first and trust in your ability to safely make it to the other side.
Don’t let the fear of the unknown stop and paralyze you. Your courage and your commitment to yourself will transform your relationship to decision-making and your life. And you will know what to do.