You’ve been working hard trying to save your marriage, but your spouse has not reciprocated in the way that you hoped they would. Maybe they haven’t moved back towards you at all. Maybe they’re involved with somebody else. Or perhaps they came home, but they’re still talking to the other person. If it was not infidelity but some other reason, they get back home, and you find out that they are reverting to that same controlling person they used to be. Or they’re back into the pornography that was the big problem, gambling, or whatever it might have been. Is there ever a time when you wonder, “When should I file for divorce?”
Now, people will have different views on that based on their religious beliefs. They’ll have different opinions based on their private morality, like what they believe is right and wrong. Not necessarily what my church thinks, but what I think. Also, it can be affected by whether or not you think it’s going to do something to your kids. So there are all kinds of factors here.
We at Marriage Helper fight hard trying to help people save their marriages.
We do everything we can. But sometimes people are surprised when they look at me and say, “Okay, Dr. Beam, is there ever a time when it just has to end?” And my response is, “Of course, it’s always your decision.” I don’t tell you what to do. But can there come a time? Are there situations where that sometimes will occur? Yes. So when are those times? When do you make that decision?
Now again, we can’t give you the complicated answer of what if A happens, and B happens, and C happens, then you must divorce your spouse. We don’t talk like that. What we do is teach you principles; we provide you with things to understand and think over. Then you have to figure out how it applies to your situation. We will not tell you what to do. And many things, when it comes to relationships, are much more of an art than a science. But we wish to share some principles with you to help you understand that.
Is there ever a time to pull the plug? And if so, when?
We believe that the answer can be yes when it’s needed.
It’s peculiar how diverse people’s tolerance of pain can appear. And really, that’s what this is all about. The relationship has deteriorated to a place where one or both people do not feel loved, liked, and respected. They’re in a place where they feel frustrated, or maybe they’ve been in a holding pattern for a while. We see more and more of that with people after their kids have moved out of the house. So you’re finding where people are in pain. And we don’t want to be in pain.
The truth is, we don’t want to be in pain. We want to be out of pain. And it is counter-intuitive to endure pain for a better result. They used to have these T-shirts that said, “No pain, no gain” for a while. The most significant challenge, or one of the greatest challenges, is the pain factor.
How much can I endure? How can I comprehend this better? And part of that we just mentioned, which is using that no pain, no gain. People tend to handle pain better when they believe there’s something it will accomplish. So if I’m suffering for no good reason, then I’m more likely to abandon it, and I’m going to do something else because this hurts too much. As opposed to, this hurts, but I can see that some benefits are coming from it. So I’m going to hang in there for a while.
If you think about it, one of the principles we teach is that people don’t leave what they have unless they believe what they’re going to is better. Now, that’s not a written law anywhere. It’s not going to be in some psychology book saying this is the way that everybody has to live. It’s just a general principle of life that applies most of the time. But I have never in my lifetime seen it fail. I know there have to be exceptions, but I’ve never seen one.
Most of the time, we talk about that in terms of, “Why did your spouse leave you?” Well, because they perceive something else as being better. And how do you potentially get them back? Well, you’re going to help do things that hopefully will change their perception, so they see you as better. But in this particular article, we want to talk about it in terms of knowing whether you should pull the plug on this thing or keep standing for your marriage.
When should you leave your marriage?
We’re still too broad, and we will try to narrow this down. When would you leave your marriage? Well, it will be when you see something else as being better. Now, let me say that’s still too vague. We teach what we call the PIES, which stands for physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual attraction. A lot of us who have been through marriage problems have felt pain. And generally, the rule of thumb I use is that when something goes beyond just hurting and starts doing damage physically, intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually, that pretty well covers body, mind, heart, and soul.
If the relationship you’re in is doing you physical damage, that could be because the other person’s beating you and won’t stop, or won’t get the help they need. Or it could be because your immune system is getting screwed up from all the tension. And now your body’s beginning to malfunction. Or it could be that you can’t stop eating, and now you have problems from that, or that you can’t eat. And now you begin to get concerned about that. Or you start getting migraines you didn’t have before, and they’re just debilitating. So ask yourself, is it causing you physical damage?
And then intellectual, meaning your mind knows what you think. Is this affecting you to the point where you really can’t function well in life? You can’t hold a job; you can’t have a conversation. And I don’t mean you can’t have any dialogue, but it bothers you so much that intellectually you find yourself malfunctioning. Same with emotional. You find yourself emotionally distressed, like depression, or ultra anxiety, or mini panic attacks, one after another. Finally, spiritually, is it affecting you in your relationship about what you believe? Are your beliefs changing in a way that’s not good, affecting your morals, and how you think people should live? Now you find yourself out drinking and carousing, so you’re being spiritually damaged.
It’s important to think about this if you’re asking, “When should I file for divorce?”
You need to think about three important areas of your life. Number one is you; you’re important. Number two is if you have children or other people living in a home with you. Is it affecting them physically, intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually? And then you look at your spouse. So, for example, if your spouse hurts in some of those ways, you could help alleviate some of that by just finally setting them free, then sometimes just for the sake of the other person’s value, you do that.
Now, remember, people have different pain thresholds. I said it slightly differently when I said it’s an art; it’s not a science. But when we start looking at these situations going, okay, when do you pull the plug? These criteria I just gave, if you decided you wanted to use that, I decided that what I would go to is better than what I have. And that sometimes means just ending this so that I don’t have any more damage.
Now I understand that, and the way we teach things, divorce does not necessarily mean that the marriage is over. But you should expect it to be. What I mean is that you shouldn’t divorce thinking that it will scare the other person and they’ll shape up and come back. If you divorce, you need to divorce, believing it will be final. But, it does not necessarily mean the end.
In our coaching, it’s not uncommon for me to use the phrase, “You have to evaluate whether this is hurting you or damaging you.” Life is full of pain; you cannot be immune from pain. But pain can be beneficial at times. There are people, I can’t recall what the particular condition is, but they can’t feel pain. And they harm themselves greater in the long run by burning themselves, breaking things, and not even knowing about it. So pain can be somewhat of a positive thing.
I’m not framing your relationship that way. So we can’t protect you from pain. And you’re not going to make decisions that will keep you pain-free, even in the best relationship. It’s not going to happen. What we are trying to do, though, is to be careful about the damage part. And that damage part is the long-lasting effect of it. I talk to people often who say, “Well, she and I fight so much that we’re going to divorce because it’s hurting our kids.
When it comes to relationship-type damage, I will often tell people that they have to start looking at themselves and what’s happening over a long time. Well, people say, “I’ve decided I’m going to divorce him or divorce her.” Really? What went into that decision? “Well, they did this, or we got in a fight.” It’s a response or reaction to an event. And that’s seldom, I’m not going to say never, but it’s seldom a good reason to do that. It may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. But it’s seldom a good reason to make that decision there. Most of those people go, “Ugh, I shouldn’t have done that; I shouldn’t have said that.” Because it wasn’t how they felt, it was a response or reaction to the pain.
We don’t want to react to an event or a situation.
So what we want to do is step back from that. The pain will be there no matter what; even if you say we’re getting divorced, it’s not like you sign the papers or you file, and the pain goes away. So you’re going to step back and look at it. What’s happened to me over a while? Am I becoming bitter? Why am I becoming bitter? Am I becoming apathetic, or do I not care anymore?
There’s a principle written in a book by Suzy Welch; it’s just called 10-10-10. And in the book, she says, “When we make any decision, think about what you’ll think about this in ten days, ten months, and ten years.” And there are some people that if they thought it through, if they took their time, they’d realize that what they’re going to be thinking about this in ten months is very different than they’d be thinking about it now, or even possibly in ten days.
So, for example, if your spouse cheated, maybe the best decision is not to divorce them. You’re hurt, no doubt about it, but you’re not damaged long-term in the sense that you’re going to be physically, intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually damaged and won’t heal. And so the decision there could be wiser to say, “You did a terrible thing, and we’ve got to work through some stuff. But I’m not going to divorce you for it, even though I could if I wished.”
If it’s damaging to the kids, maybe the divorce is what you should do. But you also need to consider 10-10-10 on what kind of damage may happen to the kids if you divorce. So let’s say the husband’s beating the kids, then you need to leave. It would be best if you got away from there. You will divorce because your kids are in danger. You’re not going to let that happen. But, let’s say the kids are upset because you’re fighting right now; I get it. So, you say, “wouldn’t that be damaging them?” Yes.
But will it harm them more if you wind up divorced, living apart, and a year from now, daddy has little to nothing to do with them at all? Because the statistics in America show that one year after a divorce, 25% of American fathers have little to nothing to do with their kids. So, there are things in between divorce, like getting some help.
People often say we fight like cats and dogs, we’re terrible, and our kids shouldn’t see this. So in the workshop, people will tell me this. And I say you’re right; they shouldn’t see that. Then they say the best thing they can do is divorce. And I can almost hear the game show buzzer. No. How about quitting being mean to each other? There is a way to fight with respect; to disagree with respect; to work with each other. People do it all over the place. It isn’t an either-or; it’s a decision to build something new and different and teach our kids how to have conflict. And teach our kids how to show respect. We do two things in life: we have kids, get married, and have no prep, except for whatever demonstration we saw around us before it. That’s problematic.
Figure out how not to fight in front of the kids and do this damage. And then what have you taught the kids? People sometimes don’t get along, but they figure out how to solve their problems and be decent to each other. Whereas you fight and then you’re divorced, because you think, well, that’s better for the kids. And the kids are thinking, “Oh, what I learned about life is if you can’t get along, you move on to somebody else.” That’s why we know that statistically, and it’s not my research; there’s ample research from many universities on this, that kids whose parents divorce have much less commitment to marriage.
Think About 10-10-10
If we’re thinking about the damage to the kids, think 10-10-10. Ten days, ten months, ten years, and sometimes 30 years, 40 years for the kids.
And can I be clear about one thing? One of the more common excuses is getting a divorce for the kids. And many times, they’re younger. And what I hear from them is, “My therapist told me that kids are resilient.” And they are.
The research, though, says that’s not the truth when it comes to divorce. Now, I’m not here to argue with you. Okay? But the truth is, that is not a fact. And so, the younger the kids are during the divorce, it plants the seed and the possible predisposition to the inability to create intimate relationships.
But even as we say this, I’m admitting and agreeing that sometimes you have to divorce to protect the kids. Say some idiot is beating your kid. There was a famous case here in Tennessee a few years ago, where the minister’s wife shot her husband. And she went on trial for murder. As they went through all the things that had happened, one of the things that stood out to me in all that testimony was the fact that when he would get upset with the baby’s crying, he would place his hand over the baby’s nose and mouth so the baby couldn’t breathe.
And when finally the baby just quit crying, because now the baby’s beginning to lose functioning, he’d let the child breathe again. Now, I’m not condoning murder, okay, don’t misunderstand. And she didn’t do it while he was doing that. She walked in behind him one day and shot him with a shotgun, and she killed him.
Now, I can’t even tell you if her testimony was true or not. I’m just saying, when you read that this man threatened her child’s life because her baby couldn’t breathe, I’d say divorce might be the answer there. Get your kids away from this person, male or female, damaging the child. But let’s compare all these damages. Which does more damage?
My story is that I divorced my wife Alice back in 1984. By the grace of God, we remarried in 1987. So I’m not trying to make it sound like people who divorce are evil. I’m not trying to say that. But what gets to me is when people aren’t truthful about why they’re divorcing. They say, “I’m divorcing for the sake of my kids,” when they know good and well that the real reason they’re divorcing is that they want to do something else.
Here’s What We Say
If you’re divorcing your spouse because you want to be with somebody else, you need to rethink that. If you’re divorcing your spouse because you have to make up some excuse to do it and not be honest with yourself, then you’re probably on the wrong track. So our bottom line here is, will it be better than what you have? And if you’re not sure about that, consult some people who will help you think it through who are not just on your side no matter what.
So we talked about resisting making a decision that’s event-related. You’ve heard us say that you should try to stay in the house as much as possible and stay together. But if you do find the need to separate, that is the next step. Of course, that complicates things regarding trust and many other issues. And if separation comes into it, you’re saying, “I want to see what happens,” then commit that you will not even entertain a conversation with someone of the opposite sex.
Remember, you’re in a hurt, vulnerable place. You leave that relationship, and there will be a certain amount of relief that will be there. In ten minutes, I feel pretty good. In ten days, I feel pretty good. And then someone comes along and is kind to us and accepts us, and we begin to build affection for them. The chances of reconciliation begin to deteriorate. Even the separation deteriorates the possibilities because you get some relief.
Now is it sometimes necessary to separate? The answer is yes, it is. But what we’re trying to say is it’s not the first option. Separation is not the first option. Divorce is not the first option. Consider the other things. Sometimes is it going to happen? Yeah, sometimes it is. But I think you do better in life when you do as much of the right thing as possible, so you feel better.
And we hear that. “Hey, we came to the workshop because I want to say I’ve done everything I could do.” And I’d like to personally say this, too, if you’re listening today. If you’re at a place where you’re thinking, “I’m contemplating divorce,” I want to encourage you to give our office a call and talk to one of our client representatives; this can be life-changing for you. Why? Because we will listen and give you options to consider based on where you are, the timing, the space you’re in, and the circumstances connected with your particular relationship.
I want to encourage you to give our office a call. Let us at least help you in a couple of sessions process this and make sure that you’ve asked yourself the questions you need to ask about your family and yourself. Because you will divorce, and tomorrow my life will be fine. That doesn’t affect us. But we want to invest in you and make sure that you’ve asked yourself the questions you may not even know to ask. We want to be able to help there.
And for those of you who say, “But wait a minute, we went to a counselor or therapist, and our counselor said we should divorce.” We strongly suggest you call and talk to our coaches first. We don’t know your counselor, and we certainly can’t sit in judgment on them. But I’m just saying that sometimes it makes a whole lot more sense to talk to somebody who can ask you some questions to get you to think things through.
“Are you saying you people never tell anybody to do anything?” Only when it is something serious. We will tell people what to do when they are clearly in danger. But when it comes down to a life decision, “Should I divorce him or try to work this out?” Nobody has the right to tell you what to do. But we will give you the information you need to process it.
It’s funny; I have a couple of clients that have continued with me. I have a client that has become a friend of mine. We’ve known him for about six years. His relationship with his wife did not make it; she just said no way. And she abandoned the family and left, disappeared; those things happen. And we became friends and began to work together on those kinds of things. So you say, well, why are you telling this? Because divorce is not a death sentence.
Your relationship has the potential to be rebuilt into something beautiful, better than you can ever imagine.
Five years later, my friend is moving into a relationship in which he is strong. There’s respect, there’s love, and there’s light. Why? Because he switched zip codes or people? No, because he’s a healthy person. Even though he went through that, he was connected with a group that didn’t judge, didn’t push aside. And that’s who we are. We’re not going to judge you for where we are, where you are. We’re all a little screwed up.
I hope you understand what we’re saying here. So what happens if you want to divorce? In my opinion, I’m saying that it’s up to you. But I would think you’d like to be able to look yourself in the mirror and go, “Okay, I wasn’t perfect, but I did everything I could.”
And if the marriage winds up where it can’t make it, but you do the right things, then good things are going to come for you somewhere down the line. But, of course, I can’t promise you that you’ll get married. But I know that in life, you reap what you sow. So do the right things. And if you need to divorce, please call our client representatives and talk to them first.
We’re here for you. Our lives will have regret, but there’s something different between regretting something out of our control and regretting something that we could have influenced more. So we want to help you.
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