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How to know when it's really time to leave your marriage

Michela Montgomery graduated with her B.A. in Creative Writing from California State University, Long Beach. Although born and raised in California, Ms. Montgomery considers Boston her second home. She enjoys singing, dancing, yoga, co...

There is a simple way to know when it's time to get divorced

I was eleven years old when I was invited to an elderly neighbor’s house for tea. My mother dressed me in the nicest outfit I had for the occasion and made sure I knew enough etiquette to get through the event without embarrassing myself (or her).

As she buttoned the collar of my crisp white shirt I asked her, “How do I tell Mrs. Kinsey if I don’t want any more tea?

My mother smiled and smoothed the ribbon in my hair. “Honey, when you don’t want any more, just lay your hand gently over your cup and tell her you’ve had enough.”

Twenty-five years later, I sat in my car and sobbed into my cell phone, “Mom, I’m done. I’ve had enough. We’re getting a divorce.”

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re going through a crisis in your own relationship or marriage that makes you question if you, too have had ‘enough.' But if you’re like most women, you’re also wondering when ‘enough' is… enough. Millions of thoughts and doubts roll through your mind, questions on whether you’ve given it a fair chance, if you’ve tried everything and finally what will happen once you make that decision.

If you’re like me, you poured over the internet and self-help books looking for answers. Maybe you’ve sought help from a marriage counselor (or in my case, six of them.) Finally, you’ve likely solicited advice from those close to you: friends, family, even co-workers. I’m here to tell you that all of the advice, counseling and books in the world will not answer the question for you of when is the right time to leave. But there is, in fact, a ‘right time.’ Yes, it’s different for everyone and only you know when that time comes. How do you know?

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Four years before my marriage actually ended, I told my husband I wanted a divorce. We had stopped having sex, he had begun hiding things like his cell phone bill and pay stubs and neither of us were happy. But as we discussed the details of the actual process of divorcing each other, fear set in. I began to wonder if I’d done enough to save my marriage.

Had I truly exhausted every single means available to me? I knew my husband wasn’t going to seek out new or inventive ways to save our marriage his ambivalence to saving our marriage was the same as his ambivalence to ending it. I had heard lots of stories of women who tried “one last thing” to save their marriages and it ended up working. For the sake of my vows, for the sake of my children, I had to give it everything I had.

This would be a great story if I could tell you that anything I tried within the next four years helped even a little. Sadly, most of it failed miserably and sent me further down the rabbit hole of despair. What it did accomplish was the peace of mind in knowing that, when I did finally walk away, I had exhausted every idea and resource available to me.

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Four years of crying myself to sleep, endless self-help books, hiding the reality from neighbors and relatives, long talks that ended only in tears or fights and all of it did not help to save our sinking ship.

If you are sitting, reading this now, ask yourself this one critical question:  “If I walk away now, will I have regret over what I have left undone?”  If the answer is yes, then it might not be time to leave. (Unless we’re talking about an abusive relationship, and then it’s always best to leave as soon as possible.)  If there is still some doubt in your mind that divorcing is the right thing to do, then you still have options. If you are sitting, thinking only of how hard it will be, how much you don’t want to divorce, how hard it will be on your children/friends/family/work…that’s different.

Yes, it will be hard/painful/scary at times. But the good news is that it will end the constant pain/fear/rejection that you face every day in your marriage.

Reading this, you’re likely hoping I’ll tell you the magic formula to knowing the right time. And I will… sort of. The right time is when you’ve finally, completely and inexorably had enough. Enough crying, pain, yelling, whatever has been filling your days and nights in the last few weeks, months or years of your marriage. And somehow, when you finally get to that point, I want to you go somewhere quiet and say it out loud to yourself. “I’m done. I’ve had enough.”  And then mean it. If that phrase feels like a release, then you know it’s time.

My best friend once told me that the only things that haunt you from a marriage are the regrets of things not done. Now, there are two schools of thought on this because my other good friend Leisl takes a harder line on divorce. She comes from a more hard knocks approach. She once told me that she knew it was time to go when she found herself thinking about ways to leave her ex every single day. She didn’t continue to try to save her marriage because she knew in her heart that none of those things would work. If this sounds more like you, and you know in your heart that all the divorce articles in the world aren’t going to bail out the hole in your ship, then you know you’ve had enough.

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The initial shock will wear off like the buzz from a cosmopolitan. But let me assure you, after the shock, grief will come, and then relief. There is sadness because it’s an end, a death of something amazing you once shared with someone who held your closest secrets. But it’s a release because of the enormous amount of effort it has taken to hold something that’s crumbling together for that long.

Whether you’ve been fighting for a year or ten years, eventually you will reach a limit. Everyone does. And when that time comes, place your hand carefully over your cup, smile and say, “I’m done. I’ve had enough.”

This post was originally published on BlogHer.

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