As a divorce attorney, I’m often asked, “How do you know a marriage is over? How do you know when it’s time to get divorced ” I wish there were a simple answer to that question, and the truth is that only you can know when you are officially “done”, but a good litmus test is one I heard the other day: “You know you want to get divorced when you would rather be alone forever than stay married.”
It’s an important part of the answer “be alone forever” because many people think that they will get divorced and then, standing right outside their door waiting for them, will be their Prince or Princess Charming with an armful of flowers with an expression that says “Finally! I’ve been waiting for such a long time! Now we can ride off into the sunset together and live happily ever after.” I say this, not to make light of the situation, but to make sure that people understand that getting divorced does not guarantee that you will find love again. Ever. It doesn’t mean that there is someone better waiting for you down the road, it doesn’t mean that all your problems are solved and that all of your dreams will suddenly come true; instead getting divorced means getting rid of an anchor that is tethering your ship where the seas are no longer friendly. It means taking your life and deciding that where you are is not where you want to be, and being anywhere but here is better than sticking it out. Getting divorced means choosing to live your life alone; no longer with this person, no longer with the same reality. Getting divorced means deciding that you would rather weather whatever storm comes your way on your own, instead of in partnership with your spouse.
It’s not an easy decision. When put this way, some people may say, “I’m not ready to give up yet. I’m not ready to choose a life completely on my own, without my spouse. I’m not ready to say good-bye to what I know in exchange for the uncertainty of a future by myself.” I will tell you, though, that most people, when they come to see me in my office, almost always choose to be alone. Almost inevitably, if your marriage has gotten to the point where consulting a divorce attorney is the next step, you would rather take your chances alone than stay in your marriage.
I often describe the feeling of getting divorced as both exhilarating and terrifying. A marriage that is not working is a constant weight on your shoulders. You can feel a knot in your stomach each time you come home. You can feel the tension set in the moment you are both in the same room. Looking into the other person’s eyes no longer offers you comfort, but instead looks like failure. A failing marriage is demoralizing and draining and despondent. A person you thought you would love forever no longer seems to be your partner and suddenly looks like an enemy. A marriage that is ending is unbelievably and undeniably heartbreaking. The acceptance of a failed marriage is terribly sad, and yet, the end of that marriage, the end of those feelings, the acceptance of this failure of love and the removal of that weight, makes you sigh with relief.
And then the uncertainty of your future sets in. You can feel like a ship lost at sea, but all is not lost. You have chosen yourself and your future. You have chosen hope that being on your own will allow you the freedom and happiness you did not have when tethered to another. You are able to make decisions that are in your family’s best interest, as you decide them to be. Being divorced may mean that you are alone, but it also means you have hope: hope that true love will find you, hope that your future will be guided by your own best motivations, hope that being alone sets you free to choose your life and your path. Being alone and being divorced is frightening but it’s also freedom. And only you and only fate and only your next decision about where to turn loom on the horizon.