Deciding to stay in or leave your marriage is one of the most difficult decisions you’ll ever make.

For most of us, the decision of whether to divorce is wrapped up in guilt and fear. Fear of financial insecurity, fear of being alone, and worst of all, fear of making a mistake.

Too often when we’re agonizing over this we rely on our feelings for the answers, but unfortunately, as they say, feelings aren’t facts, and moreover our feelings are often muddy and confused — and if they were clear we wouldn’t be agonizing in the first place, would we?

So if we don’t rely on our feelings, then how do we decide?  Here are my top tips for making the most difficult decision of your life:


1.    Keep the focus on yourself. When we’re grappling with the decision of whether to divorce, it’s so tempting to want to blame the other person for all their ills and wrongdoings, but this is a huge mistake when trying to decide whether to stay or go. While most of us know that 50% of first marriages fail, what is less known is that 68% of second marriages also fail, and 74% of third marriages do too. This is because we’re not doing the necessary work on ourselves to figure out what went wrong the first time. We trade out the person, but end up making the exact same mistakes the second and third times around. So before you can get clarity on your predicament, you first need to look at yourself. What’s your attachment style? What kind of wounding or trauma do you have from your childhood (we all have something!!) that might be impacting the way you show up in relationships? How does that wounding determine the partners you choose? If your marriage is in any way abusive this isn’t an opportunity to victim-blame, but rather a way to look at where you need to heal in order to stop choosing abusive partners. If your marriage is just “fine” but you feel dissatisfied and itchy, perhaps there’s something within you that needs attention that your marriage isn’t responsible for fulfilling.

2.  Look for equal commitment to growth. We all grow and change over time. The question is, does your partner support your growth, will they join you in it, or do they feel threatened by it and attempt to block it? If you’ve asked your partner to go to therapy with you, have they gone willingly? (If a partner refuses to go to couples therapy for any reason, this should be seen as a pretty big red flag.) We don’t all grow at the same rate and in the same timeframe, so there’s no need to judge someone else’s journey (see #1 above), but marriage is no place for stagnation, and most marriages in which one partner refuses to do any personal development work will fail.

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3.    Look to your values. Values can be a pretty deep personal exploration if done right, and can lead to a lot of clarity on whether or not a partnership is a good fit. Values shouldn’t be picked off a list. Values aren’t morals or “shoulds. They’re really our personal North Star. The things that guide us from the inside out. When making the decision whether to divorce, examining your personal values becomes essential. When mining for personal values, you might look for something in the world at large that really gets under your skin. That feeling of rage or irritation might point to a value that’s being “stepped on.” For example, if you have a deep feeling of rage at certain injustices that have been perpetrated in the world in recent years, you may have a value around equality or justice or fairness. You should make it personal and name it for yourself. You might also look at a time in your life when you felt most at peace and happy. What was present at that time that you valued? Were you surrounded by people you love? Perhaps you have a value around family or togetherness or community. Or were you alone in a quiet place and time? In this case, perhaps you have a value around self-reflection or introspection or independence. Those are all different things, so dig deeply for what means the most to you. Now look at your partner. Do they share those core values? Do they support your personal values? I had a client once who had a value around personal development. Obviously, as she was working with a life coach. She was in therapy as well, read all the personal development books, and listened to all the podcasts. Her husband, on the other hand, told her he didn’t believe in any of that, and that she knew who he was when they got married 20 years ago, and he wasn’t about to change now. Take the judgement out of it, and that’s a pretty steep misalignment of personal values and that might make the marriage untenable for either partner.

4.   Get professional help. The help of a good therapist or coach (hi!) will be invaluable in your quest for clarity. Find someone who specializes in this area (again, hi!), who can guide you on an unbiased journey through your personal and relational exploration. You should look for someone with training and experience with Family Systems or Emotionally Focused Therapy. Training and understanding of the work of John Gottman and The Gottman Institute is a must. Not all therapists and coaches are created equally, so do your research and find someone good!

One of the most important questions to ask yourself at this juncture is, “Am I truly ready for answers?” Deciding whether to divorce is not easy. There is a lot of comfort in sitting on the fence. One the one hand, you don’t have to fully commit to your marriage. On the other, you don’t have to commit to leaving. But sitting on the fence also keeps you in limbo, neither in nor out of a relationship, and on either side of that fence is the opportunity for happiness and fulfillment — as long as you’re ready to find and create it for yourself.

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Kate Anthony is the host of the critically acclaimed and New York Times recommended podcast The Divorce Survival Guide Podcast and the creator of the groundbreaking online coaching program, Should I Stay or Should I Go? which helps women make the most difficult decision of their lives using coaching tools, relationship education, geeky neuroscience, community support, and deep self-work. 


Kate empowers women to find their strength, passion, and confidence even in the most disempowering of circumstances and helps them move forward with concrete plans set on a solid foundation, putting their children at the center (not in the middle) of all their decisions.


In addition to her online programs, Kate works privately with clients all over the world. 

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DISCLAIMER: The commentary, advice, and opinions from Gabrielle Hartley are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice or mental health services. You should contact an attorney and/or mental health professional in your state to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. 


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