We all know that relationships need nurturing to make them last but how do you know you’ve reached the point when no amount of care will make the relationship right? When is enough, enough? When things are not going to change for the better?
The decision to end a marriage is rarely easy – most people with whom I’ve talked, agonize over this for months, sometimes years. No one wants to make the wrong choice or make the decision for the wrong reason.
In this latest Conversations About Divorce, I’m talking about how to know it’s time to end your marriage with Jed Diamond – one the world’s leading experts on mid-life relationships and author of The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why the Best is Still to Come. Listen here or keep reading …
Endings Can Be A Stage
Diamond has identified five stages in a relationship:
- Falling in love
- Deepening marriage
- Real lasting love
- Making the world better
Diamond says that people often confuse the transition from one stage to another to be an ending and it’s important to “recognize that it takes an ending for a relationship to come back together.”
We tend to have a movie view of love: boy meets girl, they fall in love and live happily ever after. Diamond says what’s more realistic is something more of a hero’s journey, a vision quest that encounters demons and dragons along the way. Seeing marriage like this, helps us to realize that if the relationship isn’t going well, it doesn’t have to mean that it’s over.
The third stage of disillusionment is particularly treacherous however, and marriages often end here. People fall into the trap of believing they’re incompatible when the true cause of the friction can be traced back to untreated hurts from the family of origin.
Sometimes There’s No Choice
One of the most challenging situations for people evaluating their marriage is when their spouse is sick. And Diamond says there really isn’t that much difference between physical illness and mental illness because mental illnesses often have a physical component to them.
With a partner who’s sick, there’s often tremendous guilt, even for considering divorce. This comes from recognizing that their partner is less able and maybe at a disadvantage and yet the relationship is miserable, even destructive.
Diamond says, “Sometimes you have to leave to take care of yourself, your family, and ultimately for the person themselves. Sometimes, leaving is what allows the person to really get how difficult the situation is and the impetus to get help for themselves.”
The Change Starts With You
Diamond says, “Too many marriages come apart that could be saved because people don’t understand what’s really going on and how to treat it.”
The trap we fall into is wanting our spouse to change and willing them to make the change. This approach can lead to entrenched resistance to the change. Diamond says, it’s counter-intuitive but “the change that is going to make things better is going to come from you. Often that is what will trigger a change in the other person.”
Of course, there’s no guarantee that the change you make will save your relationship. Your spouse may still be resistant and unwilling to change and that could indicate that your relationship is beyond repair.
Confront The Crisis
We all face crises or difficult situations from time and for many of us, the natural reaction is to want it to just be over. That may not be best approach to help your relationship. Diamond suggests asking instead, “What’s the message in the crisis? What is this asking of me, what is this showing me that I haven’t been willing to see?”
This perspective often allows people to break free from the relationship dynamics that have kept them locked in.
Similar to Diamond’s advice, when I’m facing challenges, situations I wish weren’t happening, I now tell myself that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be and that the universe is pushing me to learn something I need to know. The challenge of course, is that rational me is not always the one who’s speaking the loudest.
Dealing With Domestic Abuse
Domestic abuse in the form of physical violence is apparent even though victims may deny it or discount it. It is one of Diamond’s indicators that the relationship is beyond repair. What violence shows is that the person has lost the ability to be caring and compassionate and is being hurtful.
Less obvious than physical abuse is emotional abuse. It’s not so easy for third parties to spot and even victims may endure it for many years before coming to realize that what’s going on is abuse. Such behavior destroys emotional intimacy, another indicator that the relationship is beyond repair.
No Sex Always Means Something
Not having sex is a common complaint from people considering divorce and it’s not a gender issue. I hear it from as many women as from men. Diamond and I agree that “being too tired” is a code phrase for something else. It could be that the person is truly working too hard, it could be that they are no longer sexually attracted, it could be a physical problem, it could be pain on intercourse, it could be anything.
It is clear though, that not having sex always means something. However, Diamond says that most times people don’t know the true reason. That could be buried in their subconsciousness. It’s not likely to resolve itself and left unresolved, it becomes a barrier to intimacy in general – another relationship killer.
I Love You But …
I’ve often thought that when people say, “I love you but I’m not in love with you,” they’re trying to let their partner down gently. It seems kinder than saying, “I don’t love you anymore.”
Diamond’s take is that the “in love” is a remembrance of the early stages of the relationship when the sexual energy was high and when you couldn’t wait to see each other. The “I love you but” is a sense that the passion has gone.
According to Diamond, research now tells us that love is an active engagement. It needs to happen regularly and just as we need to eat all the time, there has to be a constant exchange of intimacies.
This “I love you but” is an indicator that you’re in the disillusionment stage and rather than an indicator of the relationship being past repair, it is invitation to go deeper. It’s the gateway to the real lasting love that is better than the first two stages.
And how does Diamond know this? Because he’s lived it. “I was a counselor. I thought I should be able to work things out and my relationship shouldn’t end but it did, twice and I had to do some real soul-searching.” Diamond is now married for a third time and they’ve been together now for 37 years.
Jed Diamond is one of the world’s leading experts on mid-life relationships and the author of The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why the Best is Still to Come. Contact Jed via email at firstname.lastname@example.org to get his 10 indicators of when a relationship is beyond repair and guidance on how to work through the disillusionment stage of a relationship.