How do you end a marriage with integrity?
What if you are currently married and after much internal conflict and many sleepless nights realize you need to separate and eventually divorce? Is there a way to do it with respect, honoring your partner and your history in a way that says more than just, “Sorry, I want out”?
There are three parts to this ending. First, the emotional end of a marriage. We believe that the emotional covenant made between two people, an implicit monogamy agreement, the promise that we make to love one another forever, can be broken simply by one person’s feelings changing. However, just one of you may have broken the emotional bond between you — the other may not have. Usually couples are in two totally different places when it comes to divorce. One is ready to leave, the other is still in love.
Second, there is still that legal contract that must be dissolved. The explicit monogamy agreement needs to be honored in a more transparent way. This is a signed, stamped, filed agreement that was made in front of family and friends and binds you legally. At least until you pay a mediator, collaborative attorney or a divorce lawyer to get you out of it.
And third, there is a deeper issue. Marriage is a spiritual contract that for some extends back many lifetimes, or on a deeper plane than what can be seen on a physical level. For others there is a karmic commitment to the relationship that can’t be broken just because partner declares, “I want to be free now.”
This deeper story and meaning inside a marriage can actually keep many couples from disconnecting with integrity.
Some think that it is the spiritual bond that keeps the marriage together. But it can be the one thing that holds partners back from ending a marriage in a clear and transparent way, as they avoid the more serious conversations about the real ties that need to be unbound. There is a deeper conversation that couples avoid when they want to end the marriage; the grieving of the vision that they held of the lifetime connection that at one time seemed magical and beyond explainable. This may seem overwhelming or too esoteric to approach.
With these deep issues to think about and all of the other bonds that bind a couple, there are many questions to ask if you are thinking of ending your marriage. Ending a marriage with intention is crucial to do if you want to inflict the least amount of collateral damage on your children. Protecting them from excess emotional wounding is important for them but also for you and their other parent. Before you act impulsively, ask yourself some hard questions first.
Below are a series of things to think about to help you with your decision. Once you confirm that you do want to divorce, there are things you can do that can help you to end the relationship with integrity. Keeping your self-respect intact will protect both you and your family from the emotional chaos that an unconscious divorce can cause.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Do I need to establish a full and enriching life outside of my marriage?
- Am I being swept up in the excitement of an affair?
- Do I rely on regular communication with my partner by texting, emailing and/or calling them several times a day?
- Is our sex life regular and satisfying and do we talk about our fantasies openly?
- Does my partner tell me that they love me?
- Do you compare other men or women to your wife or husband?
- Do you threaten to leave the marriage when you argue?
- Have you tried to go to couple’s counseling more than three times without finding help for your marriage?
- Are you ready to leave and have a contingency plan already mapped out?
If you answered YES to numbers 1 through 5, you may want to consider the possibility that your marriage is stronger than you think. Some couple’s counseling may help. You may also benefit from a counselor who can help you with the intentional divorce process if you decide to continue.
Reasons to end your marriage with integrity:
If you answered YES to question 5 through 10 and feel you are ready to walk away, you can still end your marriage with integrity. If you feel it’s time to end your commitment, take some time to do it right. Don’t underestimate the impact you will make on someone else’s life. Your partner deserves to be treated with respect. You were involved in their life and got them involved in yours. The first step is to end things in a mature, healthy way.
Rules of Disengagement:
- If you don’t end it well, you may jeopardize the new relationship you can have for the future, if you are co-parenting.
- If you don’t do this with integrity and respect, you could potentially hurt your partner’s feelings, which could mean they may want to hurt yours in order to find closure for the divorce. The process could drag on for a lifetime. Neither of you will find emotional satisfaction and you may be unequipped then to provide for your children.
- Some partners who feel disrespected may create more chaos in the divorce, complicating the legal process and dragging it on, making your financial pressures greater for both of you now and in the future.
- Be clear. Make sure you are clear that you want to end the marriage. If you have not tried to go to counseling, let your partner know that you are not interested in pursuing continued therapy. If you want to try one more time, be specific about what you will or will not do. For instance, if you are willing totry six sessions, stay with the treatment for the whole six hours.
- Set boundaries. Try to maintain a “light and polite” relationship, avoid personal discussions where sharing feelings may trigger arguments.
- Make amends. Tell them you are sorry for hurting them, leading them on, or getting them into this mess in the first place.
- Show empathy. Try to relate to how they are feeling, and take responsibility for your part in the marriage ending in this way.
- Admit Ambivalence. Make it clear to them that you have to end the relationship, although you may have regrets and even second thoughts at times.
- Thank them. If you feel it, thank them for all that they have shared with you. Appreciate what you have gotten from the marriage from one another. Don’t let a divorce lead you to rewrite the whole history of your years together. There were many good parts along the way.
- Share priorities. Let them know that you are working on an intentional divorce and that your relationship with your children is your priority. This will let your partner know that you are not setting out to devastate them legally, emotionally or financially.
- Be patient. Your partner is still catching up. You are way ahead. Let them have their feelings; you may have already had these same emotions and gotten past them and even healed long ago.
- Grieve. You may have had a fantasy that the marriage would work out better than it did. You now have to grieve that possibility.
- Guilt. The guilt and remorse over hurting your spouse may at times be very intense. Bringing all of yourself into your grief is actually the best way to move on with your future.
- Vision. Sit down and think about what you want for your future. If you have children, create a vision together of what that would look like and what it will take to make it work.
- Get Help. Most importantly, you can’t go through this alone. Get a therapist, find a support group.