The New York Times has an 11-point list of questions to ask yourself to see if you’ve done everything you can to save your marriage. I coach a lot of people who are thinking about getting a divorce. Almost everyone feels that their spouse is impossible, unresponsive, and/or doesn’t care about the issues at hand.
The biggest problem with divorce is that people who struggle with money divorce the most, but people who don’t struggle with money are the people who have a better life after divorce; and it’s almost always the men in one way or another.
So what’s the best way to know if you’ll benefit from divorce? Think about divorce in terms of what life will be like after the divorce. Because the reasons divorce is a bad idea, besides being terrible for the kids, is that unless you are a high earner, you have little ability to control what happens after divorce.
When you imagine your life after divorce, consider these things:
1. Your standard of living will plummet. The person who earns the money will have to give up half in order to keep both parents at the same income bracket. That is what the courts order. If you are the breadwinner in the marriage, you will be supporting your ex (and their new significant other) in a new house. And if you are the non-breadwinner of the marriage, your income will plummet, and you will probably have to get a job (and trust me, the jobs you can do while your kids are in school are awful.)
2. You will lose your kids 50% of the time. Just like you shouldn’t bet your money unless you can afford to lose it, you shouldn’t ask for a divorce unless you can handle losing your kids for 50% of the time. Your spouse will likely ask for more and more time with the kids. It may be because of social pressure, or to make your life miserable, or because the spouse really wants the kids, but regardless of motivation, courts generally give 50% time to each parent if they want it. Even after the parent has abused the kids.
3. You will lose your friends. All the friends you have who are couples will fall off the radar. It’s not on purpose. But people like to be friends with people who are like them. And now you have a whole new set of issues to deal with. None of which are trying to make a marriage work. Also, people are friends with people in their income bracket, and after a divorce you end up in a completely new socioeconomic arena. Also, it’s hard to be friends with people who have kids when you are single 50% of the time. And it’s hard to be friends with single people because you have kids.
4. Your spouse will remarry and the new spouse will care for your kids. You might not like how your current spouse takes care of your kids, but at least you have influence. Your spouse can remarry, and give your kids to their new spouse to raise for 50% of the time. There is nothing illegal about that, and your kids will put up with it because kids want to see their parents.
5. Divorce agreements are not enforceable. I mean, they are, but you have to go to court each time. With a lawyer. That costs time and money, and in the meantime, you are in limbo. So only rich people enforce divorce agreements. Other people deal with the fact that their spouse is doing what they want, not what is in the agreement. So instead of assuming you will get court orders for everything, assume you will negotiate with your spouse every week until your kids are out of college.
Exceptionalism may be your biggest problem
I have found that most people considering divorce do a lot of research but they suffer from exceptionalism. They think their partner is more terrible, or more impossible, or more uncaring about the kids than the typical spouse. But it’s statistically unlikely that your spouse is that different from every other spouse, and statistically you likely have confirmation bias.
Unless you want to give up your kids when you give up your marriage, you will always be involved very closely with the other parent of your kids. And you will have less control over that involvement after a divorce.
A better solution than divorce is understanding why you chose to have kids with that person in the first place. The more you understand your own impulses the more you can manage yourself from inside the marriage, and that will make a good deal of difference.
People who have good impulse control do better in life than everyone else. Here’s the research. And divorce is a great example of this. If you stay married you will be better off in the long run.