How do I know when it’s time to divorce?

By: Jan Rakoff

Writer Judith Viorst said, “One advantage of marriage is that, when you fall out of love with him or he falls out of love with you, it keeps you together until you fall in again.” It is true that marriages and relationships have many cycles, just like the garden. Relationships spring to life, flourish and bear fruit, die down, go to seed and then go dormant for a season before they begin the cycle with new life once again.1 This happens repeatedly over the life cycle of a relationship. But, also like a garden, there may come a time when the matrix of the relationship has become exhausted of nutrients. No matter how much you toil at it and work it your efforts may not be rewarded.

There is no one answer to your question, but there are certainly some indicators to watch for. One indicator that the garden of the relationship has met its final cycle is the noticeable lack of warmth, connection, and empathy in one or both directions.

Has your mate lost the ability to treat you with love and respect, empathy and kindness — Or vice versa? If you stay in such a situation unchecked could you be teaching your mate to further disrespect you? Even more concerning, are you demonstrating to your own spirit that you do not respect yourself? Marriage is not intended to legalize abuse or to sanction suffering, though it could be argued that it sometimes seems to work out that way. If you would not put up with bad treatment from a stranger why would you tolerate it from the person who is ostensibly closest to you? The answer to that question may be illuminating.

I would like to be able to say that it is almost impossible to stay in a dead relationship but sadly that is not the case. Many people stay on long after the hope of renewal has vanished. When people stay in situations where they are no longer nourished it tends to be because they have struck some kind of a bargain in life – a tradeoff – possibly unspoken or even unconscious. Maybe they stay on for financial security, for the sake of the children, to avoid the loss of a social context where a break-up would make them a third wheel, or they choose “the devil they know” over the fear of the unknown. There is a myriad of reasons why people choose to stay in loveless relationships.

In truth, only you can discover the answer to your question. If you can begin to see your quest for resolution as yet another piece of your greater sacred journey then you can find meaning, growth and transformation no matter what your relationship status.

Talking to a therapist individually or with your partner can be enormously helpful to determine if there is a way to “save” the marriage. If children are involved, seeking professional advice is very useful to facilitate an arrangement of co-parenting in a healthy manner.  Call me at 858-481-0425 for more info.

1See “La Calavera,” a wonderful story about the cycles of life and relationship, in “Theatre of the Imagination, Vol. I” by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, published by

Copyright ©2012 Jan Rakoff, LCSW. All Rights Reserved.

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