Knowing when to walk away from a marriage and leave your husband is at least as hard as knowing when to commit or to keep working at a relationship. Filing for divorce is a huge and difficult decision, but leaving a marriage can sometimes be the only path forward.
Divorce, for most, is the period at the end of a very long sentence. It arrives, we know, after years of frustration, communication breakdowns, resentment, and the like. But what finally brings all of that investment and effort to a clear conclusion? Why, aside from the obvious, do women want out of their marriages? When do they decide it’s not worth fighting for anymore? To find out, we asked eight women when they knew that they were ready to leave their husbands.
“It had gone way too long with nothing getting better.”
I ended up leaving after not just one pivotal thing, but all the little things that led up to it. All the arguing that couldn’t be resolved; bad behavior that couldn’t be fixed. We were at an impasse, and that was when I started to consider leaving. I heard somewhere that the average woman thinks about leaving a marriage 10 times before they actually do. Basically, it just came to a day where I knew the situation had gotten way too bad for way too long. Way too long without anything being resolved. So I decided to leave. —Colleen, 54, Washington, D.C.
“His small insults turned into abuse.”
I never wanted to get divorced. I had moments of clarity, but I shut them down. I mean, I remember one time telling my coworker who got a bouquet of flowers that that was so wonderful. She asked if I had gotten anything and I said no, but that my husband was so wonderful, every day. I didn’t mind. But I think on that now — and that was just a lie! But I needed to keep that going to help the marriage move forward. But then it got too much. His small insults turned into abuse. That’s when I gave myself mental permission to say, I’ve got to get out. I’m not going to survive this unless I get out. That’s when it all clicked and I said I’m not going to have my daughter raised in this situation. That was four and a half years into our marriage. I married really young, and there were lots of signs that I overlooked. —Liz, 54, Alaska
“When my life got tough, he didn’t step up.”
Accepting that it was over took a really long time. I probably first realized, in all honesty, two years before I filed. I started to think: maybe ’til death do us part’ doesn’t make sense. I wanted to do everything I could to save it. But at some point I realized this was the path we were probably going to go down. I was very accepting of his small flaws. But he was breaking promises. That stuff happens naturally in all marriages, but it was hard for me to gauge his level of commitment until we hit the real rough patches. For me, when there were things that came up in my life that had me at my lowest; my mom getting sick, he didn’t step up to be a partner. There was an unwillingness to change on his part. He couldn’t step up to be the partner that I needed.” —Marie, 35, New York
“He really tried. But no matter how hard he tried, I couldn’t see a future.”
I knew it was over because I lost respect for him. When we both decided to give our marriage a shot, I do believe he gave it his all. He went to counseling. He really tried. It was just that, no matter how hard he tried, I couldn’t respect him. I couldn’t see any credibility in him. I just wanted a nurturing relationship for our future family; and I wanted to show my future children that it was about respect, not just love. But no matter what he tried, it was just not happening. That’s when I knew. —Micaela, 31, California
“His entire attitude changed after we got married.”
With my first marriage, he was the father of my children. I wanted us to work through it. So time kept going and going — but I finally realized that I needed to do what I could to support my family. And, if he wanted to come along and move to New York, he could, but there wasn’t anything left between us. There had been a lot of lies. That wasn’t the kind of family unit that I wanted. My oldest was 4 and my youngest was 18 months, but by the time that my youngest was 16 or 17 months old, I knew that something had to be done. I made arrangements. I got on a plane with my sons, my suitcases, a couple of hundred dollars. With my second marriage, I think I knew it was over probably within a year of the marriage beginning. His entire attitude changed. I had gone into it wanting it to work. It had taken me so long to remarry. I thought I had made the right choice. I went into it thinking my eyes were wide open and really I thought it was going to be a lifetime event. I had finally had enough. I knew marriage was a lot of work — but he broke the camel’s back. And that was it. —Sylvia, 67, Connecticut
“I felt like I was single.”
Looking back, there were warning signs way early in the relationship. But then we had kids, and kids take over your life. Kids are able to mask a lack of intimacy and emotional connection. At some point, a friend of mine and I had hatched a plan. Seven years before we separated, I already knew that we were going to separate — it was just a matter of time, even though we’d never had the conversation. I think the actual tipping point for me was that I had gone with a friend to visit some other friends in Florida, in December. My girlfriend had a bunch of people over, including some single men. Everybody else was single except for me. I was the only one who was married. But you wouldn’t have known it. Everybody treated me as if I was single. I felt as if I was single. That was really my tipping point. I felt like, oh wow, I need to make this the reality. —Xanet, 58, California
“He only decided to give sobriety a try after he realized I was going to leave him.”
He was sober when we got married. I knew. He had told me he was an alcoholic. He was sober for years. And then he started drinking again. So it was really slow, because I was trying to help him get sober. I knew he could do this and I thought we could work together and make it happen. He saw me pulling away and that was when he started deciding to be sober. It just didn’t feel genuine. Things got more volatile between us. It felt like there was a lot more yelling. We were always fighting. I wasn’t happy when he came home. I remembered what it was like to be excited. He traveled a lot for work. I’d be like, yay, he’s coming home! But it got to the point where I’d be disappointed if he was home a bit early. That was a big sign for me. I worked to try to overcome it, but there were just too many things going on. —Amy, 41, Virginia
“There was always this time we were going to get to where our marriage would be different.”
I had been thinking off and on for five years. We talked about it, and I said I was going to go to Tulum for a while, and see what that was like. I honestly didn’t immediately think “divorce,” at least not at that point. I thought we would separate and then see how it goes. Divorce only came up in the last few months; I knew we were not getting back together. We were inherently two different people; that was always true from the beginning. He’s a good man. But we were just no longer meant to be together. There was just a disconnect; there was always this time we were going to get to where our marriage was going to be different. That time was never real. It was an illusion. —Amy, 49, Mexico