When is it Time for a Divorce?

divorce readiness: husband looking at ring

Even if the ultimate decision has been made, you may be wondering “when is it time for a divorce?” Much like the transition to parenthood, it is rare that people are ready for a divorce. Further complicating your readiness is that your spouse if usually on a different time frame of processing and accepting the divorce, and may be acting with more or less urgency than yourself. Beyond the basic challenging logistics of setting up a new home, finances, parenting schedule, routine, etc., there are also several indicators for how psychologically and emotionally ready for divorce you may be.

When is it Time for a Divorce? Assess Your Readiness

While supporting couples through a divorce, as a family mediator, I believe it is important to assess each person’s divorce readiness through one or more of the following questions:

  • Between 0% and 100%, how certain are you that divorce is the right thing for you and your family?
  • Have you done everything you can (are willing to do) to try to salvage/repair the relationship?
  • What parts of your life do you predict will be better and worse as a result of the divorce?

My goal in asking these questions is not to imply or persuade people out of the divorce process, but to assist them in making non-reactionary decisions and reducing their ambivalence by developing more internal clarity. While nobody is ready for divorce in the most optimal way, following are some sign posts of thoughts and behaviors of healthy divorce readiness.

Signs of Divorce Non-Readiness Healthy Signs of Divorce Readiness
Unrealistic: “The quicker this is done, the sooner things can be better / back to normal.” Understands and accepts costs and challenging consequences of divorce, including potential for ongoing conflict.
Urgency: “We just need to make some quick decisions, I need to go now.” Understands importance and weight of some of the decisions, and will take time to get the best outcomes for all.
Emotional reactivity and agenda such as getting other to change, apologize, admit they were wrong, or punish them. Calm, clear and resolved about the decision itself, no need to criticize/punish the other or prove anything. (May not be calm about the settlement issues).
The desperate escape (running from pain) The vision (intentional moving towards health)
Blames other person for demise of relationship. Self-righteous. Is aware of their own regrets & contributions to the marital problems. Understands they will need to work on those regardless.
The other has no redeeming qualities, and is the cause of all my problems. The other is a good (parent, person, etc.), care about them just can’t continue to live together.
“I haven’t told them yet” or “Divorce only was mentioned during a fight”. Has clearly articulated to the other, and care-fully discussed the decision to divorce.
Wants the other person to rot in hell. Can articulate positive future hopes for both people.

Emphasize Self Compassion

Regardless of how ready for divorce you are, I urge you to have immense self-compassion for however you get through it, given the degree of crisis that divorce can create. If you are identifying with any of the above indicators of divorce “non-readiness”, this doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong. Instead, this is merely an invitation to work on shifting that mindset towards the opposite healthy divorce readiness stance represented in the above table.

Personal Growth in the Meantime

While your divorce may be inevitable, so long as you are in it, why not try to relieve some of the suffering by improving your communication and conflict skills? These skills will benefit all of your future relationships, whether with partners, family or friends. There are plenty of excellent resources, such as the conflict transformation toolkit, the Relationship Repair Game.

Take a 25-question Divorce Quiz to help you make the decision.

Read more about the decision to divorce, or warning signs that a relationship can’t be saved.

Would you like help making the decision together? Read: The Decision to Divorce: A Mediator’s Role