The decision to end a marriage is not any easy one. We can become obsessed with saving the relationship. To that end, we may have seen numerous counselors, martial therapists, physicians, and clergy. We have gone to seers, had our cards read, had our astrology charts done. We have read volumes of self-help books. Now we are exhausted and may feel utter despair. “When,” we ask, “is it okay to say this marriage is over?”

       Without even realizing it, most women take half the life of the relationship to make the decision without even realizing it. For example, ask a woman who was married twenty years, she would probably say she has been unhappy for about ten years. Ask yourself how long you have been unhappy and you will probably realize that you have been struggling in your marriage for longer than you even thought.

       The opinions of others can shake our confidence in our decision. “You always seemed so happy” can fill us with doubt. Why is it that we are so quick to take an outsider’s perspective of our marriage? They weren’t the ones living in it day to day! This ease with which we surrender our personal power may be due in part, to the way we were raised. We were taught to compromise and sacrifice for the good of our children, our parents, our co-workers. It is a trait often admired by the culture because it makes us compliant and, therefore, malleable. But does it help us like ourselves? What about the need to honor our own opinion?

       When facing any life changing decision, we experience a hefty amount of anxiety and even terror. We fear the unknown- How will I manage to plow the driveway? Can I handle the finances? I have never lived alone. Will I feel safe? Will I love again? These fears are related to our own insecurities regarding our abilities. Furthermore, we are not actually objective when it comes to our own capabilities! This is especially true when your partner has reinforced your feeling of incompetence or weakness. Ironically, you probably aren’t aware of how much strength and competence it takes to stay in an unhappy relationship! Many women report that when they do leave, yes, there are “things to take care of” but the absence of stress and the newly arrived sense of peace simply amazes them.

       Nobody wants to divorce. We long to be happy in our relationships. The Dalai Lama points out in The Art of Happiness, that we often confuse pleasure with happiness. Pleasure comes from immediate gratification, such as that extra piece of cheesecake, a new outfit, a winning lotto ticket, drugs, alcohol or great sex. Although these things provide a quick “high,” the feeling doesn’t last. Happiness is not achieved through ingesting or acquiring. It is a state of being that comes from living one’s life in a way that is congruent with one’s belief system.

       It is not surprising that many women in unhappy marriages find pleasure in food, shopping, alcohol or affairs. They are seeking an outlet for their sorrow, trying to put a Band-Aid on a bigger problem. Often when they divorce, the weight comes off without effort, and the abuse of money and substances ceases.

       When you think about your own journey, consider not only in your marriage but your other relationships, perhaps in your professional life or with a friendship gone sour,  and you will realize how long you really have been struggling. Trust your gut instinct. It will tell you when enough is enough!


Adapted from Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce. © Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC 2005, 2009 ,2011.



  1. Ann on the 16. Jan, 2011 remarked #

    I think you wrote this for me, Donna. You have such a clear way of putting things in prospective. Thank you.

  2. Cindy on the 16. Jan, 2011 remarked #

    I’ve not been married but have been in long term relatioships. I definitely don’t listen to my gut. Always, I should have left sooner than I did and it’s always because of fear. I tend to be a love addict and loosing an established relationship sends us love addicts into our abandonment issues from childhood. A great book on this is called “Facing Love Addiction” by Pia Melody.

  3. Peggy on the 16. Jan, 2011 remarked #

    Hi Donna,

    I would love to connect with you. You’d be a perfect guest for my radio show!


  4. Michele on the 16. Jan, 2011 remarked #

    Everything you said is so true, Donna. Ending a bad relationship does bring peace. And when my girls and I started to tackle shoveling our driveway last week, a neighbor showed up to do it all for us! We put up the Christmas tree all by ourselves, feeling a great sense of satisfaction. And as for finances, it’s a relief to be in control of this area. Thank you, Donna.

  5. Michelle on the 17. Jan, 2011 remarked #

    I was married for 22 years and not completely happy with the relationship for around the last 11 years – after his affair. I stayed for the reasons you mentioned: upbringing, friends, family. However, I was always waiting for the ‘other shoe to drop’ and never felt at ease. After I left those scary things did show up, especially the financial stresses. But, so far, I’m making it and tomorrow I start school to finish my bachelor’s degree, then on to PA school. I’m re-opening doors that I thought were closed when I married at a young age. I’m getting stronger every day and soon that “scared little girl” that exists inside of me will be gone, or at least a small enough part of me that she won’t even be heard.

  6. Barb on the 17. Jan, 2011 remarked #

    As usual, I connect so closely with your writings. I was one of those women who held on for dear life, when clearly it was only hurting me and others so much more. If only I could do one more thing, do it differently, better, that would be the key to keeping my life intact…….so much of it was not about me fixing the marriage, the relationship, the person but the crux of the problem was needing to “fix me”. It took two marriages to the same man and another marriage to a different man (but really, just another face of the “same man”) to become ready to face my own fears. For me abondonment was huge….when another relationship presented itself…looking as if it was the real thing…this helped me leave behind the other relationship, only to find it was the same relationship…just different circumstances/issues. Having to face my own demons and feel the pain allowed me to move through not around. This took many tries and many years. I can now say that I am free and have more peace in my life than I ever thought possible. I have worked very hard, spent many hours in counseling and groups and have done extensive reading. I could not have done it without all of the support I had through these venues. Even my attorneys taught me how to stand up for myself. There were times when I disagreed with the path they were taking me on and I was able to recognize this and say “no”. I learned to trust my gut, which I would always question in the past. I have learned to love and forgive myself. Living alone and making choices that are good for me, about me, has led me to a new career and the ability to support myself without leaning on anyone else. I don’t think about having a relationship now. I don’t have the time. Maybe in the future….I trust that I am where I am supposed to be.

  7. Laurie on the 19. Jan, 2011 remarked #

    That gut, yes very hard to learn to listen to, but once you learn it is so liberating! I am still learning, one life experience at a time…

  8. barry on the 19. Jan, 2011 remarked #

    I know that I am in a distinct minority in here… In reading the comments contained herein I see many similarities to my own life….I am trying to relate to what my former wife has told me…. she felt many of the same emotions that your other writers feel/felt; she felt the need to continue the relationship for the same reasons, save the child-rearing, we had none. She felt the same fears and was not able to “trust her gut”. She ultimately felt a need to just be on her own, and although she is still with her lover (which ended the marriage) she is not living with him and is for the first time in her life, “on her own”. This was an over-riding need that she had expressed to me after the affair. I believe that she too can at last say that she is free and has peace in her life.

    • admin on the 19. Jan, 2011 remarked #

      Thanks for your comments. I appreciate having the man’s perspective(as I am sure other women do!) and hope other men feel free to comment as well.

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