Divorce is one of the most difficult decisions anyone can face, and whether you heal a marriage or build a better single life, it’s a process – a difficult one. Since there’s no answer for everyone (and you can’t find it in an Am I ready for Divorce Quiz), AskFlossie reached out to nine women to discuss how they thought about divorce, how they knew it was time, how they found the courage to leave and how it improved their lives.
Why? Because the foundation of financial health is the emotional work.
Check out Part Two of this series: How to Leave Your Husband – Money Lessons From Nine Women
(Trigger warning: Domestic and spousal abuse discussed)
Intuition and feelings are even more powerful than active thought, and for many women are the very beginning of the path to divorce.
Erin, who experienced divorce in her 30s and went on to build a blended family through remarriage, started contemplating divorce when her negative feelings for her spouse never subsided. “It became clear that this was not a phase or a rough patch. I had lost respect for him… Most importantly, I began feeling fearful that our toddler son would grow up in his likeness.”
Becca experienced abuse in her marriage, but escaped with her children and went on to advocate for single mothers at RockStarMums. For her, contemplating divorce meant tuning in to her own feelings about whether she was in a healthy relationship. “Communication was failing. Understanding and any compassion were slowly deteriorating. The marriage started to feel like a responsibility instead of a joyful commitment between two people.”
Thinking about divorce
Despite the intuition, for some women, the thought of divorce never enters their minds – even when they’re unhappy in their marriage. For others, it’s a constant nagging feeling they can’t shake. You can feel like a blender, and it’s hard to remember that you control your future, and thinking about divorce does not write your future in stone.
Caroline Strawson, a trauma coach and psychologist who experienced an acrimonious divorce, recommends that women set the cadence. “Take back control and move forward at your own pace and don’t feel rushed into anything.”
Is divorce inevitable in a failing marriage?
The majority of people who separate do go on to divorce, but not all. According to LegalJobs, “91% of white women who are separated will divorce within three years, but this figure drops to 77% for Hispanic women and 67% for African-American women.”
Divorce coach and relationship expert Claire Black emphasizes the divorce process is not the same for everyone. “Sometimes the decision is made slowly over time, with a slow build-up of pressure, and sometimes there is a ‘lightbulb moment’ when everything changes.”
Should I leave My Husband?
For some women in an unhappy marriage, the answer to “should I leave my husband?” was illuminated by lightning.
Clear Sign: Partner Abuse and Domestic Violence
“The abuse never stopped, and the children started to wonder what was going on,” shared Becca, now a single mom of two.
Similarly, Dawn went on to pursue alternative medicine and help other women build separate lives, after experiencing domestic violence. “I knew I was ready for a divorce when my husband had his hands around my neck in front of my children.”
If you are experiencing domestic violence or abuse, we encourage you to get help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 (800-799-7233) and can provide you with immediate assistance and resources in your area.
Common Signs: Slowly Unravelling an Unhappy Marriage
For other women, thinking about divorce was less explosive. Everyone hopes for a healthy marriage, but it’s not always possible.
Maria, who divorced several years ago and went on to found her own tech company, had a more gradual divorce process. “I knew I was ready for a divorce when my marriage had not changed or progressed for quite some time. I found that we were arguing over finances, the children and everyday household things that every married couple goes through.”
Linda, who survived seven years of divorce proceedings and a long time in an unhappy marriage, is now living her best life in her fifties. She reminds women it’s okay to ignore even family members. “Shut off the noise of other people’s opinions. If I had listened to the advice of my sisters or even my mother, I’d still be in a tumultuous marriage out of sheer fear. Just remember that not everyone can understand exactly what you’re going through.”
How to Divorce Someone You Love
Aside from fears about money, many women feel conflicted about whether to divorce or stay married to someone they love, even if the marriage is broken. As Caroline Strawson points out, it is a grief process similar to losing a loved one.
“Whether your divorce is acrimonious like mine was or even amicable, there is a process that you go through. Divorce is classified as one of life’s major events and like losing someone close, as there are stages you will go through ranging from anger, grief, denial and lots and lots of tears. No one enters a marriage wanting it to fail as such so when it does, it’s a deep-rooted sadness of what could have and should have been.”
Find Role Models with Extensive Experience in Divorce
Winnie, a mindfulness and traditional medicine expert several years out of her divorce, recommends building a support team who understand your experience. “The best move was to join all kinds of support groups on Facebook and other online communities. There are divorce coaches and lots of people who have “been there, done that” who are generous in sharing their advice.”
She also recommends working with a mental health professional and focusing on your body and energy, as so much grief and trauma resides there. “Acupuncture and Reiki have proven to reduce anxiety and depression. Also, there are so many Qi Gong / Yoga / Meditation options, both free and paid, in person and online.”
First Step: How to accept your marriage is over
At some point, your divorce process resolves and you need to accept the outcome, whether it’s a commitment to do your part to save your marriage or accept its end.
Kelly LaVallie, a Divorce Accountant notes the difference between being ready for divorce and accepting it is needed. “I’m not sure anyone is ever ready for divorce. I think that one simply reaches a point at which staying in the marriage is no longer acceptable. A point at which the vast unknown of divorce and your post-divorce life is preferable to the “known” that is your married life.”
For some women, that acceptance is more abrupt because their spouse calls it quits while they are both working through their feelings to make the right decision. “My ex and I initially decided to separate Oct 2020. We briefly reconciled in Jan 2021 and then separated again in March 2021. It takes two people to have a relationship. When one person declares they are not willing to do the work anymore, then it is time to move on,” said Winnie.
When marriage therapy helps in surprising ways
On the flip side, some women get a nudge towards the right choice. For Erin, “The final straw came during a couples therapy session when our therapist literally said, “To be honest, I don’t think your marriage can be saved. I would advise you to leave my office, go directly to the courthouse together and file for a divorce.” … I already knew in my heart that it was inevitable.”
My mother got similar guidance from marriage counseling. The family therapist pulled her aside privately and told her to get out and get a lawyer. That was a pretty clear sign.
I’m scared to tell my husband I want a divorce
Ultimately, what holds a lot of women back from the decision to divorce is the fear of surviving financially or the payback they expect from an angry husband. Divorcing spouses are rarely on the same page.
Linda highlights this. “Fear and uncertainty kept me almost paralyzed for a while, I didn’t know if I could actually leave my tumultuous marriage of 21 years…how will I survive financially, will I be able to make it on my own, how will this impact my children, etc. At that point of uncertainty, I wish I had known how liberating it would be to no longer be shackled to a toxic marriage – I finally got to feel free to be me.”
The fear is particularly powerful for women with children. “Becoming a single parent came with lots of fears including financial ones as I had no job,” said Dawn. However, her “past 13 years have been the most magical years of my life.”
Once you have made a decision to divorce, an important step is to contact a divorce lawyer. Every state has different property laws and, more importantly, child custody laws. Read more about how to prepare for divorce logistically and financially.
I want a divorce but my husband doesn’t
On top of financial fears, many women worry about and plan for real dangers and being punished. This is when financial security turns into personal security, as all these plans require having a go bag, a little cash savings.
“Once I finally made the decision to leave, I did start making some plans.” says Linda. “With years of experience dealing with the ugly side of my husband, I was able to predict the most probable moves that he would make to try to hurt me, or exert power over me. I knew that one of the first things he would do was shut off my cell phone. So, I purchased a track phone and started putting my contacts in it, waiting for the day that he would take me off the phone plan with no warning. As expected, that day did come.” Linda also had to endure harassment from her ex on social media, and made the good decision to set boundaries to protect herself.
Beyond Unhealthy Behavior to Escaping Abuse
Becca ensured she could get out of an abusive relationship safely. “I made a get away plan by leasing a car parked at the side of the street and stashing whatever bits of cash and clothing I could gather each week, until I was ready and strong enough to leave.”
Dawn also escaped abuse. “The best move I made… was I went to a hotel room with my children and got the authorities involved. Financially I had been preparing to leave… I hired an amazing attorney, knew my rights ahead of time, and I’m proud of the steps I took to protect myself.”
While many women have an amicable divorce, many involve continued spousal abuse through control, revenge, threats and violence. If you don’t have mutual respect, plan for safety first and have a close friend as a go to person – your finances will recover with time.
Next Step: How to Ask for a Divorce
Ultimately, if you have different values and a lack of respect on a daily basis, you can’t make a marriage work. The only way out is through divorce. Even when it’s the better option, divorce is a big deal that takes a lot of time.
“I wish I knew how challenging and draining it was. If you protect yourself and work on healing earlier in the divorce, the stronger and quicker you can come out of it. However, it is a long process especially when it involves abuse or custody or large financial assets. So be prepared and have support,” says Rebecca.
Divorce Checklist: The Emotional Preparation
Divorce Coach Claire Black suggests you start with internal work and these important questions:
- Seek support, get clarity and knowledge.
- Work out what you can and can’t control, and focus on what you CAN control.
- Know that you always have choices – how you respond, how you behave, how you dress, how you walk, and how you feel.
- Set your intention from the start – ask yourself how you want to feel in a year/5 years’ time? Keep that intention in the front of your mind.
If you are considering divorce, or your spouse has even hinted at a separation, seek a divorce attorney who can guide you on your state’s laws, especially around child custody and child support. An experienced divorce lawyer can provide you with guidance and support as you navigate this legal process.
At the end of the day, 73% of divorced women have no regrets. While we would never advocate for divorce, it’s high time women can choose the best option for themselves, where they are happy, safe and empowered. Even if that means starting a new life.