10 Questions to Ask Yourself before Starting the Divorce Process
Remember when you were little and told your parents how grand it would be to live in a bigger house or ride in a nicer car or have a cool bike like the kid down the street?
They had the same response each time. They would remind you that the grass is always greener on the other side.
You understand, of course, that they weren’t telling you the grass is greener. Your parents were reminding you that it only seems greener.
Now, fast-forward to adulthood and a marriage that outwardly appears to be failing. Your thoughts are turning to the wonderful life you could have without your current partner.
A divorce could be just what you need to start a new life that’s free of all the problems you’re having now.
All of this may be true, but you owe it to yourself to take a step back and recall Mom and Dad’s admonition from those many years ago.
Yes, the grass might be greener somewhere else, but, more than likely, it’s just different grass.
Divorce is difficult and can have a laundry list of consequences associated with it. To say you shouldn’t take that decision lightly is quite an understatement.
So, before you think seriously about ending a relationship that started as a lifetime commitment, ask yourself these ten questions. They might not help you arrive at a decision, but they will set the stage for honest dialogue—both with yourself and your spouse.
1. Am I prepared to go through with this?
You need to be sure you no longer want to maintain your marriage and are certain you want to live on your own.
Once you tell your partner the marriage is over, it’s going to be very hard to retrieve it. If you have any interest in saving it, work on that first.
Look at everything in your marriage that you don’t like and ask yourself how many of those things are within your control. If all the issues lie with your partner, then you have no control over them.
And unless your spouse agrees to work on changing those things that are making the marriage impossible for you, you’re left with accepting the status quo or moving on.
You’ll know you’re prepared to move forward when the decision to do so is made without any strong emotions. And that means neither loving nor hostile emotions.
Decisions that are laced with fierce emotions tend not to last and seldom settle the fundamental issues. Those who divorce out of anger are typically burdened with that anger long after the divorce has been finalized.
So ask yourself if you’re making a mindful decision or an emotionally reactive one. If it’s the latter, the entire process is likely to be filled with strong feelings that include hurt, anger, and distrust.
By controlling your emotional attachment to the person you’re divorcing, you can proceed without riding the emotional roller coaster.
2. Have I done everything I could to repair the marriage?
There are many moving parts to a successful marriage. If any of these parts need repair, the relationship moves along inefficiently and eventually breaks down.
Start by looking at your behavior:
- Are you making it a priority to spend time with your spouse?
- Or are you using work, substances, or food to avoid intimacy?
- Do you have addictions?
- Is there a mental illness that’s been left untreated?
Now examine your attitudes:
- Do you feel you must always be right?
- Do you blame your spouse for failing you?
- Are you convinced that your partner’s moods are determining your happiness?
- Or do you believe you can’t be happy until you find the right career, a bigger house, or the perfect school for your kids?
Most relationship experts agree that couples should spend at least six months working on their marriage before throwing in the towel. If you have been sitting back and waiting for your partner to change, then you haven’t been working on repairing your marriage.
If you’ve been playing the blame game or shutting down because you’re convinced your spouse has checked out of the marriage, maybe you haven’t done everything you could to repair the relationship.
On the other hand, once you have clearly and truthfully communicated your concerns to your spouse and made every attempt to close the chasm in your relationship, you’ll know that you have done everything possible to repair the marriage.
3. Who else will be affected by this divorce?
All the changes that divorce causes will affect the people who are firmly established in your life and even those who are on the periphery. You need to be prepared to face their pain as well as your own.
If you are the one initiating the divorce, it will be difficult to stick with your decision when you continuously see the pain and realize you are the cause of it. If it’s your spouse who wants the divorce, you will still need to be prepared for the pain in all those faces.
Think about your readiness to face the pain in your children, family, friends, and associates. Ask yourself the following questions to confirm you’re prepared for the consequences of a failed marriage:
Am I prepared to accept the anger and sadness that will take hold of my children?
- Am I ready to lose friends who may side with my spouse?
- Can I face the changes to traditions that have been dear to me?
- Will I be able to let go of my spouse mentally and emotionally?
- Can I accept the insecurity and fear that my loved ones and I will feel at times?
If you’re answering no to these questions and you are the partner who wants the marriage to end, it could be a sign for you to reconsider your decision. Once you acknowledge your inability to endure these unpleasant consequences of a divorce, it might stimulate some creative thinking on your part, which could result in resolving some of the issues in your marriage.
4. Will I be happier without my partner?
As Shakespeare wrote many years ago: Ay, there’s the rub!
Your marriage may be difficult, even impossible, but it is the devil you know. Your life after divorce is the devil you don’t know, and you have to be ready to handle the consequences, many of which will be unforeseen.
While nobody should suggest you remain in a loveless marriage in which you feel wretched most days, it does make sense to look at all the things you’ll be giving up if you end it.
Maybe you’ve lost interest in your spouse as a sexual partner. But is being a wonderful parent, a good provider, or having a gentle soul enough to offset that? You need to figure out what’s most important to you before you can decide if you’ll be happier without your partner.
You may ultimately conclude that those good traits do not offset a lack of desire for your partner, and you will proceed with the divorce, but you still need to examine your feelings for your partner closely. The passion might be gone, but some fairly strong feelings of love could remain to overwhelm you with a sense of loss.
It’s altogether possible that without some serious introspection beforehand, you could end up feeling worse after the divorce than you do now.
5. What is my intent on wanting a divorce?
Let’s face it, the only thing a divorce can do is end a marriage. If you have anything else on your agenda by seeking one, you’re kidding yourself.
If you’re thinking or hoping that the threat of divorce will give your spouse a change of heart, causing him or her to suddenly treat you better and ask forgiveness for all the wrongs they’ve done to you, you’re going to end up disappointed.
Divorce is not a weapon. It doesn’t have the power to give you leverage in your relationship. It does just one thing: It ends a marriage so both parties can move on to a fresh start.
For this reason, you must ask yourself what you’re hoping to accomplish by asking for this divorce. Do you want to end your marriage, or are you merely threatening divorce for other reasons? Here are some examples of why partners threaten divorce without being committed to it:
- To give notice that the marriage is failing
- Out of frustration or anger
- As a power play, to gain control over the other person
- In hopes of finally being taken seriously
These are communication issues that can and should be handled without broaching the topic of divorce. Threatening divorce might act as a temporary wakeup call to your partner, but it loses its power (and you lose your credibility) very quickly.
When you are truly ready to end your marriage, you’ll be able to maintain the thought that you’re ready to close out this chapter of your life because there’s nothing more you can do to salvage the relationship. At that point, you’ll be able to open a dialogue with your spouse without using threats or blame.
6. Will I be able to handle the unpleasant emotional consequences of divorce?
While you shouldn’t let fear keep you from leaving an abusive or dysfunctional marriage, you need to be prepared for the consequences of ending it. Are you ready to downsize your life and be single again—maybe forever? Can you face the feelings of failure that often grip newly divorced individuals?
Disappointment, loneliness, failure, rejection, hurt, and a sense of loss follow many people throughout the process and linger--or intensify--once the divorce is final.
Expect to grieve for the shattered dream of a happy family and the loss of intimacy. Be prepared for days filled with guilt or shame. You might find it difficult to get through some of the darker days on your own.
So be ready for them by enlisting a support system of family and friends to assist you in those vulnerable early days of being on your own.
You can minimize these unpleasant consequences by keeping your emotions in check (as best you can!) during the proceedings. At the very least, don’t lead with your emotions.
By holding them at bay, you stand a better chance of coming away from the process in a much more stable position, and you help to remove bitterness and anger from the list of post-divorce emotional consequences.
7. Am I prepared for the financial stresses that come with divorce?
Think about what happens to the family money after a divorce. It now needs to support two households. That means two rent or mortgage payments along with all the expenses, like taxes and utilities, which go with them.
And those multi-car insurance discounts? They’re gone, too.
Well, you see where this is going. Maintaining your former lifestyle just got harder, if not downright impossible. If you’re not ready to make financial sacrifices, maybe you’re not ready for divorce. Here are a few questions to ask yourself up front:
- Do I have funds to pay for an attorney?
- Can I cover basic living expenses if my spouse denies access to our accounts?
- Can I afford to keep the house, with all the responsibilities of repairs and upkeep?
- Would it be smarter to rent?
And some suggestions to consider:
- Open a credit card (in your name only) before you file.
- If you haven’t been managing the money, learn how before you file.
- Set up a budget to help you determine how much you’ll need to cover your monthly bills.
- Ask an attorney how much you’re likely to get in spousal and child support, so you’ll know if you must supplement it with your income.
Since you should be thinking about finances early in the divorce process, it’s a good idea to meet with a financial adviser and talk to a lawyer to get a handle on what everything will cost and to get an idea what your financial life will look like when you’re on your own.
Getting as many of the financial facts as possible will assuage much of the stress and help you feel a lot more confident moving forward.
8. What will the impact be on our children?
If you have children living at home, you need to think about how a divorce will affect their lives. As much as you will try to maintain their routines and provide a sense of normalcy, their lives will be changed significantly.
Unless their parents have frequent loud arguments or there is abuse involved, children want to live in a home with both their parents. And research indicates that children are better off emotionally when they do live with both parents, even when the parents are unhappy.
Kids do not want to be shuttled between two households, and you might not like it either. You might come to regret your decision, especially when your ex-spouse’s new love interest starts spending time with your children or brings other children into the mix, creating a so-called blended household.
As for your prospects, the chances that you’ll find lasting love the second time around, especially with kids from both families trying to co-exist under the same roof, are not promising.
Statistics have shown that in the U.S. half of all first marriages fail. But the second time around that rate jumps to 67% and if you’re willing to try it a third time, a whopping 73% of those marriages will fail.
With that kind of odds against you, might it not be worth it to ask yourself just once more: Is there anything we can do to make our present situation better?
9. Am I willing to take control of my life responsibly and maturely?
While couples might agree that their marriage needs to end, that doesn’t mean they will agree on anything else. Amicable divorces are the exception, rather than the rule. Feelings of bitterness and revenge often rule over those of understanding and respect.
The attitude you choose (and yes, it is a choice) will greatly influence the kind of divorce you have. Whether you’re the one who initiated the divorce or the one who is responding to your spouse, it’s always better for everyone involved to negotiate with tolerance and consideration.
Look at your choices:
- You can take actions that result in frequent court hearings, or you can be cooperative and require no hearings
- You can make decisions based on what’s only good for you or you can consider what’s good for everyone
- You can fight for what is more than yours, or you can treat your spouse fairly
- You can avoid inconveniencing yourself, or you can meet your partner halfway
Most attorneys will likely agree that a collaborative and cooperative divorce is more likely to result in a lasting agreement. Couples who resolve their struggles and develop parenting plans maturely and responsibly turn their divorce into one that not only supports the children but respects each other's rights.
10. Will I be able to keep from making the same mistakes again?
You already know the odds are against you, and it will require hard work if you want your next marriage to succeed. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try again.
What it does mean is that you must start by admitting that you contributed your fair share to the failure of your marriage.
Once you acknowledge your part in a broken relationship, you can work toward avoiding your past mistakes and building a stronger foundation for the future. Who knows, if you take steps early enough after deciding on divorce, you may even be able to save this marriage.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Look at your history: Have you been drawn to partners who need ‘fixing’?
- Examine your expectations: There are no perfect partners!
- Stop thinking you’re a victim: What’s past is past. Don’t allow it to spoil future relationships.
- Make sure your dates match your values: Avoid complex issues in the future by dating those with whom you have values in common.
- Stop comparing your relationships to others: It makes no difference what kind of relationships your friends have. Don’t let fear or envy influence your choices.
Focus only on things you can control: You can’t control your ex or your parents. Just focus on finding someone who shares your views on love and commitment.
“I’m not in the mood to ask myself ten questions right now!”
That’s understandable. You’ve already gone through a lot just to get to this point, and your stress levels are probably off the charts. But it’s a small investment of time, and it’s potentially well worth it.
Even if you ultimately decide that divorce is your best option, you will be better prepared for your first contact with a lawyer.
Many, if not most, couples start divorce proceedings woefully unprepared and are not even on the same page as they start to make some of the most critical decisions of their lives. The lack of preparedness and forethought often lead to the premature demise of many marriages or the deterioration of divorces into competitive battles and exercises in finger-pointing.
It probably shouldn’t be surprising that people don’t want to take the time to get ready for a divorce. After all, isn’t this something that’s best attacked and gotten over with as soon as possible?
Wouldn’t it seem natural for couples to want to put the divorce behind them quickly so they can move on with their lives?
But a decision this important deserves to be paid the greatest attention. Couples who rush into the decision to end their marriage have not given themselves time to evaluate their feelings, thoughts, or futures.
Asking yourself these ten questions could be the start of an inner dialogue that may lead to meaningful discussions with your partner. At the very least, you’ll get the process off on the right foot. Who knows? Maybe it will lead to someone’s change of heart.
I’ve given you 10 questions to ask yourself. Can you think of anything else that might weigh in your decision?