When the time is right

When the time is right

Ask some hard questions before deciding on divorce

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 02/05/2014

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Dear Patti,
I’ve been married five years and, even though I try, I’m not happy in my relationship. I love my husband very much, know that he adores and loves me more than any man could, and at times I feel like we’re truly meant to be together. On the other hand, I don’t like to admit there’s always been something about the relationship that’s not quite right. I try really hard to get Jeremy to open up and talk to me but he doesn’t; that leaves me wanting something more. He has never been abusive or had an affair, but it’s just that he’s very quiet, introverted and keeps to himself much more than I’d like. In the last year we’ve been fighting a lot, which inevitably causes me to threaten to leave him and file for divorce. 
Last night he sat me down and said he’s tired of being continually threatened. He told me to make a decision one way or another or he’s going to leave me. He’s never said anything like that before and it scared me. I do, however, understand his point; nobody wants to be constantly threatened. I honestly don’t know if I really want a divorce or not. I feel selfish and ungrateful, because I know there are plenty of women who’d love to have a husband like mine. I think the reason this keeps coming up is because we both want to start a family and I don’t want to bring a baby into a marriage I’m so unsure about. I feel like my life is on hold. Sometimes I feel I stay married out of fear and would leave if I were stronger. Other times I feel the exact opposite. Is there any way to know if a divorce is the right decision?


Dear Megan,
In my psychotherapy practice, patients frequently ask me when they’ll be completely sure it’s time for a divorce. How do they know if they should stay or go? I tell them — just as I’m telling you — that the answer can only come from within. I understand your uncertainty, but no therapist can, or should tell you if or when a divorce is the right choice. A therapist can only guide you to look inside with honest introspection to find your own truth. 

Ponder the following questions and request that Jeremy review them as well. Have the two of you sought help by going to a marriage counselor? Have you done everything you can to save your marriage, investigating every avenue of rehabilitation possible? Why did you fall in love with Jeremy? Can you allow those feelings to resurface, giving it space to thrive? Have you spent enough time focusing on your own role in what’s making the relationship so difficult? What part have you played in the problems of your marriage? What are you doing to harm the relationship? Does your loneliness and isolation go deeper than just your relationship with Jeremy? 

Divorce is often threatened out of anger and frustration as a way to gain power/control over the other person, to get the person to see things your way in order to initiate change, and to finally be taken seriously. It definitely sounds like you have legitimate concerns, but consistently threatening divorce could push Jeremy farther away. To be securely married, you and Jeremy need to ensure you’ve have created a relationship that includes an “us” or a “we” rather than a dynamic that’s nothing more than two individuals meeting their own needs by coming from a competitive — rather than unified — position. Rather than ask, “Do I want to do this or that?” ask, “Is this good for us?” 

Healthy couples generally support each other’s basic need for safety, love and esteem. In order for safety needs to be met, there has to be mutual trust, honesty, a sense of safety in mental/emotional/physical/financial categories, good communication, kindness and concern for one another. Safety needs are eroded when these are lacking or when extreme physical, sexual, verbal or emotional abuse occurs. Love needs are met by mutual love and commitment to the marriage, fidelity as defined by the couple, and shared interests. Esteem derives from mutual respect, common goals and a willingness to work together on the marriage.  

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.

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