Marriage Counseling Tip: When Do You Say 'I Want a Divorce'?


    Making the decision to get a divorce is very difficult (or at least it should be). Divorce comes with a lot of pain, disruption, and complications. No matter how dysfunctional or unhealthy your marriage may be, it can be really hard to know when to say, ‘I want a divorce,’ and when there’s still hope for your marriage.

    Sadly, may couples are too quick to bring up divorce when things get tough. Too often in the middle of arguments or really ugly fights one partner will blurt out in a fit of anger and frustration, “I want a divorce.” What they usually don’t realize is the damage this kind of proclamation causes. So, how do you know when it’s really time to tell your spouse that you want a divorce?


    Threatening Divorce

    "We're through!"

    "I'm done!"

    "I really think we should be separated."

    "Are you going to call a divorce attorney or am I?"

    I heard every one of these statements from patients in marriage counseling last week. Tough week, huh? Not just for me, but it’s especially difficult for the marriages and families where these words are being spoken.

    Jenny told Sean to call a divorce lawyer on Monday night, but by Tuesday morning she had decided things weren't that bad. Rob told Nancy that he wanted a divorce, and then later on said he was "bluffing."


    The word divorce (or whatever substitute word you want to use) and the threat that accompanies it, is usually used when emotions are high and is often intended to be a kick in the groin to the other partner However, the threat of marriage separation and divorce is like acid. It burns and destroys, eating away at the foundation of a relationship.

    The couples above will never get the stability, trust, and love they want from their partner if the threat of the marriage ending is always hanging over them. Yet husbands and wives throw the threat of divorce around so casually and frequently you'd think they're talking about the weather and not their future lives and the lives of their kids.

    Why People Say They Want A Divorce So Often

    Thankfully, more often than not, the proclamation of, “I want a divorce” is a tactic to get a partner’s attention, just like I’ve illustrated above. But what makes it such and easy go-to for so many partners? Well, there a couple of things.

    1. Divorce has become commonplace. With approximately 50% of marriages ending in divorce, there’s a feeling that any relationship is disposable and divorce is the answer when things get tough. So, in the middle of a fight, or during a rough patch in a marriage, it’s easy to think and say, “divorce is my way out of this,” like it’s an escape plan. People assume divorce is an easy and viable option to make the pain and problems in a marriage disappear. It’s not. Take it from a marriage and divorce counselor who works everyday with couples who are struggling through separation and the divorce process. The problems, pain, stress, and life and financial issues that come with divorce are anything but easy or straightforward. And the problems that get you to the point of divorce don’t just disappear, they actually become exacerbated by the additional pressure of legal proceedings, division of assets, child custody, and the many, many other painful actions that divorce brings. Additionally, without help, exes can take these problems with them into their new, post-divorce life.
    2. They’re hurt and looking for attention. I’ve worked with many couples where one partner has threatened divorce just to get the attention of the other and effect change. The threatening partner may feel undervalued, overlooked, or unloved, and thinks saying, “I want a divorce” will make their spouse take notice and change. It really doesn’t work that way though. Rarely, if ever, does the other spouse respond to that threat by becoming motivated to be more loving, attentive, and emotionally invested. Instead they’re more apt to pull back and become more guarded and distrustful. These words only make things worse and, without intervention, the threat is only more likely to become a reality.


    Getting married is a big decision. People typically put a lot of time and thought into a marriage and starting a life together. Getting divorced shouldn’t be any different. In fact, if anything, the decision to divorce should be taken even more seriously. The effects of ending a marriage go far beyond the two spouses involved. Children, families, friends, even jobs and financial security are all casualties of divorce. Why would you ever want to threaten something so serious and devastating if you haven’t thought it through and considered all of the ways to avoid it?

    So, when should you say "I Want a Divorce"? Not until you're truly ready to get one. Which means not until you're actually filing the papers in court. Until then, give your marriage every chance to change.

    Do you know any couples who threaten divorce? Please share what you've heard them say below.

    Editor’s note: This post was originally published November 4, 2009 and has been updated with new information for accuracy and comprehensiveness.


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