The Biggest Indicator To Get A Divorce

Deciding to divorce is never easy.

Last updated on Apr 19, 2024

Woman coming to the realization that she needs to leave pixelshot | Canva

As confusing as it is for most people to decide if they need to get a divorce, three situations require you to get a divorce if you (and your kids) are to live a healthy life. If you’re not in one of these situations, it can seem pretty clear-cut these marriages need to end. The trouble is, when you’re in one of them, it’s not nearly so easy. These situations usually develop over time.

It’s like the urban myth of the frog in the boiling pot — things change gradually over time, and you don’t notice how bad things are. You need someone looking in from the outside to give you a different perspective. Unfortunately, you probably don’t have anyone who can look at your marriage with an unbiased eye because they’ve watched the gradual change in your marriage too.


So here are some situations on how to know when you must get a divorce. I’ve helped clients deal with these situations over the years, which may help you see your marriage in a different light. These stories aren’t about any one person but a compilation of several people who faced similar situations.

RELATED: The 5 Most Common Reasons People Get Divorced (& 5 Unusually Specific Ones)

Here is the biggest indicator to get a divorce:

1. Your partner has a substance abuse problem

This couple was married for more than 20 years when I met him. He was unhappy in his marriage, but not sure if he was unhappy enough to call it quits because he still loved her. When he decided to call me, his wife had just been arrested for her third DWI.


As his story unfolded, he shared that after her first DWI, he was frightened and begged her to get help. She joined AA, and he joined Al-Anon. But she quit — not relapsed but quit the program within 2 months of joining. Six months later, she was arrested again for DWI. He was devastated but loved her and wanted to honor his commitment when they married. So, he got her to agree to a treatment program.

She was in recovery for several months after that, but then she started drinking again — secretly. Eventually, he found out. And when he confronted her, she promised she had everything under control. He desperately wanted to believe she could control her drinking, but when she was arrested for her third DUI and had her license revoked, he wasn’t so certain. He still loved her but wasn’t sure he could continue living with her untreated substance abuse.

RELATED: A Public Apology To Anyone Hurt By An Alcoholic Like Me

stressed woman tries to ignore husband arguingPhoto: Dikushin Dmitry via Shutterstock


2. Your partner is emotionally and verbally abusive

A pregnant woman reached out to me with uncertainty about whether she should stay in her marriage or not. He was her second husband, and she had one child from a previous marriage. She had been noticing her husband was treating her child brusquely. She chalked it up to the fact that his stepfather had treated him the same when he was a child. She believed by talking with him about what he was doing, he would change because he was a good man.

She also told me that her husband was prone to fits of rage. When he was like this, he said horrible things about her. Again, she felt she could handle things because she knew he didn’t mean them. He was feeling stressed. However, she started wondering if maybe she was wrong about her husband. During one of his fits, he physically threatened her child right in front of her.

RELATED: How To End A Miserable Marriage Without Feeling Guilty


3. You have a marriage you wouldn't want your child to have

She requested a consultation with me because her 12-year-old daughter asked, "Do you love Daddy?" When she asked her child why she would ask such a question, her daughter said it was because they were always yelling at each other, and Daddy slept in a different room.

Her daughter’s observations broke her heart because her daughter was more aware of what was going on than she had thought. She’d known for years that they were setting a terrible example for their daughter. So they tried all kinds of things, including couples counseling.

Unfortunately, nothing helped. Things seemed worse. She just wasn’t sure what to do. She wanted her daughter to grow up in an intact family. But she didn’t want to put her little girl through the stress of the constant arguments.

Maybe you recognize yourself in one of these stories and feel your confusion of conflicting desires. Deciding to divorce is never easy — not even in those situations when someone looking in would wonder why you’re still in the marriage. It all comes down to getting real about whether you (and your kids) can have a healthy and happy life, given who you’re married to and how you respond to your spouse.


We all tend to choose the pain we know (the marriage) instead of risking the pain we don’t (divorce). And that’s why so many people stay in marriages that should end.

RELATED: To Find Out If Your Marriage Is Over, Answer These 3 Questions

Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce and life coach. Her writing on marriage, divorce, and co-parenting has appeared on MSN, Yahoo, Psych Central, Huffington Post, Prevention, and The Good Men Project, among others.