How To Know For Absolute Certain When To Call It Quits On Your Marriage

Separation is a step toward permanence — either together or apart.

Debating if she should separate from spouse katleho Seisa | Canva

There are days in every marriage when spouses look at one another and wonder what they are thinking. You might even be curious about how to separate. There are times when that contemplation goes on for quite a while. It can stew in focused negativity on everything unhappy and not right. Left untended, it can lead to asking, “Should I separate from my spouse?” and maybe, “Should we divorce?”


The decision to separate — temporarily or permanently — isn’t, however, one to be taken lightly. It’s not an opportunity to go on a solo vacation in the same way you may have played house before getting married. Assuming you entered into marriage intending to stay in it, you should feel the twinges of struggle when you ask this question.

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How to know for absolute certain when to call it quits:

1. Is the decision mutual?

Do both you and your spouse want the separation or divorce, or is only one of you pushing for it?


She wants to know when to call it quits StratfordProductions via Shutterstock

2. Why do you want to separate?

This, of course, is the million-dollar question. But its answer will determine your entire course of action.

If, for example, one of you has been unfaithful and doesn’t intend to end the affair just yet, a separation could be the beginning of the end. But, if the stressors of life have caused you to lose perspective on the value of your marriage, a separation could be a remote refresher course.


Knowing whether you are trying to ease your way out of your marriage — or work your way back in — will inform your decision.

3. How would a separation affect your children?

You have to weigh heavily how you will explain to your children both a temporary and permanent separation. Do you have a plan for how you will handle custody, visitation, and other logistics during a separation?

@coachlorenaramos There's no way around it 🤷🏻‍♀️Divorce WILL affect your childrenIt doesn't have to be all bad though.If you can remember to prioritize your childrens' needs throughout this transition, it doesn't have to be a negative experience.The key is learning to co-parent if possible.Allow for equal time sharing. Try your best to share spaces with their other parent during their special, milestone moments.Remember that you do this for your children. It's about giving them the safest, healthiest childhood possible.#coparenting #childrenofdivorce #familylaw #family #divorcesupport #divorcecourt ♬ original sound - Lorena Ramos

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4. Have you worked on your marriage?

Have you dealt directly with the difficult issues? Have you spent any time in therapy or couples counseling? Have you both been equally willing to do the necessary work or has the effort been one-sided? How would that change during a separation?

5. Do you want to save your marriage?

In the end, this is what it all comes down to, isn’t it? Do you want to save your marriage? If you do, you will consider separation as a time of work and reparation. You won’t use it as a means of returning to your single days and escaping responsibility.

If you don’t want to save your marriage, a separation may be a moot point. It could also jeopardize factors like the division of assets, especially if one spouse isn’t trustworthy. Knowing when to call it quits in your marriage doesn’t come with a decisive formula. 


Only you and your spouse know what’s in your hearts and how much you want to work on your relationship. But some circumstances point the decision needle more toward divorce than staying together.

6. Is there physical or emotional abuse?

Abuse of any kind demands intervention — for everyone in the family. Victims — including spouses, children, elders, and pets — need to be protected and counseled, and abusers need rehabilitation.

Abusive behavior doesn’t have a quick fix, and the pattern of abuse followed by a short-lived apology and correction is often dangerously convincing. The abuser needs to be separated from the rest of the family, possibly permanently.

If you need help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.


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7. Are one or both of you unwilling to work on the marriage?

While you can always work to improve yourself and hope your spouse will be inspired to do the same, you can accomplish only so much alone.

Sometimes, separation can give a reality check to the partner ready to leave the marriage. But if the separation isn’t going to be about doing the work to save your marriage, you may need to call it quits now.


8. Has your relationship become contemptuous?

In John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the (Marital) Apocalypse, contempt — with its counterpart stonewalling — is the greatest predictor of divorce. By the time contempt is present in a marriage, the foundation of respect and trust has all but been destroyed.

If you don’t know whether it’s better to stay in an unhappy marriage or divorce, separation may offer the headspace you need. But just as with divorce, there are plenty of things to consider before you pack your bags and move.

Separation is a step toward permanence — either together or apart. And when couples choose a permanent, legal separation, it is an agreed-to Limbo. How do you know when it’s time to call it quits, either temporarily or permanently? The first answer to your question, “Should I separate from my spouse?” is another question: “Why am I even asking this?”


Silenced woman ready to call it quits SFC via Shutterstock

When it comes to knowing whether you should separate from your spouse, there is no definitive answer. Knowing when to call it quits for good is an even bigger leap from separation.

Assuming safety is not an issue, you and your spouse will have to do some soul-searching. Is there any memory of the joy in your relationship? Do you want to get back to it? And, if so, what are you willing to do to get there?


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Mary Ellen Goggin and Dr. Jerry Duberstein offer relationship coaching for individuals, and offer private couples retreats and couples counseling. They are co-authors of the book "Relationship Transformation: How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too."