7 Tough Questions You Must Ask Before Getting Divorced

How to get an answer to the most difficult decision of your marriage.

Couple in Counseling BEFORE Divorce Prostock-Studio | Canva

Saying "I do" is a big deal, but saying "I don't" can be just as life-changing. YourTango asked relationship experts Dr. Joyce Fine, Marni Feuerman, and Lesli Doares what questions and considerations to keep in mind before signing a divorce decree. Have you thoughtfully considered them all?

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Here are 7 tough questions you must ask before getting divorced:

1. Do you want the marriage to work?

According to Fine, "The first question to clear is whether or not both partners truly still want the marriage to work. While most couples who come in for therapy do want to better their relationships, not all couples do. Sometimes one partner comes in to appease the other, or lets them down 'easy,' in the shelter of a therapist's office — and has not told their partner that they want to end the relationship. At other times one partner may be pushing him or herself to stay invested when he or she is not. It may take weeks or months to get through the layers of wishful hope, or a drive to be true to a commitment before someone can be deeply honest and say 'I'm already out.' If you are already at 'I don't', continuing to say 'I do' is counter-productive."


Feuerman echoes this sentiment, adding that ambivalence toward a relationship doesn't have to be the nail in the coffin: "Being unsure, or ambivalent, is entirely normal and therapists expect it. You can explore that state of mind in the couple's treatment or individual therapy. In cases of extreme ambivalence or if divorce is an issue already on the table, consider your therapy to be motivated to work on the issues with your partner. This may also be called 'discernment counseling' which is designed to deal with the 'mixed agenda' couple. Being uncertain is not the time to throw in the towel on your marriage. There is help for this situation, and you do not want to simply look at the treatment as last on the check-off list before divorce. Truly explore what is going to be a life-altering decision."


2. Is your couple's therapist the right fit for you?

If you're actively working with a couples counselor, Feuerman also encourages you to ask this question: Is he or she the right therapist for you? "Do you feel comfortable with the therapist? Do you think that he/she has stayed neutral, unbiased, and fair during the process? Does the therapist have specific training or licensure in couples therapy? The therapist should be able to tell you that a significant portion of their practice is with couples. Even a good individual therapist may have little or no formal training with couples and this would not be a person to see for marital therapy. 

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3. Do you have a qualified counselor?

Doares adds her take on this issue: "Have you committed to counseling with a qualified professional? While many licensed therapists can do couples counseling, not all are equally proficient. A good counselor will have specific training in couple's therapy and practice that consists mainly of this kind of work. Your relationship problems did not develop overnight and won't be resolved in two or three sessions. Good progress can be made in as little as three months but, if you aren't prepared for six months of work, you haven't committed to the process or the relationship."

@coachkatedurocher Couples therapy is tough, but it’s also worth it. Looking to deepen your bond and learn skills that will change every relationship in your life? Couples therapy, counseling or coaching is a must. #healingjourney #dating #selflove #datingtips #tips #advice #relationship #relationships #datingcoach #heartbreak #healing #coach #therapy #counseling #couple #couplegoals ♬ original sound - Kate Durocher

4. Have you taken responsibility for your part in the marriage breaking down?

The experts agree that you should be looking inward at your part in the marriage's breakdown. Says Doares, "Have you identified and taken responsibility for your part in the breakdown of the marriage? Relationships are reciprocal. You each put stuff in and you each take stuff out. It is really easy to focus on what your partner is doing without owning your unproductive behavior." Fine agrees: "Getting to know yourself and what you need and want in your marriage is an integral part of couples therapy. The more honest you can be with yourself and, in turn, your partner, the more likely you are to benefit from couples therapy, both as an individual and then as a couple."


But you shouldn't expect thoughtful introspection to fix all your problems; you have to dig your heels in and do some work, according to Feuerman: "If you ignored a cancerous tumor in its first stage and you finally sought treatment in Stage IV, the treatment would be longer and more intensive then if you attended to it early. By the time couples present for treatment, an average of six years has passed, sometimes longer. Think about a tumor growing for six years — yikes! If you have decided to work on the marriage in therapy, are you making the effort to go religiously? Are you following through on tasks the therapist asks of you? Couples counseling takes many months, often one to two sessions a week." Says Fine, "Diving into couples therapy and doing all that you can do to repair this primary relationship means laying yourself bare and accepting your bare spouse. This can be extremely challenging. The more you allow or push yourself to be in the trenches the more you and your spouse will gain from the process."

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5. Are you ready for what the divorce will change?

If you're sure you want a divorce, Doares encourages you to consider this: "Are you truly prepared for all that divorce will mean for you and your children? Divorce is a decision with multiple consequences for your emotions, finances, friendships, family support, lifestyle, etc. Your children's world will be upended and it may take longer than you anticipate for things to settle down. Not seeing your children every day and not having a say in what happens when they are not with you is a consequence many people are unprepared for."

6. What are your reasons for the divorce?

Perhaps the most important thing to consider is whether your problems are truly insurmountable — or if you're just hesitant to tackle them. Says Doares, "Are the reasons you are considering divorce hard reasons or soft reasons? Hard reasons are things like addictions, abuse, criminal activity, and personality disorders. Soft reasons are everything else: growing apart, poor communication, unhappiness, different people, and even infidelity. Hard reasons are beyond your ability to fix on your own, but soft reasons can be successfully addressed."


7. Are you willing to fix your marriage?

Fine adds, "What, at a basic bare essentials level, has made this marriage so troubled, and how much of a priority are you willing to make fixing it? While many events and interactions take place there are usually core repetitive painful patterns that occur which, as they happen over and over, build barriers between partners." As a last piece of wisdom, Feuerman implores us not to let too much outside influence affect our decisions. "Are you asking your friends, your mother, and your neighbor what they think about your situation? Are you giving them the play-by-play negative highlights?" The decision to divorce is a monster one, and while it's a choice for only you and your spouse, asking the right questions with a couples counselor or therapist might help clear away some of your doubt, confusion, and fear.

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Lesli Doares is a therapist, coach, and the founder of Foundations Coaching, a practical alternative for couples worldwide looking to improve their marriage without traditional therapy. Dr. Marni Feuerman is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice, relationship expert, and author of Ghosted and Breadcrumbed: Stop Falling for Unavailable Men and Get Smart about Healthy Relationships. Joyce Fine, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist, certified divorce coach, collaborative divorce facilitator, and custody evaluator.