According to a Gottman Institute study, couples typically wait an average of 6 years in an unhappy marriage before seeking help or a divorce. Deciding whether to leave a committed relationship can be a sad and complex process.

In a study of divorcing couples published last year, the results showed that about 30% of individuals who were divorcing said they would seriously consider a reconciliation service if it was offered by the court. Additional research that matched spouses' responses found that in about 10% of couples, both partners were open to reconciliation. Estimates show that in 30% of couples who seek marriage counseling, one person is what counselors call "leaning out," or wanting to go, while the other is "leaning in," or wanting to stay.

There are many reasons why people stay in a miserable marriage. They hope things will get better or stay for the kids. They are scared of what comes next. They think there will be a specific moment when they will know that they should leave. Most therapists say there isn't. Very often, a spouse doesn't speak up for fear of hurting the other person. Men are particularly bad about this, psychologists say. They typically have a tougher time expressing emotions and don't like to feel they are letting their wives down. They may immerse themselves in work or other activity and become distant.

Many people looking to get out of a marriage behave badly. They check out emotionally. Have affairs. Wake up one day and just walk out. These behaviors hurt their spouses even more. A great source of pain for a person who is the leave-ee is that they didn't have an opportunity to respond and work on things with their spouse.

Time to End the Relationship?  If so, how do you break the news in a way that does the least emotional damage? Marriage therapists offer advice:

  • Peer into the future. Talk to a lawyer and an accountant, research what housing, expenses, etc. would cost, ask a real-estate agent to estimate a sale price for your house, and otherwise determine how you can handle matters financially.
  • Do therapy on a trial basis.  If you think your marriage could be salvaged, find an objective professional and agree on a trial period, typically six months to a year.
  • Expect the worst.  Anticipate that your spouse will be shocked and behave badly. Regardless, listen calmly-for more than one conversation-to give your spouse a chance to respond.
  • Consider mediation as an alternative.  If your marriage is irretrievably broken, consider trying to resolve the issues of property and debt division, custody and support through a settlement process.

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