Leaving a marriage is a huge step and means admitting to yourself that the relationship just isn’t going to work. For many people, just the idea of leaving can be daunting, let alone the mechanics of it. Before you leave your marriage, it’s important to make sure you’ve evaluated the situation to be certain it’s what you need to do, come up with an exit plan and have some idea how you will break the news.
Evaluate the Situation
Make safety your top priority. If you or your children are being abused or otherwise feel threatened by your spouse, then you need to leave sooner rather then later. If you haven’t devised a plan of where to go or how to support yourself, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE to find a local organization that can help you. If you have a little time to plan, you can also visit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s website (see Resources below) for a state-by-state listing. The website has a bright red “Escape” button on any page that you can click on to exit the page immediately if someone comes into the room (see Resources below).
Take an objective look at how your emotional state is affecting your daily functioning. Since few people go into a marriage thinking they’ll get divorced, guilt and other emotions can often hinder your decision. If you can objectively say that being anxious, unhappy and insecure about whether or not to leave your marriage is making it difficult to work, take care of yourself and/or your children or is negatively impacting your physical or mental health, it’s time to make a decision.
Spend some time by yourself before making a final move. If you can manage to get away for a few days, consider it a test run for leaving. See how you feel about being alone. If you feel relieved and enjoy creating a new routine instead of lonely and out of place, that’s telling you something important.
Examine your reaction and feelings toward your spouse. Many people who are ready to leave a marriage are no longer sad or hopeful–they’re indifferent, impatient and unforgiving. Others speak of daydreaming about what life would be like if their spouse was dead or suddenly gone. This doesn’t make you a bad person; it simply means that you’re ready to start moving on.
Create an Exit Plan
Get your house in order, both literally and figuratively. Organize your belongings so you know where everything is, take an inventory (either mental or on paper) of the things you want to take with you when you leave and get a good sense of the family finances and debts. Know what financial assets you will have as resources when you leave.
Open a post office box and a separate checking account using the new address. As soon as you can, arrange for any direct deposits you may have to go into the new bank account. If possible, get a credit card in your name, too. Then, create a budget based on your income only so you know what you have to work with.
Find a place to live. Take into consideration the variables that occur if you have children, such as travel for visitation or staying in the same school district. These, along with your job (if you have one), may limit the area in which you can look for housing.
Break the News
Choose a time to talk to your spouse when you can be alone and undisturbed. If, however, you think your spouse will react with violence, you should skip this step and have the conversation from a distance after you have moved your things from your home. The likelihood is that your spouse is probably aware that the marriage is over, especially if you’ve been taking steps to try to work things out.
Be strong when telling friends and family, focusing on you and why you need to leave, not what your spouse has done to “make” you leave. Trust your own judgment and instinct. If you know you will be happier this way, try not to be influenced by questions and comments like “But what about the kids?” and “But our family doesn’t believe in divorce.”
Speak to your children as a team, if possible. No matter how many times and ways you say it, children typically feel responsible when parents separate. Assure them that it’s not their fault and answer their questions as honestly as you can. Avoid placing blame on one parent or the other, but don’t avoid telling them you’re unhappy and unsure. They’ll be able to see those emotions anyway as you try to forge your new life.