9 Crucial Questions to Ask Yourself Before Calling the Divorce Attorney


None of us gets married thinking that five, ten, even twenty years down the line we’d be so frustrated or miserable that we’d be considering divorce. Most of us step into marriage with hope and enthusiasm, determined to have ours be a marriage that lasts.

But marriage is difficult in ways few of us are prepared for. And rarely do we have all the tools we need for success. Nor do we have a guidebook or a road map to make the journey easier.

Some couples manage to navigate the rough patches. Other couples get stuck and are unable to move forward. For some, their struggles constitute deal-breakers.

Clients often ask me, “How can I be sure?” hoping for a checklist or a set of clear guidelines that will help them decide whether or not to divorce. Many have asked me to tell them outright whether I think there’s hope for their marriage or if it’s time to get out.

My answer is always the same: Divorce is a personal decision and only you can know what’s right for you.

Unless you are in physical danger and need to immediately leave your relationship in order to keep yourself safe, I suggest you press the pause button and consider the following questions:

1. Do I want a divorce or do I want a better marriage with the person I’ve picked?

There’s a big difference between an unhappy marriage and an un-salvageable one. Couples often tell me they’re contemplating divorce when what they’re facing are ordinary — though difficult — relationship challenges that they have been unable to resolve. Divorce is a radical step to take when what you’re seeking is change.

2. Have I sought good quality help? And have I given it my all?

Not all couples therapy is created equal. If you’re seeing a couples therapist and you’re not making progress, it’s not necessarily a sign that it’s time to divorce. If you think that your marriage is worth fighting for and therapy isn’t helping, find another therapist to work with before calling it quits.

And never, ever, let a therapist tell you that you’re beyond help.

Remember, however, that even the most skilled marital therapist cannot step in and miraculously “fix” your marriage. Nor will he or she fix what you think is wrong with your spouse. Growth and change require effort and commitment on your part. I firmly believe that if two people want to work through their difficulties they can, but only if they’re willing to put in the necessary effort.

Stress3. Have we been under such severe stress that the relationship has been strained to the breaking point?

Every relationship will have its share of stressors. Sometimes the stressors are so overwhelming that everything else is completely overshadowed by them. When faced with stressors such as the loss of a child, financial ruin, protracted illness, or infertility, the rates of divorce skyrocket to as high as 80%.

Relationships are a lot like houses. When exposed to a small earthquake, the structure can weather the shaking with little or no damage. But in a 9.0 earthquake, even the best engineered structure will crack.

In a highly stressed system, there’s little reserve and therefore little resilience. Even small difficulties can feel insurmountable.

Before choosing divorce, consider getting help with whatever practical issues you’re facing and the grief and loss you both feel.

4. Have I seriously looked at my role in our difficulties?

No one is perfect. No matter what the issues are, no matter how difficult a partner we’ve picked, we all contribute, in some way, to the problems we have. Perhaps we’re provocative, or dismissive, or we don’t keep our word. Perhaps we’ve been unwilling to speak up, or be honest, or tackle our marital difficulties head on. Maybe we’re too quick to flare or to blame.

Taking responsibility for your part isn’t the same thing as being fully at fault. No matter what’s gone on, you’re not responsible for your partner’s behaviors and responses. You are, however, responsible for yours.

Accurately assessing your part in the mess will help you identify behavior changes that might improve your marriage enough that you’ll decide to stay put and work on them.

5. Was this whole thing a giant mistake or have we just run into trouble too challenging for our skill set?

Now and again I meet couples whose relationship wasn’t good from the start. Several were arranged marriages and others were entered into so hastily that the partners barely knew what they were getting themselves into.

If this is your situation and you think you want to divorce, take note of what did and didn’t work in your marriage and use what you’ve learned to help inform your future choices.

6. If sex is in the forefront of my thoughts about divorce, have I been courageous in my attempts to deal with our sexual difficulties? Have I spoken up? Have I taken risks? Have I been willing to seek help?

Whether the problems are about the lack of sex or difficulties with the sex that you’re having, many sexual problems can be remedied with the right kind of help.

No couple is so sexually “compatible” that they have all the same inclinations and interests, the same ideal frequency and a desire to always say yes at the exact same time. And no couple has sex that’s as seamless as it looks in the movies.

People too readily think that they’re sexually incompatible, that it’s hopeless, when the problem is more likely one of poor communication and a need for more resilience, flexibility and a capacity to be generous.

Try talking about what’s good and what’s problematic, what you like and what you wish for, even though the conversation may be uncomfortable. Be open to your partner’s feedback and consider ways you might do something new. Offer suggestions and solutions instead of complaints.

Before leaving your marriage due to sexual difficulties, why not reach out for help?

cd8d63e71ae983f3a5953b75d75cfa647- Are my standards for marriage (and my spouse) impossibly high?

I’m not suggesting people “settle” for scraps or bad treatment but I do suggest questioning the expectation of having both shooting stars and stability, having a high-powered, driven, high wage earner who loves to vacuum, can fix the screen door and whip up a five course meal while holding the baby.

8- Is there someone else?

When dealing with an affair or flirtation, an online romance, or a serious “outside” relationship, it can be quite challenging to figure out how to proceed.

You might ask yourself if the affair is a way of sidestepping unresolved issues in your marriage. Not all affairs are about serious marital trouble, but many are.

Trying to compare courtship to marriage is like comparing apples to oranges (better yet, passion fruit to oranges). Marriage, with its repetitive struggles and its everyday tedium can look tired and tarnished when held up against the sparkle and magic of a new relationship.

Note that 75% of affair relationships don’t last. So before tossing your marriage aside, you might consider putting some fresh energy into your marriage and see where that goes.

9- Do I still love my spouse? Love doesn’t heal all but sometimes love is hard to find under the sludge pile of anger and resentment, overwork, parenting and everyday stresses and struggles.

If there’s even a spark or ember left, it’s worth asking yourself, “can I re-ignite it?”

Please add your comments and share this post with others!

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15 thoughts on “9 Crucial Questions to Ask Yourself Before Calling the Divorce Attorney

  1. This post is rife with common-sense advice for those facing what might seem like insurmountable relationship problems. Another winner, Winifred.

    I will sound a note of warning to marriage therapists (as if they don’t know this already!) with #2, based upon my experiences (narcissistic ex-wife and sister-in-law) and the experience of a friend. I know of three examples where it appears, in hindsight, as if the woman in the relationship was “therapist shopping” to find the one who would absolve her of responsibility for relationship problems, or to create the impression that she was the spouse who was trying to save the relationship, or to absolve herself of the shame of abandoning the marriage by “trying” to save it.

    Indirect manipulation, by any other name. Find the therapist who will say that the problems are his fault.

    In your experience, does this occur with equal frequency between men and women seeking marriage therapy? Three is hardly a statistically-valid sample size, and I wouldn’t necessarily assume that men are innocent of such behaviour.


  2. Yes. This is why I love the comments section! I get to talk about aspects that I can’t get into in one post.

    People do a number of “suspect” things when seeking couples therapy. Almost universal is the unspoken expectation that the therapist will “fix” their much more annoying, problematic partner. Some agree to therapy purely to check off the box: “See, we did therapy and it didn’t work,” when they already have two feet out the door.
    I have also had clients use the first session to tell their spouse they are leaving (too fearful to break the bad news at home.)

    The business of shopping for someone who will take your side is as much about the client as the therapist. As a clinician I keep in mind what I said in point #4 about each person assessing their part in the mess. I do not believe in the pure innocence of one party when it comes to marital difficulties. No one person can create a tangled mess all on his or her own.

    As much as I believe in possibility and goodness I also know that people can be unhealthy, manipulative, and do dreadful things to their supposed loved ones.

    Honestly, I’d say men and women are equally capable of manipulating therapists. Big subject here that could be a whole post.



  3. One thing people don’t realize is the horrible toll divorce takes on you and children. My ex and I separated 3 times before I gave up. He wouldn’t go to therapy, but I did. It helped me be stronger, set limits on his behavior, drinking at least a six pack a day usually more (almost burned the house done once), one affair that I know of for sure (a friend who sent me roses to apologize..weird), I just asked him to choose alcohol or his family. Alcohol won. But it was my children that were hurt the most, he rarely saw them (holiday’s at his parents) and he lived very close. I suggested that he just take them to dinner every week or so, nope. And the few times they stayed at his house ended very badly (broken arm, cuts, bruises and the kids said he didn’t pay attention to them).
    I stopped overnight visit which was easy cause he didn’t want them. And all I heard from my friends and family was “He’s so nice”. So much guilt and I and my children did get therapy. Helped some but I still hear them as adults trying to get him in their life, he has no more interest now than before.


    • Divorce is always a painful decision. Sometimes, however, it’s also the right decision. But people sometimes seek divorce when what they need is help to set things on a better course. I always suggest people slow down so that they can make a sound decision.

      Your story is sad. It sounds like you gave it your all. Eventually, when a spouse doesn’t step up, your only choice is to leave.

      It’s also unfortunate that your kids missed out on having a good relationship with their dad.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


    • That sounds extremely painful and frustrating. Would you say that it was divorce that took a huge toll on you and your family, or your husband’s drinking problem? It seems like the damage from that was going to happen either way, so it’s probably better you were able to get yourself and your children into a more stable situation.
      Should I stay or should I go by Bancroft is a great book for people married to someone with destructive behaviors (like addiction) and feeling conflicted as to whether to end the relationship. How to know if its time to go by Birnbach is a good one for people wondering if they should stay in an unhappy marriage for the children’s sake.


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  8. What about if your husband has agreed to couples counselling but also says he loves you but is not in love with you. Do you go for a divorce or do you fight for the marriage


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