When to Say “I’m Done” in Marriage

Posted By on Jan 13, 2014 |


This is a guest post by Carrie Schmeck.

Ending a long-term marriage brings with it all manner of awkward adjustments and encounters, especially in social circles where you’ve always been known as half a unit. Since my split, two reactions surprised me most. Some friends edged nearer while others couldn’t get away fast enough.

I somewhat expected the retreaters. These were those who discovered my new state of un-married-ness, murmured condolences, stammered a bit, then slunk away fast. They probably didn’t realize I saw them blanch when I shared news of my breakup or noticed their relief as they beat a hasty retreat. Ending a marriage is a pretty big deal and I’ve discovered it’s just too much for some to be near it. Perhaps they fear I’ll launch a morose and bitter monologue or ask them to murder my estranged spouse. Or maybe, and I suspect this might be so, my shattered life reflects something in them. If my marriage could end like this, could theirs? Not everyone sits on the brink of divorce but it’s scary to be near the splatter of it. We like to float our boats on calm seas.

The other group surprised me. They were those who inched near and wanted details. Their curiosity didn’t feel sensational. These people wanted to know—as if they wanted to try on my jacket and check it for fit. I recognized myself in them. What they really wanted to know and what I’ve come to understand, wondered for themselves, was—how did you know you were done?

There’s a question. How did I know?

If you’ve been unhappy in a marriage for any length of time at all, you wonder. You want for a panacea, a formula giving permission to say it’s okay to go, to make nice though you’re about to shatter values and destroy your family. From the inside looking out, that looks to be the certain cost of escape. We want, we need someone to tell us at what point the price is too high to stay.

I wondered the same thing many times as my marriage cycled through good times and bad. I’d think, This is bad, but is it bad enough? And for whatever reason, my answer was always no. My kids were little. I had my house, a family, a Toyota and two dogs. My life was mostly good. I can’t speak for you, but from my experience I’d say if you’re not ready to leave your present world behind, you’re not ready to say when. If you’re worried about giving up Starbuck’s or what your mother-in-law or your friends might think, you’ve got a ways to go. You may be unhappy but you haven’t come to the end of yourself.

When I walked out the door, it was a five minute decision built on a lifetime of try. I left with barely a bag, no car, no place to go and didn’t have a penny to my name. I left knowing my kids might never understand or even forgive. But somehow I knew this plane was going down and all I could do was save myself.

It surprised even me but that’s how I knew. I was so done I couldn’t do anything but go.

When I wonder why I didn’t leave years ago, I can only think I just wasn’t ready. I must have had life left in me to fight for my values, enough strength to endure and hope for things not seen.

Unfortunately there is no formula for knowing when to say when. And even after leaving, it took months of therapy to understand I could own that choice.

If you were hoping to get your answer here, I’m sorry to say you won’t get it. All I can offer is that you look within.

You’ll know when you know.

Carrie Schmeck is a marketing content and features writer from Redding, CA. Her work has appeared in USATodayCollege,  NextStepU, QSR, Clubhouse and Enjoy magazine. After being married nearly 27 years, she is rediscovering life on her own, enjoying her three (plus one and a half) kids and racking up miles with close friends on her road bike.