How do I Know if I am Ready for a Divorce: Interview with Dr. LeslieBeth Wish

Jodee Redmond
Dr. LeslieBeth Wish

Dr. LeslieBeth Wish is a psychologist and social worker who has been nationally recognized for her work with women's work and career issues, child abuse, and soldiers and their families. She is the author of Incest, Work, and Women, and her next book is entitled, The No Nonsense Woman's Guide to Love. Dr. Wish has been quoted in the Washington Post, Women's Health, Better Homes and Gardens, US Weekly, Woman's Day, and more. You can visit Dr. Wish online at her web site,

Recently, Dr. Wish took time out of her busy schedule to answer LoveToKnow's questions about, "How do I know if I'm ready for a divorce?"

Dr. LeslieBeth Wish on How Do I Know if I'm Ready for a Divorce?

In your opinion, do people rush to make the decision to divorce too quickly (because they are hurt or angry as opposed to really wanting to end their marriage)?

Yes---people often rush to divorce. The pain and confusion are so great that it's easy to fool yourself into thinking that if you just get divorced and get it over with that your problems will go away. But they usually don't. If you don't know why you got married and became unhappy, then you'll most likely bring too many unknowns into your next relationship. Marriage is not necessarily a ticket to happiness. Many people don't have a clue about what it takes to be a responsible and mature person. The fantasy of love and marriage fade, and couples often bolt when the dream-world ends.

Are there some issues that are absolute deal-breakers, i.e. indications that a marriage is beyond repair?

What is a deal-breaker to one person may not be a deal-breaker to another. In Woody Allen's movie "Husbands and Wives," a couple stays together even though the sex is not good. Another couple stays together even though one person seems too needy and clingy. In general, however, major deal-breakers usually include domestic violence, abuse of children, verbal abuse, substance abuse, uncontrollable mental illness, felonies, gambling debts/addictions, affairs (although some couples can recover and triumph), embezzlement and other serious financial problems, or a change in sexual orientation.

How does someone know when the time has come to end their marriage? What do they need to know to answer the question, How do I know if I am ready for a divorce?

A person is probably ready to divorce when he/she agrees with statements 5,6 and 7 and any others:

  1. There has been a history of abuse--sexual, physical or verbal. Abuse is one of the leading causes of divorce. Other top contenders are problems about money, in-laws, children, constant arguing and substance abuse.
  2. My partner committed a felony.
  3. My partner has absconded with my money.
  4. My partner has a history of rage.
  5. I have sought professional help, was honest with the therapist and took the therapist's advice over a course of time--usually at least 3-6 months.
  6. I can honestly say that I have tried everything--including knowing and addressing that I am most likely part of the problem.
  7. I understand that major life events can often trip off or amplify unsettled relationship problems. However, my desire for a divorce is independent of major life events. For example, in the past 18 months, there has been no major illnesses or deaths of key family members, no serious financial problems, no major career change/unhappiness/firings, no major moves, no births or loss of a child, etc.
  8. There have been affairs, especially a history of affairs. Affairs are widely under-reported. Anywhere from 30-60% of couples experience affairs. Approximately, a quarter to a third of couples can recover their relationship when an affair has happened.
  9. One of the partners announces a change in sexual orientation.
  10. One of the partners has serious mental illness or a very debilitating disease or injury.

I've used a technique that I call "Future Imaginative Scripting" to help couples decide whether to divorce. I tell clients to spend the next few weeks as "though they have made the decision to divorce." Don't act on it and don't tell anyone about it. Instead, observe your feelings, thoughts and reactions. What can you learn from them? Do you feel relieved? Scared? Confused? If a person is still hurt and angry with their spouse, is that a sign that they are not ready to divorce, because they still have feelings for the other person?

Being hurt and angry with your spouse does not necessarily mean you are still attached emotionally to them. And, surprisingly, couples who do have feelings for each other divorce because the marriage can't be fixed. This situation is especially painful: You love the person, but a serious problem persists, such as felonies or alcoholic rages. You love the person "in between" the bad times and hate him in the bad. In fact, this good/bad switching can keep people together too long. The good times hook you in and make you minimize the bad times.

Can counseling help people negotiate the end of their marriage, as opposed to trying to save it?

Yes, counseling and mediation can also help couples construct friendly enough financial and child care decisions.


How do I Know if I am Ready for a Divorce: Interview with Dr. LeslieBeth Wish