Why do we stay in a marriage that no longer serves us? Why do we judge ourselves for wanting more? The answers may surprise you.

If you’re a woman in her 40s or 50s, chances are you are experiencing a phenomena I call “The End of Self-Sacrifice”. It’s a state brought on from hormone shifts that make our brains begin to think differently and our bodies to desperately crave having time and space to ourselves. After all, most of us have subjugated our entire adult lives, giving into all the desires and agendas of our spouse and children, typically without even noticing. We wake up one day and suddenly realize that life is moving by quickly and we feel trapped in a ‘Groundhog’s Day’ cycle of the same ole’ same. We want more – more joy, more fun, more purpose – and we become keenly aware that the relationship we thought would give us everything we desired in life simply isn’t. We begin to feel how the marriage no longer feeds our soul and the pain of this awareness is real. And it seems that our light, our very life force, is fading slowly, with each passing day.

I am a holistic healer and empowerment (life) coach who has spent the last 15 years, working with women, helping them reignite their internal flame. What I know from the thousands of clients served, this nagging to get out of an unhealthy marriage can be the hardest decision you’ll ever make. And the most important one.

It’s common to stay too long because we identify with what we know; the unknown is scary and daunting. Our ego minds actually prefer what’s familiar even if it’s painful. It’s literally our wiring. Add to this that our culture paints our desire for more for ourselves as straight-up selfish. And there’s the pressure we feel to be in a partnership; it’s as if it’s essential to our identity. If we can’t make in a marriage, we must be flawed. So divorce is shameful and something to be avoided at all costs. No wonder many women will wake up in their 70s and 80s with a man they now resent and blame for all number of things, most importantly the loss of their joy, passion and purpose.

I personally don’t believe we should tolerate anything. We’ve come too far with Women’s Suffrage, MeToo and “Time’s Up” to not take note of this other, soul-sucking killer not to take our intimate relationships to task as well. Shouldn’t this be where we’re fed and feel MOST supported?

What I’d like to do in this article is provide a few tools to help you decide if leaving your relationship is the right choice for you and give you some encouragement for ‘being’ with the right energy to take conscious, next steps. Whatever your answer, you won’t be honest with yourself if you aren’t clear about one thing first: Divorce CAN be a very positive decision that has very different outcomes from the nasty, destructive stories you’ve seen in the movies or even personally experienced with friends. There’s a new way of approaching the dismantling process of an intimate relationship that deserves your careful examination.

A movement is quickly making its way into my professional circles called ‘Conscious Uncoupling’. Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin of Coldplay popularized the term and the approach when they split in 2014. This mindset puts a stake in the ground around HOW you divorce and brings with it great hope to ensure that all individuals will be honored, respected, and appreciated for what they brought into the marriage. The vision is that, after divorce, the couple continues to honor the love that was shared and focuses on the positive in one another. The outcome is that the children experience the best in their parent’s relationship, as do friends
and family members. The couple can even remain in good relations, sharing holidays and important family events, without the usual in-fighting and tension common to divorces spouses. By design, this method requires that the best interest of all parties is factored into each decision. Using this approach requires vision, courage, and a commitment to bringing your highest self to the table, which can get tricky if you’ve already dissolved into constant bickering and distrust. But, whatever your circumstances, it is possible to take this approach in divorce and have a very happy, healthy outcome. Your success will be determined by your level of self-awareness and willingness to hire trusted advisors who will hold you to your commitment to remaining compassionate, fair and conscious through the process.

For many, divorce has given way to even more supportive and collaborative relationships, with some people finding that, while not good at being lovers, they make wonderful business partners or friends. A dear friend of mine shared how she divorced ten years ago and still remains good friends with her x. In fact, she introduced him to his now wife. They attended each others’ weddings when each found a new partner. And they continue to seek the best in one another so that their children witness and experience only a collaborative relationship between them. Knowing that this kind of change is possible can be liberating and may be what it takes to get you to courageously face an important decision.

Here’s a test I like to give to clients to make the right decision. Find a place where you can sit quietly, alone, and free of interruptions. Close your eyes and allow yourself to settle into the silence around you. Breathe deeply and exhale out any stress, fear and tension you have around making your decision. Try to empty your mind of thoughts. Now, from this place of quiet and stillness, take a moment to connect to the pain you feel being in your marriage.

Identify with what parts of yourself you’ve lost over the years.

What have you sacrificed that was truly meaningful to you?

What core values do you find no longer being your way of being?

Allow yourself to experience this deep, soul level pain for at least a three to five minutes. For many people, avoidance of pain has become a pattern so it’s critical that you recognize if you’re trying NOT to allow yourself to feel during this exercise.

Now, imagine yourself in the same situation five years out, with nothing having changed. Again, allow yourself to feel deeply into what this does in your body.

Now, imagine yourself in the same situation ten yours out, again with nothing having changed. The emotions should intensify. Remember to stay with it, allowing yourself to connect to the pain and awareness of what staying is causing within you.

For most, this exercise is the fuel for transformation of their situation. It allows us to identify with the truth, the toll that the marriage is having on our souls. If you find yourself, having played along and now keenly aware that something has to change, know that there are many resources to assist you from here. This is step one.

The road ahead doesn’t have to be daunting. What is key is to begin to document how you feel. Take time grab a journal and jot down your experience. And important to note, not all journaling has to be lengthy prose or paragraphs. Your entry might even be a drawing of how you feel, created with crayon. Include any key words that came to mind while checking in.

“Nauseous’, for example, or “numb”, “caged’ or ‘suffocating’ – to list a few that clients share most often. Using art, whether writing or drawing or painting, it an excellent way to get in touch with and process our inner, trapped emotions. Once we’ve released these to the page, we’re more determined to make the changes that we know are required.

In a few days, I encourage you to do another exercise, this one entailing the complementary traits for your partner. This time, allow yourself to take inventory of the positive qualities of your spouse, making notes on the reasons you’re likely to have married them in the first place. Write a much as you can in one sitting. Over the course of the next few days, add to the list. These positive statements will prove to help you shift the energy of how you will treat your partner moving forward. You will appreciate all you’ve been given, all that you have gained from your marriage, without feeling the need to stay any longer. There is a magic that occurs when we can tap into this higher energy with our interactions. Not to say that there won’t be bumpy roads ahead, but you’re starting with the most important pieces of awareness and that’s an invaluable place to start.