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How Do You Know When Your Marriage Is Over?

Don't Burn Your Bridges: Be Absolutely Certain

The decision to divorce should never be made in the aftermath of a fight. Divorce is final and should be considered carefully, not just for its impact on you, but also for its impact on your children. When you divorce, what ramifications will reverberate through your life and the life of your family? Will you have enough money to sustain your lifestyle—including important small details such as trips to the movies, piano lessons, or your weekly take-out Chinese food? Are you ready to leave the family house for a tiny apartment? Are you ready to divide the Impressionist paintings you've collected over the last 20 years, your mint collection of rock 'n' roll singles, or the living room set you bought from the furniture master in Milan?

The answers, for many, might be straightforward: The emotional relationship with their spouse is largely negative, for one or more of the reasons listed previously. Why else would divorce be in the air?

Nonetheless, sometimes couples in conflict can overlook the positives. For instance, if you have a child, have you considered how difficult it might be to take total responsibility, on the one hand, or restricted visitation on the other? Will you miss your in-laws, friends who might have to choose your spouse over you, or neighbors you might have to leave? Have you considered the stress of the dating scene? Perhaps most important, will you be relieved or paralyzed by the solitude you might be subject to, day in and day out, once you and your partner split?

Should you decide that divorce is your best option, we suggest that you proceed with caution and be aware of what you could lose. If you move forward heedlessly, you might lose more than you need to, or more than you can bear. During her years at college, Melanie was famous for her outgoing nature, flirtatious affect, and pure love of life. Yet when she met Brad, an accountant from the Midwest, she thought she had found a balance. Sober and sane, Brad seemed to have everything organized—where to buy a house and how much to pay for it; how many children to have, and when; where to vacation and when to buy a car. But it soon became clear that Brad had an agenda for Melanie, too. He always seemed to know where she might get her hair cut, and what style she might request; when she should ask for a raise; what committees she should volunteer for; and, in almost every situation, what she should say, think, and feel. It was Brad who insisted she work out of the house, spending less time with the kids, since it was so easy for him to conduct his business from home. Soon Melanie found playing Eliza to Brad's Doolittle a heavy load to bear. Repressed and confused, she suffered depression and self-doubt, all the while living the so-called dream. Despite her love for her children—at Brad's insistence, there were three—she felt strangely disenfranchised. No longer comfortable with her instinct and spontaneity, she felt like a stranger to herself.

Red Alert

Sometimes, people in destructive relationships have trouble removing the shackles and setting themselves free, and for good reason. Studies reveal that the most dangerous time for a domestic violence victim exists when he or she first tries to leave—or does leave—the abusive relationship. If you're in this situation, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-SAFE) or 911 for your protection and safety.

It's no wonder she responded so strongly to Rick, an old flame from her glory days at school. He contacted her soon after his divorce—and seemed to love whatever she said or did. With a new love in her life, her motivation for divorcing Brad was high. Yet the price she paid to be rid of Brad was high, too. As the work-at-home parent (who had a higher income), he maintained sole custody of the children. In his usual, controlling fashion, he encouraged their animosity toward their mother. And he managed to secure a significant portion of Melanie's salary for child support.

There's no question that Melanie needed out of this marriage. But her haste caused her to suffer irretrievable losses, most notably her relationship with her children. Her relationship with Rick was never able to compensate her for the grief she experienced as her children increasingly shut her out. There's a lesson in this for most of us. When it comes to divorce, there is always a cost. You must calculate the cost/benefit ratio before you move forward with your divorce. If the price is too high, you may decide to hold off—or at least wait until you've positioned yourself in such a way as to rebalance the equation and come out ahead.

Take some time to consider your losses—and there are sure to be some—before your decision to divorce is set in stone.

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Surviving Divorce © 2002 by BookEnds, LLC. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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