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How do you know when it’s over?

Posted on Monday, March 14, 2011 in Divorce, Happiness, Honesty, Kat, Marriage, Relationships

Sara and I sat happily in our own little worlds at a table at the Depot, two cups of coffee and two wide-open newspapers between us — the adult version of parallel playing — when our shared solitude was interrupted by two fortysomething women at the table next to us.

“I’m just not happy,” the blonde said.

“You haven’t been happy for a long time,” her brunette friend said.

“But, the kids. I keep thinking about the kids. I don’t want to ruin their lives.”

“Half of their friends are divorced; are their lives’ ruined? You have to think of yourself, too.”   

“I know. But, I don’t know if I’ve given it my all. How do you know when enough is enough?”

Sara and I looked at each other, trying not to appear as if we were listening, which of course we were. But the blonde’s question is one every person contemplating a break up or divorce asks him/herself  — when do you know it’s over? At what point do you say this marriage or relationship cannot be saved?

I wanted to keep my marriage together, even though I was still stinging from Rob’s affair. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy and I wasn’t happy, but I — like the blonde — thought of my kid; I didn’t want to hurt him. But I know the exact moment when I knew it was over — when Rob lied when he no longer had to.

A while ago the Huffington Post asked people to share when they knew their marriage was over. Some divorce stories are funny, some are sad, some seem as if they might have been hasty. But, who knows what goes on behind those white picket fences?

I remember reading something Joyce Maynard once wrote when someone asked her when do you know it’s over. She wrote:

A person who is profoundly unhappy in a marriage is also depriving his or her partner of the experience of being wholly loved and accepted, rather than endured. A person who silently cries out … “I can’t live this way” — and then does live this way, despite her cries — is also quietly teaching her children to ignore their own inner voices, and failing to convey to them what may be the most important lessons we can teach them: To be true to one’s self, and celebrate the extraordinary gift of being alive. To live one’s life to the fullest. To be the best person we can be.

OK, I agree: We must be true to ourselves. And to our partners, too. But, instead of living “this way, despite her cries,” I always wonder if we are doing all that could be done. What could she have been doing instead of crying? There are many truths — how do you know which is the right one?

  • When did you know it was over?
  • Do you still look back and say, yes, I did the right thing?
  • Have you been true to yourself?

photo © Aaron Kohr –



Bring on the comments

  1. Steve says:

    I don’t think it is complicated. A person can go to a marriage counselor and go to therapy for themselves. After they have given it a few months or a year, they can ask themselves if the marriage is working. If not, they can say tried and gave it an honest effort.

  2. T
    Twitter: tsquest

    I did what Steve did. It is not an easy decision, by any means. But I, like you, remember the exact moment when I knew as well. He actually TOLD me that his personal privacy was more important than saving our marriage. (Which stung me, as he was “claiming” that his affair was over…)

    I gave it my all and he wasn’t willing to. Game over.

    Beautiful quote, by the way.

  3. Aleya Bamdad says:

    I’m still with my husband, but I had a discussion about this topic with my husband’s friend who’s parents have been divorced since he was in elementary school. He said that he’s happy that his parents are divorced because now they’re friends and they get along really well. When he was a kid they hated each other and fought at all times therefore causing him to be upset. What I’m getting at is that as parents we feel that we may have to stay in a relationship for the kids but maybe it’s actually healthier for the kids to see the parents happily separated than miserably together. It’s up to the adults to know that they tried their best and it didn’t work out. The next step is to start fresh and really go after what makes you happy. If you’re true to yourself you’ll be happy and so will the people who depend on you.

  4. Nicole says:

    I once had a boyfriend who told me, when we broke up, that he knew it was over when I stopped asking him how his day was.

    It seems like a small thing but I think I kind of get the point – when you stop caring about the little things that make your dynamic with somebody else a romantic relationship.

  5. Chopper Papa
    Twitter: chopperpapa

    You know it’s over when the pain of staying where you are becomes greater than the pain of walking into the unknown.

    Or said another way, when the devil you don’t know is more appealing that the one you do know.

  6. Steve says:

    There are some really good stories in this thread. No disrespect to anyone, but I can’t help thinking some parts of them would make lyrics for a killer country-western song.

    Oy, I tend to be obtuse to such little signs. On the other hand in some ways it could be blessing over being in a relationship knowing it is over, but being on-hold as far as moving on.

  7. Janet
    Twitter: youshouldknowca

    I’m with Chopper Papa- there’s a tipping point. But I also think that it can strike you, wham! when you don’t expect it. AND it can depend on the “why” you think it’s over. In the case of a cheating partner you can’t make peace with, I get it. But is it about something in you that will eventually come up again in a new relationship? If it’s something in yourself you’re not comfortable with, you might want to look at that. You’re right Kat, it’s complicated!

  8. BloggyDaddy says:

    I suppose I am like Steve and T.

    I did the counseling on my own and communicated every way I could that I wanted to try to save the marriage, in spite of an affair going on in front of me. I feel stupid for trying these days looking back on it because I think when someone decides they are in love with someone else, there isn’t any saving to be had. At least I can say I gave it my all though and have no regrets.

  9. Liz says:

    I had a moment similar to T’s.

    My ex told me he would rather get a divorce then ever go to another couple’s counseling session again. That confirmed all my saddest fears, that I was the only one willing to do the work.

    He tried to take that comment back, but I never saw him the same again.