When Is It Time to Let Go?

I attended a wonderful conference on brief therapy a couple of years ago and concentrated on the folks who were presenting about marital/couples therapy. Thus inspired, I had dinner with an old friend and his second wife (also, now, a dear friend). Their union was very connected and sweet, and definitely had benefited from years of work. (They say a good marriage is work and whoever “they” are, you’d best believe them.) I had listened to my friend describe his first marriage and a mismatch which had produced his beloved daughter. The way he described the relationship, I had to come away with the belief that it was a good thing he had gotten divorce. So over dinner, I regaled him with my new-found commitment to the idea that any marriage can be saved and that divorce is an avoidable trauma – necessary only in cases of abuse (emotional, physical, sexual). My dear friend looked at me like I was nuts. He assured me that his first marriage would have resulted in years of despair for (probably) his wife and (certainly) for him. They were young. They were mis-matched.
In my years of helping people disentangle from painful marriages, I know very well that for one partner, the time comes that their emotional commitment to the marriage is simply gone. At some point there is no reviving a person’s commitment to a marriage. That person knows that the marriage is over in their heart. It is a very painful truth.
While it is definitely possible to stop this erosion of emotional commitment to a marriage before that line is crossed – once that last step is taken my observation from years of working with divorcing people is – there’s not going back. Sadly – wrenchingly – it’s over. There comes a time when our energies need to shift from holding onto a marriage that has emotionally ended for one person to recovering emotionally from the grief and loss of this transition and finding a new path that will, over time, bring fulfillment and love.