3 Steps to Take if Your Friends Say You Should Divorce

It can be tough to know if divorce or working on reconciling is the best solution for a badly damaged marriage. Friends, who have often heard about your problems, will be quick to recommend divorce–even if there are still things that you could do to turn your relationship around.

(go to transcript)

In today’s podcast, Coach Jack will give you steps that you should take before following your friends’ advice. He also offers a three step plan that has helped many people to restore their relationships–even with a very difficult spouse.

For additional help:



[Introduction to the podcast]

Announcer: On the Reconciling Marriages with Coach Jack podcast, Christian psychologist, author, and relationship coach, Dr. Jack Ito, will help you to build and restore your marriage. By learning just a few relationship skills, you can help your spouse enjoy your relationship more, while getting more love and affection from your spouse. Listen to Coach Jack as he helps you with one more step toward a marriage both you and your spouse will love


Jack Ito, PhD: Do your friends say that you should divorce your spouse? In my opinion, asking your friends whether you should divorce your spouse is kind of like asking your friends if you should get a root canal. Now, if they say, “Yes, definitely you should get a root canal,” and you actually do need a root canal, that would be a good thing to do. Although it would be temporarily painful while you got the procedure done, it would eventually lead to you not having pain anymore and enjoying your life much more. It’s really hard to continue to enjoy life if we have a tooth that is giving us constant pain.


On the other hand, if you don’t really need a root canal, and your tooth could be saved by doing something else that is needed, getting a root canal would not only be unnecessarily painful, it actually would lead to permanent damage that you could never undo. Even if your friend were a dentist and said, “Hey, I think you should get a root canal, I wouldn’t be quick to rush out and do that without at least seeing your own dentist and getting some x-rays just to make sure that is the issue. People can have the best of intentions, but it doesn’t mean that their advice is going to be helpful for you. Friends have your best interest in mind—I have no doubt about that. That’s what friends are for. They don’t like seeing you in pain, and if your relationship has been causing you pain, and it’s natural for them to see your getting out of your relationship as a way to end your pain. That’s also true if they have ended a marriage and because of that become happier in their own lives. They’re likely to see that as the solution for everyone who is having marriage pain.


They are not likely to think the way that many people do, who actually have divorced and then gone on to regret that they didn’t do more to save their relationships. On the other hand, you might have friends who are encouraging you to keep your relationship at all costs—no matter how much pain it is giving. For me, that advice is also bad. That’s kind of like saying, “Well, regardless of how much tooth pain you’re having, you can still enjoy your life.” Well, can you really? If our friends offer us advice which doesn’t carry much risk, then why not? Why not go ahead and try it? For example, if our friends are encouraging us to try horseradish ice cream, well I don’t know about you I might be reluctant to try it at first, but if I heard that many people are really enjoying horseradish ice cream, I might be curious and give it a try myself. It wouldn’t carry much risk. I probably would be out the cost of an ice cream cone if I didn’t like it, but I would be out the cost of an ice cream cone even if I did like it. Ah, the only differences is I probably wouldn’t finish eating it. And if I didn’t like it, I could just say to my friends, “Well, I tried it. It wasn’t really for me. I’m glad you enjoy it.”


But when our friends advise us to do things which carry bigger risks that can’t be undone, then it is really important we don’t just go by what our friends advise us to do. Even if all of your friends are advising the same thing, I encourage you to at least talk to a professional, at least one, to get a second opinion—a professional opinion, before you decide what to do. when it comes to recommending divorce I think it’s in the category of high risk because it’s something that once done can’t be undone. Getting divorced is not like trying horseradish ice cream. If we tell our spouse that we would like a divorce, it’s going to have unpredictable results. Sometimes it might actually motivate our spouse to work on the relationship. Other times it will hurt our spouses in such a way that they will never quite recover from it and that will do a permanent kind of damage for our relationship. If we have nothing else to try in order to end our pain or our spouse’s pain, then to get divorced, it makes more sense to me to do that. If our relationship is causing us to have continual and unending emotional pain and unhappiness, that really can’t be good for either us or our spouse.


People who say, “Well, we must never divorce because God hates divorce,” are forgetting the other things that God says like we are to love our spouse as Christ loved the church. You can’t separate one from the other. If you’re going to have a relationship where you hate your spouse, your spouse hates you, that is not what God had in mind. God’s idea is not to make you stay in a relationship which you hate just for the purpose of following a biblical principle. That is one of the things that he got after the Pharisees about after all—just following the letter of the Law without following the spirit of the Law. And the spirit of the Law in regard to marriage is loving each other, being reconciled, having a great relationship. So what do you do if your friends are saying you should divorce and you don’t know what else to do besides that except perhaps just to stay in a bad relationship?


Well as I said, you get a consultation. Many people come to me for a consultation. While for single session consultations for people who just don’t know what to do or they don’t even know if there is anything they can do. Many types of people come to me. They want to know is there hope for their relationship. I even have an article on my website that addresses that and help people to determine, without even needing to meet with me, whether there is hope for their relationship. What many people are surprised to find is that there is hope for their relationship. They just haven’t been able to see the hope because they don’t know any other ways that the relationship could be fixed. When I have a consultation with someone who does not know whether their relationship can be saved, one of things I want to know is what they have done to try to work on their relationship. The thing that I’m looking for is not really how many things they tried, but whether they have tried the correct things to improve their relationship.


Many people try all kinds of things to improve their relationships which are actually very harmful things to do. Many people try to argue their way to a better relationship—that never works. Many people try to have open marriages in order to improve their relationships—that does a lot of damage. People try all kinds of things but the most important thing I’m looking for is, have they taken the steps that are necessary in order to build a good relationship? There are three main steps for repairing a badly damaged relationship. These are, number one (and in this order by the way) stopping any damage that you, my client, whoever—stopping any damage you are contributing to the relationship. It has to start with ourselves. As Jesus said, we need to remove the log from our own eye before we try to remove the splinter from the other person’s eye. Now you might be thinking that actually you just have a splinter in your eye and your spouse has a log in his or her eye! Well that may be the case but the principal is still the same. You need to take that splinter out of your eye before working on that log in your spouse’s eye if that’s the case.


The second step is to work on being attractive to your spouse and using good relationship building skills in order to increase your spouse’s interest in you. These two things are the first steps. Stopping damage to the relationship which will make your spouse more relaxed to be around you—it won’t necessarily build your relationship, but then going on and doing the relationship building behavior so that your spouse will enjoy your relationship more, and then after you’ve done that, using boundaries to stop any remaining damage that your spouse is doing. It’s really important to do those steps in that order. Many people do the steps but they do them in the opposite order. First they try to stop any damage that their spouse is doing, before they make any efforts of their own to behave better with their spouse. That just doesn’t work. In this case, you end up with two people both waiting for the other person to change—which typically doesn’t happen and makes the relationship stall. Or makes the people be stuck in an unhappy relationship—always waiting for the other person to change.


Now, it’s a difficult thing to stop damage that you are doing if your spouse is still doing damage of his or her own. It will feel unfair. It will also mean that you need to put your hurt feelings or your angry feelings aside while you work on helping your spouse to enjoy the relationship. Yeah it is unfair, but having a good relationship is not really about fairness. Having a good relationship is about love. It wasn’t fair that Jesus died on the cross instead of us—nothing fair about that, very unfair. That is the best example we have of what it means to love someone. And that act of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross shows us how much God loves us. Fortunately, to build your relationship with your spouse, you don’t need to die on a cross. But, you might need to stop being critical, you might need to stop arguing or nagging or complaining or one of many other needy behaviors in order to reduce the damage, stress, conflict, and tension in your relationship. It may seem like a sacrifice to do that, but you got to keep in mind that the end result is for you as much as for your spouse.


It’s also not something that you just keep doing I know there are some coaches who will say, “Just be submissive. Let your spouse do whatever. Let your submissiveness wear your spouse down. And your spouse will just see how wonderful you are and will just give in.” Well, in my experience, that’s not what happens. When people become submissive to a controlling, demanding spouse, actually their spouse continues to be controlling or demanding. It doesn’t really change them. It helps the bad behavior to work for their spouse. I’m all for submission but the way that God teaches us to submit to others is to submit to others who are submitting to the Lord. That kind of person is easy to submit to because submitting to them is actually submitting to God. If our spouse is doing the kinds of things that God wants him or her to do, then yes, for sure we should submit to that. If our spouse is behaving in a way totally different from how God wants him or her to be, then we really need to decide how we we’re going to live.


Are we going to do what our spouse wants or what God wants? And Bible is pretty clear—we need to follow God. And that means that we love our spouse. Loving and submission are not the same thing. Loving means doing what is in the best interest of the other person from God’s perspective. So, for example, if our spouse were addicted to a drug, submitting to our spouse—buying the drugs for him or her, not saying anything bad about that at all—that’s not really going to be a loving thing to do. On the other hand, having an intervention, setting good boundaries, refusing to ride with our spouse when he or she uses drugs, these things are not submissive at all but they are on the road to helping your spouse to get over his or her addiction. It will make your spouse really angry, but is actually a more loving thing to do.


The same thing with our children. If we just let our children do whatever they want to, it’s not a very loving thing. We’re going to take corrective action. But, if you take corrective action with your children without first helping them to feel that you love them, and that they are important to you, then your corrective action is not going to be very helpful. It’s just going to make them very angry and maybe even get them to the point where they hate you. We need to do this in relationship building. We need to stop the damage that we’re doing. We need to help our spouses to feel loved, to feel important, to enjoy us, to look forward to being with us, and then when we use boundaries to stop our spouses damaging behavior (which hurts the relationship not only for us but for them) then those boundaries are going to be more effective and more important for our spouse.


So, if I’ve done my consultation with a person and I see they haven’t taken these steps, or they haven’t taken them in the correct order, then I know yes there is hope for this person’s relationship. But that still doesn’t mean that they’re able to work on it. Knowing the steps to take and being able to take the steps are two different things. Some people are so burned out from their relationship that even though they know there’s things that they could do to work on it, they just don’t have the emotional energy to do that. I don’t recommend such people divorce because they’re still going to end up with the same regrets. People who are too burned out to work on the relationship first need to take time out for themselves to recharge, take care of themselves, maybe do things that help them to even be more independent, until they can get to the place where they have energy to put into the relationship. Rebuilding, fixing, reconciling, (however you want to say it) a relationship is not something that happens overnight.


These three steps I’m talking about is not something—in the morning you stop your damaging behavior, in the afternoon your attractive, and then in the evening use the boundaries, and the next day your relationship is great it. doesn’t work like that. The more damaged your relationship is, the longer it’s going to take to do each of the steps. Now some people have already done some of these steps. If I have a client who has, for example, worked in my book on overcoming neediness and has stopped the damage that they are doing, and have stopped that for a few months of time, then I just check and make sure this person has really stopped their damaging behavior. And if they have, great. That’s not something that we need to work on. That person needs to maintain that, but then they are ready to go on to the next step of working on being attractive for their spouse. Being attractive means really being the kind of person that your spouse would be attracted to. And then working to become that kind of a person and using good relationship building skills. And, interestingly, much of the time when a person works on these first two steps, the third step is not actually necessary.


It doesn’t surprise me anymore. It did at first. But what I often see is once a person stops their own damage and then work on helping their spouse to enjoy the relationship, very often there’s nothing left to use boundaries for. Sometimes our spouse’s behavior is a mainly reactive to damage that we’re doing. And if we’re not doing that damage, there’s is really nothing left to work on in terms of our spouse’s behavior. Sometimes there is though. So after a person has really worked on being attractive to their spouse building the relationship as best they can, then what do we know? Then we know that any remaining problems in their relationship are coming from the spouse’s behavior. And that’s a perfect time to use boundaries. And when you do in that situation it also becomes pretty clear to the spouse that it’s their behavior which is doing the damage at that point. And often you having boundaries is the help that they need to make the changes—to have the kind of relationship that not only you want to have, but they want to have, too.


So take a look at where you are in your progression towards building your relationship. If you have done all three of these things, all three of the steps in the right order, to stop the damage your contributing to the relationship, you become attractive, and use good relationship skills, and you’ve done that long enough that your spouse really sees that as you—entrust that you—not just some kind of temporary change, and then you use boundaries to stop any remaining damage that your spouse has been doing, and your relationship still horrible, then yeah it might be time to divorce or at least get a second opinion, find out something else you can do. Those are the three things I know how to do and I know how to teach people how to do the skills within these steps.


I’ve written a lot about them on my website. I work with clients to go through each of these steps. If you haven’t done all three of these steps and in the correct order I encourage you to learn what’s involved with them, start to work on them, do your very best. If you do decide to divorce, you are going to be able to do it with far fewer regrets. And I also think that at that point you still might have some hope because at that point when you file for divorce, that might actually be that little bit extra difference that helps your spouse to react in a way that helps your relationship to build again. But I would never encourage someone to take that step until they have done these other first three steps because, as I said, taking that step to divorce—particularly if you are doing things which make your spouse not enjoy your relationship, is likely to be far more damaging than it is helpful.

(21:05) If you would like more help learning steps, learning about the steps, visit my website coachjackito.com. There’s a lot there for you, won’t cost you anything. If you want to go on to work with me, that’s entirely up to you, but don’t just follow your friend’s advice no matter how well-intentioned they are.


[Podcast wrap-up]

Announcer: Thank you for listening to Reconciling Marriages with Coach Jack. Visit coachjackito.com to learn more skills for reconnecting with your spouse and restoring your marriage.

(go to top)