Separating from your partner is a huge decision, but if you are feeling unhappy in your relationship, you may find yourself wistfully asking the question; is it time to make the break? There are no hard or fast rules when it comes to the right time to separate or divorce, but typically, individuals tend to make that decision when the negative aspects of the relationship outweigh the benefits.

But is there ever a better time to separate or divorce? We look at the pros and cons of the question.

Is it better to stay in an unhappy relationship?

People may remain in an unhappy relationship for a variety of reasons, such as they when can’t afford two separate homes, or get divorced. But by far the most popular reason to remain in an unhappy marriage is for the sake of the children. While it makes perfect sense to want to prioritise the children’s wellbeing, there are several reasons staying may not be the best idea in the longer term. We consider below some of the detrimental causes of staying in an unhappy relationship:

  • Unhappy marriages create negative emotional environments

Children are highly receptive and can pick up on tension, conflict, and unhappiness within a household. Growing up in an environment filled with negativity can often lead to distress, anxiety, and long-term emotional issues for children reaching into adulthood and extend into their own relationships.

  • Waiting until the children leave home

Although you may feel like the children will be better equipped to deal with the upset of a separate or divorce when they no longer live with you in the family home, the shock of a divorce on top of new challenges they may face can derail them completely.

  • Modelling unhealthy relationships

Children learn about adult relationships by watching those about them. If they are exposed to an unhappy marriage, they may internalise these dynamics and think them normal. This can influence their own future relationships and choices. In an environment where parents are emotionally hostile or distant towards one another, children may struggle to develop healthy communication patterns and emotional skills.

  • Impact of an unhappy marriage on mental health

Being exposed to conflict and unhappiness can impact children’s mental and emotional wellbeing. They may feel responsible for their parent’s problems or develop feelings of anxiety, guilt, or depression.

  • Lead to relationship breakdowns with your children

Over time, staying in an unhappy relationship can lead to resentment and bitterness towards your partner. These feelings can spill over into other areas of your life and affect your relationships with family and friends. Growing up in an unhappy marriage can deprive children of the positive role models for loving healthy relationships. Tension and stress in the family home can cause you to take out your frustrations on others and negatively affect the child/parent relationship. This may, in turn, lead to resentment and strained connections.

  • Relief of the situation via separation

Sometimes, separation or divorce may offer some respite or relief from the constant tension for parents and children. A more peaceful and stable home environment could allow everyone to feel better and move into the future. They may be comforted by the fact they can return to a calm home environment, rather than one which is forever in a state of conflict.

  • Breakdown in communication

An unhappy relationship often leads to a breakdown in communication between couples. This can cause problems when trying to reach agreements about finances or child arrangements. It is important to address these issues early on, rather than focussing energy on maintaining an unhappy marriage.

  • Your own wellbeing matters too

Being in a miserable relationship can lead to chronic stress, depression, and anxiety. Constant conflict and tension can wear down emotional resilience and make it difficult to maintain a positive outlook. It may even lead to physical health problems such as high blood pressure, weakened immune systems, and heart issues. Parent’s individual wellbeing matters too; when parents are stressed or unhappy, it can affect their ability to care and be supportive for their children.

What are the financial and practical concerns of waiting to separate/divorce?

Although it is possible to remain under the same roof and maintain separate lives together, in practice, it is extremely difficult to achieve. Not least, because your finances will be held in a state of limbo. Without a clear settlement, all waiting achieves is delaying the inevitable, and de-coupling your finances can be messy, particularly when you wait to do it.

For some couples, living under the same roof for financial reasons is a viable option. Fears about being worse off, together with the uncertainty around legal costs of divorcing, may lead them to decide to live together, but apart. This raises several questions, such as how do you pay the household expenses or how will you divide the house space?

If things are amicable, it can be easy to maintain separate lives, such as having separate bedrooms or setting house rules. If you trust one another on financial matters, then you could simply continue to operate on the same basis as you would normally do. In some cases, you may be entitled to claim new benefits or receive higher amounts of the benefits you already receive. In relation to tax and benefits, you are deemed to be separated when you and your partner no longer live together, although this doesn’t necessarily have to mean one of you moves out. The separation must be permanent in order for you to claim the relevant benefits, therefore if you are separate but living together, you may find this difficult to prove.

The solution that works best for you and your family may depend on your current arrangements, trust issues, and how long you envisage the situation enduring. Sometimes, the costs you might save by staying together, such as not renting a flat or avoiding the hassle of you or your spouse having to move in with family, may simply not be worth it.