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How to Decide If It's Time to Get a Divorce

Dr. Billy Kidd researched romantic relationships for 15 years. He held focus groups in various cities across the nation.


The Thrill Is Gone

Let us say you have been together for a while and now the thrill is almost gone. Or your marriage might be a boring routine. Maybe there appears to be no future with this partner. It could be that you feel like something is missing. These sorts of things can make a person wonder if it’s time to call it quits. How do you decide?

It takes time to figure it out. But once you understand the five feelings of romantic love and do the assessment, you will know what to do next. So let's start by looking at the 5 feelings that blend together to determine how one feels about their partner.

How to Understand the 5 Feelings of Romantic Love

Let’s review the five feelings of love and see how this applies to you when considering whether to get a divorce.

1. The In-Love Feeling.

If you are still in love after a year of being married, you will get excited sometimes when you see your partner. In the first year of a relationship, it’s normal to think about your lover a lot. But after six months, you should have moved beyond thinking about your partner all day long. The issue here is that if you don’t get excited about being with your partner once in a while—or simply feel rewarded sometimes about being with him or her—then the in-love feeling has passed.

2. The Sexual Feeling.

Some people bond to their partners through sex. It stimulates feel-good parts of the brain. Others simply jump up and go after sex because they purposely avoid attachment to a partner. For them, sex is a transaction. Sex addicts need more and more intense transactions. But people who bond with sex slow down, enjoy it, and cuddle.

Those who bond often cannot imagine having sex with anyone but their partner. Yet others get tired of the thought of sex with their spouses. Maybe sex itself seems boring. Regardless of the issue, if your partner does not turn you on sexually, you can see a sex therapist. Or you can talk to your partner about it. Of course, you can simply say the sexual feeling has passed.

3. The Feeling of Friendship

There is something called romantic friendship. It happens between partners who really get to know each other. It’s not simply being “just friends,” which is boring. It is the relaxed feeling of it being OK to say anything you want. That is because you always end up forgiving each other anyway when something goes afoul.

If you are holding grudges and cannot forgive your partner, maybe you are not really friends. If you do not have things you like to do together, you might not be that close either. Whatever your situation, if you cannot kick back like friends—but must be on guard—then you are missing one of the most important aspects of love.

4. Feeling Like Family

If you have bonded to your spouse, then you feel like part of a family. You also have a sense of security when your partner is around—if it is a healthy relationship. You both consider yourselves as a couple sometimes when planning things, and it brings a sense of satisfaction to accomplish stuff together.

If your family feeling is not healthy, then you feel insecure when your partner is around, or when thinking of him or her. If your family feeling is lousy, then you might talk to a counselor about it. But your family feeling may have already died, or it may never have existed.

5. Feeling Like Helping

You want to see your partner succeed if you have a healthy marriage. But you should not really have to make big sacrifices. You work things out together so that your relationship helps both of you succeed. You may still wish your partner success even if your sexual feelings and in-love feelings have died.

If you try to help your partner in order to gain control over the relationship, then you are wasting a lot of energy. Controlled relationships are unhappy relationships. If you do not really care about your partner’s future or about helping him or her, then the helping feeling has died, or maybe it never existed.

Understanding How to Use the 5 Feelings

Realistically, not all five feelings of love will necessarily respond at once. Any of the five feelings can also arise in a negative fashion and make you feel lousy. For instance, feeling like friends is a negative feeling if you have a list of grudges you throw out when arguing with your partner.

Here's what to do with this information:

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You may not have experienced one or two of the feelings either positively (+) or negatively (-). This is because you were simply missing out on them. Call these missing ones negative (-1) feelings. That is because you do not have a complete relationship without them. Now let's learn how to use this information.

Look at the feelings above and rate them either negative (-) or positive (+).

There is no single On/Off button in romantic love.

Examples of Using the 5 Feelings of Romantic Love

Let me show you how to use this information as a template for analyzing a relationship. In the examples below a positive sign (+) means which of the 5 feelings is working well. The minus sign (-) denotes which is not working well.

1. Imagine Couple Number One

In this relationship, one partner has some positive feelings of love. But that person also draws some negatives when it comes to a few of the other five love feelings. This might be a relationship where one partner says, "I love you but I'm not in-love with you."

Positive Feelings:

  • I feel like my partner is a friend. (+1)
  • I feel like family, including a sense of security when I’m with my partner. (+1)
  • I feel concerned about my partner’s future. (+1)

Negative Feelings:

  • You do not get excited when you meet your partner somewhere after he or she has been absent for a while. And you do not feel rewarded sometimes just to be with your partner (-1)
  • You never feel sexy when you are with your partner. (-1)

This is the Half-Alive Marriage. If you love your partner in the way this person does, then the in-love feeling is missing and the sex is boring. And even if he or she feels like a family, the in-love spark of being in love does not exist. So, if it’s all up to you to make the relationship function, you might call it quits.

2. Imagine Couple number 2

You feel this like buddies and you have great sex. But the relationship has no lasting emotional depth. They may dress well and go out a lot. Friends may think they are a perfect couple. But feelings are never discussed with friends or in the relationship.

Positive Feelings:

  • Sometimes my partner turns me on and I really feel sexy. (+1)
  • We’re friends like buddies at a sports bar. (+1)
  • I care about my partners future and feel like helping out. (+1)

Negative Feelings

  • I really do not feel like my partner is “the One” like I used too. I sometimes imagine what it would be like to be in love again someday with someone else. I have tried but nothing works with this partner. (-1)
  • The idea of being a family feels like an obligation without any reward, so it’s kind of lousy. (-1)

This is the Sports Bar Marriage— sexy and possibly looking cool—but it’s loveless and not binding. If you’ve in one of these, you may feel like there is supposed to be more when married. Otherwise, you may feel like the marriage is just a transaction, and everything is OK. It’s up to you whether you want to stay in something without much meaning. If you break up, you need to look for more meaning in your whole life, especially a positive family feeling. You’d have to work on yourself for quite a while before you’d be able to have a meaningful relationship.

Imagine Couple Number Three.

One of the partners in this couple experiences the relationships like an obligation. But there is some joy in the things they do together. Sex is just functionary. Yet the in-love feeling is gone. Friendship is what keeps the couple together.

Positive Feelings

  • We have common friendship interests like breeding dogs and bird watching, and we travel to exotic places. (+1)
  • Sometimes I help my partner just because I like too. (+1)

Negative and Neutral Feelings

  • I don’t get all that much excited to see my partner. When he or she gets back in town, I have to make a reminder to go to the airport to pick up my partner (-1).
  • We have sex in a kind of perfunctory fashion. (-1)
  • I do not feel like I am part of a family. My partner doesn’t really make me feel like there are ties that bind us firmly together except for the friendship (-1)

This Is a Worn-Out Marriage. The excitement just doesn’t happen anymore, despite traveling to exotic places. The sex isn’t much of a big deal. But you do enjoy a few friendship activities and interests together. Yet you just don’t feel like family. You would help your partner because you care about him or her doing well. But in all reality, the two of you are just cruising along, sharing a few special interest. Three out of five of the feelings of love are gone or never existed. So the marriage is kind of low key. You might be staying together for the kids. And if there are not any big conflicts, it might not seem right to get a divorce. If you don not have any big plans or want a more exciting love life, then it’s kind of a tossup whether you should file for divorce.

Think About the 5 Feelings of Love in Your Own Relationship.

Look over each of the following feelings and see if you can put them into the context of the discussion we’ve been having:

  1. The in-love feeling
  2. The sexual feeling
  3. The feeling like friends
  4. The feeling like family
  5. The feeling like helping and being concerned about your partner’s future

Write Out What Each One of These Feeling Means to You.

Put the good feelings if a positive column (+) and the not-so-hot ones in a negative column (-). Remember that any feeling that is completely absent in your relationship is a negative (-1) because of it's absence.

If there are more positive than negatives, say 3-2, you could stay and work it out. That would probably take getting professional help. But both of you would have to want to save the marriage. Simply dragging your partner to a marriage and family therapist won’t do. In this 3-2 situation, both partners must find a reason to save the marriage. You are probably still thinking in your own mind about how things could get better. If things do not get better in the next 6 months, then get out.

If there are more cons than pros, say 3-2, it’s probably time file for divorce. You heart has 5 cylinders, and it only responds with 2 toward your partner. Absent a minor miracle, your marriage is not going to change. But if you cannot imagine doing something else with your life, then stay where you’re at until you find a new purpose and meaning in your world.

If it’s 4 positive and 1 negative, then you’re fairly OK. You now know what you’ve got to talk to your partner about--that one feeling that’s not working out for you. You might seek help in learning how to talk more directly about your feelings with your partner. If it is the sexual feeling that’s not functioning, the two of you could visit a sex therapist.

If you rated your marriage as 4 negatives, then you had better start calling around for a lawyer today. You’ve put it off long enough. You are hanging on to a relationship that really no longer exists.

If you have 5 negatives, you need to be careful. You’re in a Dead Horse Relationship. Kicking it will not help. For some reason you have not left. If you feel in danger, you need to pack up, grab the kids, and go. Seek help with a family support agency.

If you feel really depressed, or really anxious, after reading this, talk to a psychologist as soon as possible. You need help and probably cannot go through a divorce feeling all alone.

Pros and Cons: How Do They Balance?


What Are You Feeling Now?

You probably learned how to analyze your marriage after reading this. Give it some thought over the next few days. If you have neutral feelings, dwell on what that means. Your feelings will eventually line up with what you learned here. As you let them arise within you new insight about marriage will occur. Slowly reanalyze your situation. Then you will know if it is time for a divorce.

If you feel really depressed, or really anxious, after reading this, you might go alone to a psychologist or a marriage and family counselor. You may need help and probably cannot go through a divorce if you are feeling all alone. Keep in mind that you will not necessary feel alone after a divorce. Living alone for a while can be empowering.


Kidd, B. L. (2009). Low Stress Romance. Romantic Relationship Institute, Portland, Oregon.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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