I remember pondering this question in the earliest days of our marriage. I remember going to the dreaded Relationship section of Borders and scanning the titles for a book that would answer that question.
In my experience, people who initiate divorce have been pondering that question seriously for a year or more. I know I did. So when trigger time actually comes, bearing the weight of being the one to finally end it seems like nothing compared to the burden of staying in an empty relationship.
I knew I had to be ready for no one to understand. I had to be the bad guy. And I had to be okay with that before going ahead. To be the instigator means to be the one to shoulder the blame.
Wise people will know that there's always more to a marriage that anyone can see from the outside. They will nod knowingly at your vague explanations ("it just wasn't working"), and they will know that there's so much you can't say, or explain, or even understand about why you ended your marriage.
But not everyone is wise. Most people press for an easy answer ("maybe he cheated on her!"). People would like to believe that marriages end for concrete, understandable reasons. People like to believe they can learn from your mistakes and make their own relationship divorce-proof. People would like to believe that if they do things right, they won't have to see the love they built their life upon disintegrate like a cheap bridesmaid's dress.
Even now, I don't have an easy answer as to why our marriage ended, why it ended when it did, or when the point of no return was truly reached.
What I know, is that when it was time to go, there was no other way. "I'm done, I'm just done", I said to a friend across a cafe table, holding a sleeping newborn Miriam on my lap. At the time I had no idea how this would all work. I knew I had no money of my own, no job prospects, no safety net other than the people who love me.
I knew I was done when I thought of another five years with him and felt a sick feeling in my heart and an oppressive weight settle over my mind. I knew I was done when I heard the lyrics to an REM song and started to sob: "I'd rather chew my leg off than get trapped in this"
The short answer to the question is you know it's time to go when there is no more question.
Bittersweet Me- REM
I move across, innocence lost
All flashing pulsar
I move across the earth in my new pattern shirt
I pass satellites
"You're so bitter," your complaint
I can't give you anything
I don't know who you're livin' for
I don't know who you are anymore
I'd sooner chew my leg off,
Than be trapped in this
How easy you think of all of this as bittersweet me
I couldn't taste it
I'm tired and naked
I don't know what I'm hungry for
I don't know what I want anymore
I move across, candy floss
I move like a tank
I move across the room
With a heart full of gloom,
Stronger than you think
Oh my peer,
Your veneer is wearing thin and cracking
The surface informs that underneath,
Underneath is lacking
You move across, innocence lost,
All static and desire,
You're blue in the face from navel gaze,
You set yourself on fire
You strip down and lay yourself out,
I know you can't fake it,
But are you tired and naked?
Are you tired and naked?