When it comes to life’s big decisions—like whether or not to get married or have kids—there will always be at least one person in your life who has an opinion on whether or not you’re ready for it. Truth is, it’s none of their damn business. No one knows but you, and even you probably aren’t completely sure. Choosing whether or not you should separate or divorce from your partner is one of those big decisions. Others may have a lot to say about your situation, but ultimately, it’s up to you.

Yes, there are exceptions. Maybe your partner has chosen to end it and you may or may not have a say in the matter. In that case, the decision is mostly out of your hands. But when the choice is yours to make, and you’re considering it with all of the focused time and energy it deserves, this big life decision is absolutely your call.

While I can’t tell you what to do and what is right or wrong for you, I can share some things I have learned from my own journey, as well as from those of friends and family who have been through this as well.

Don’t:
• Stay in your relationship out of fear or just “for the kids.” No one wants to live in a household full of anger, negativity or indifference. Ask yourself if you are staying in the marriage for yourself and your partner, or are just too scared to make a change.
• Stay if you are being verbally, emotionally or physically abused.
• Leave if you’re doing it to get attention and don’t actually want the relationship to end.

Do:
• Stay if you feel there is still work that can be done between you and your partner to attempt to make things better.

• Take your time and don’t make a rushed decision, unless the immediate safety of you and/or your kids is at stake.

• Listen to your intuition. When you sit and think deeply about your marriage and your life together, what does that voice in your head say you should do?

• Imagine your life if you stay and then if you leave. What do you see? How does it make you feel?

Choosing whether to stay or to leave is rarely a choice that’s made once and immediately acted on. You may have considered it several times before and even taken steps toward it at some point. So, if you do choose to stay this time, frame that choice as an action, rather than accepting the status quo and continuing as you have been. Make it a dedicated choice to make your relationship with your partner work. If you choose to stay, try to:

• See a therapist if you can afford one. Consider doing both individual and couples’ counselling.

• Hear your partner, empathize with them and respect them. That’s the best way to get them to do the same.

• Prioritize your relationship and take action to make improvements. Try hard to see your partner as the man or woman you fell in love with, and not just the other parent of your kids. Make time to connect as those two people, without kids in tow.
If you choose to leave, it will obviously create a major change in your life, and the lives of your children. You need to prepare yourself for that, and do all you can to be ready for uncertain times. If you choose to leave, try to:

• Get on top of your finances. Splitting one home into two is pricey and you need to understand what your budget will be, and whether you need to earn or access additional income to make it possible.

• Activate your network. Help and support from friends, family, babysitters, etc. will be necessary for you to process what’s happening, manage the logistics of your new life and maintain as much stability as possible for your children.

• Get a therapist. Money will likely be tight, but it’s essential to do this if you can. Your support network is a fantastic resource, but having a non-biased set of experienced ears available can help make the transition a bit less bumpy.

You may never know 100 per cent if you’re making the right choice or not. Life will play out according to the path you’ve selected and you can’t ever see where the other choice would have led. Listen to your gut, try to stay calm and do what you truly believe is best for you and your family. Speak with others if you need to, but know that the only opinion that matters at the end of the day is your own. It is your life, and whether you stay or go is your decision to make. Whichever path you choose, know that you are not alone. Others have made these choices too and created the path that led them to the happiness they deserve.

Erin Skillen is the co-founder and COO of FamilySparks.com, an education company that helps parents navigate the toughest job in the world. She’s also a mom and a bucket list slayer.