If your marriage is on the rocks, you may be considering divorce. But there are a few things every person should consider before taking that next step:

1. Is divorce the best option?

Many people divorce out of anger or frustration. Either something happens to strain the marriage, or arguments slowly build until they become overwhelming. Frustrated and unhappy, their gut reaction is to end the marriage. Separation is seen as an escape, when spouses really should ask themselves whether it’s a FIX for the problems they are experiencing. Many people divorce and enter new relationships only to discover that the incompatibility was not with their first spouse, but with the patterns they bring into their relationships.

2. Should this problem end the marriage?

A second problem is that people inflate the significance of certain events and throw away an otherwise decent marriage that could be salvaged. Infidelity is the perfect example of this. Many people treat infidelity as an automatic ticket to divorce court. Yet the reality is that infidelity is quite common and occurs just as often in happy marriages as it does in those that are deteriorating. Spouses shouldn’t make their decision on the basis of past events or indiscretions, but whether there is love and care towards one another going forward.

3. Will separation solve more problems than it created?

People commonly divorce over issues that won’t be helped by a separation. For example, money problems, parenting issues, and problems with in-laws or work and family life are commonly cited as primary reasons for a divorce. But many issues are likely to get worse, not better, with a divorce. Especially when you have kids, divorce does not end your relationship with your spouse, it merely changes it. Are disputes over parenting an issue now? You can multiply this ten-fold once each of you go your own separate ways and are trying to parent across two households. Money a problem? Each of you will instantly become poorer once the separation papers are signed and you’re no longer able to poolresources. In-laws a pain? They’ll still be there after divorce, possibly more hostile than ever.

4. What about the kids?

If there are children involved, you should think long and hard about the decision to divorce and exhaust all other options first. Divorce is hard on children. While the damage it does is routinely downplayed by the public or altogether ignored, the reality is that divorce can be just as harmful as any type of child abuse. Children enduring their parent’s separation often exhibit symptoms just as severe as that seen in abused kids, and long-term negative outcomes are often worse than that for things like physical or sexual abuse. This is because divorce is more than just the initial implosion of a child’s family. It frequently creates ongoing lifestyle changes that elevate stress and cause additional turmoil for many years to come. On a more positive note, there are ways to minimize the harm that divorce does to your children. It’s not the marriage certificate that matters, but the instability and changes in lifestyle and parenting that come with the breakdown of family. Minimize these harmful changes and you can limit the damage done and ensure your children comes away from it without any permanent scars. So if a separation is unavoidable, read up on the subject and take the steps to prevent the common pitfalls that damage children.