It’s an unfortunate place to reach in a marriage. Taking a lifetime vow and then feeling disconnected from it can be a lonely, confusing, even frightening reality. Simply questioning, “Is my marriage worth saving?” speaks to the fragility and potential demise of the union. There are ways, however, to slow down the frantic questioning and answer it once and for all.
Questioning the value and salvageability of your marriage can happen at any point and for a variety of reasons. An infidelity early on, for example, may make the betrayed spouse wonder if it’s better to just “cut bait” and move on. And the unfaithful spouse may wonder how s/he ended up marrying the wrong person instead of waiting for this newly found ideal.
Then there are those who find themselves in an unhappy marriage at 50 and beyond. They may have already raised their children and slaved in long careers to reach their long-anticipated empty nest and retirement. With all that once kept their lives moving at a fast pace, the sudden pause often sparks the query, “Is my marriage worth saving?”
The trend for couples in their later years to divorce after long marriages would seem to answer that question with a tragic “no.” Gray divorces have increased in frequency, despite a decrease in the American divorce rate for the past 20 years.
Why, you may wonder, would people married so long decide to quit in the home stretch? A lot of factors are frequent culprits. Differences in financial management, kids leaving home, and simply losing interest in one another are common reasons.
But asking, “Is my marriage worth saving?” doesn’t ask for excuses or even valid reasons for divorcing. It asks about the value of a marriage. Is it worth saving? And sometimes people are afraid to dig down to that question because its answer might dictate an uncomfortable or inconvenient course of action.
If you have grown uncomfortable or unsure in your marriage, how do you go about answering “Is my marriage worth saving?” How do you determine if you are simply in a predicted stage of love or if you are better off divorcing? And if you truly feel unhappy, how do you know if you should stay in an unhappy marriage or divorce?
Let’s look first at reasons your marriage may not be worth saving.
- You and/or your children feel unsafe.Some things are non-negotiable. And safety tops the list.
If you and/or your children are experiencing physical and/or emotional abuse, it is imperative that you get help…and get out.
Seeking expert help is an essential adjunct to leaving, as the guarantee of your safety may require numerous forms of intervention.
- Your spouse cheated.This is not a carved-in-stone reason to end your marriage. After all, more than half of those marriages rocked by infidelity manage to survive.
But affairs don’t happen in a vacuum, and both spouses will have their own roles to take responsibility for. And at the heart of all the introspection is the question, “Is my marriage worth saving?”
- The trust is gone.No marriage can survive without trust. Trust is as foundational as love and respect.
If you feel in your gut that you just can’t trust your spouse — what s/he says, does, promises – your marriage may not be salvageable.
- Your values aren’t in alignment anymore.People change over time. Circumstances and personal experiences shape and reshape thought patterns, beliefs, and even values.
A couple that works on its emotional intimacy will usually evolve together. They will still have their individuality, but they manage to course alongside a common set of values, priorities, and goals.
If you and your spouse don’t even agree on the fundamentals anymore, you will find yourselves in constant turmoil. Raising children will involve ongoing conflict. Charting your future will be stalemated. And if you don’t end up arguing all the time, you may end up drifting apart out of self-preservation.
- Addiction.The presence of addiction isn’t reason in and of itself to end a marriage. People with addictions enter into marriage. And addictions enter into marriages. It’s what the addict and those around him do about the addiction that matters.
No addiction can thrive unless it can feed on denial and co-dependence. And no one can thrive if the addict is still “using” and denying the need for help.
- Contempt.There is more than just subjective reasoning behind contempt ranking as the number-one predictor of divorce.
Marriage researcher John Gottman has determined it to be the worst of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse when it comes to destructive communication styles in relationships. It is vile, hateful, demeaning, and seething with disrespect.
While contempt can be reversed and worked through, it is the most foreboding sign of a marriage’s demise.
Now let’s look at reasons your marriage is worth saving.
- You feel overwhelmed and stressed by work and kids.Stress kills. It destroys the health of the body and it destroys the health of relationships.
People in the grip of stress react in ways outside their normal patterns. In an effort to concentrate and find solutions, they may withdraw, go silent, even lapse into depression. They may also become more reactive without thinking first about what they say and how they say it. They may stop taking care of themselves, and may even self-medicate.
None of these behaviors are good for a relationship, obviously. But in response to the question at hand — “Is my marriage worth saving?” — they don’t need to be deal-breakers.
What would your marriage look like if you had the skills to manage your stress more effectively? How would your communication look if you and your spouse could get away from the stress and focus on your marriage for a while?
- You still respect one another.Respect is such an integral attribute to a healthy marriage that its presence – even in the worst of times – is telling.
If you and your spouse still respect one another, you have a foundation for empathy, trust, and a willingness to work.
Compare a respectful relationship to one rived by contempt, and you will realize how much you have in your favor.
- You have children and are good parents.Unless your marriage is facing demons like abuse, addiction, and contempt, you should look at the whole picture.
Is your own unhappiness cultivated by lack of time and attention to your relationship? Is it worth throwing in the towel if your children are happy and you and your spouse have good relationships with them? Have you taken any therapeutic steps to work on your marriage so you can also feel confident about your parenting?
While there are situations that are more stressful on children than divorce, the break-up of a family has profound effects on children.
If nothing else, your children can be a motivation to dig deep and be honest in your examination of your marriage.
And remember, you will always be connected to your spouse, whether you are parenting together or from separate homes.
- You are both willing to work.Obviously relationship work is much easier and more effective if both parties jump into the restorative work together. But even if only one person is willing to do self-work on behalf of the relationship, the relationship can survive.
Even the slightest willingness to take the first step – to reach out for help, to modify your own behavior, etc. – is a statement of hope.
A mutual willingness to work is your encouragement to hold on and do whatever is necessary to save your marriage.
- You still enjoy one another.If you can still smile and laugh together – even if the frequency has waned – the spark of your love is still there. Do you still enjoy a night out together, even if it’s just to a movie or a casual dinner?
If you are avoiding one another at all costs, your marriage may have deeper issues to resolve. But if you can still tap into the love and enjoyment that defined the early days of your romance, you have a lot to build on.
Answering the question “Is my marriage worth saving?” involves more than jumping ship based on current feelings. Couples get bored with one another, life pours on merciless amounts of stress, and energy becomes a coveted commodity.
Chances are that you have plenty of days at work when you “hate your job.” But what are the chances you just throw up your hands and quit, even when you’re not getting everything you want? What kind of process do you go through and how much effort do you invest to improve your situation before leaving?
Isn’t your marriage worth even more than what you would give to your career?
If nothing else, picture yourself on the other side of the fence ten years from now. Now look down at the grass you’re standing on. Chances are it’s no greener than the grass you’re standing on right now.