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“What if I have tried everything, and my marriage still doesn’t seem like it’s getting better? Is there a time I should give up and move on with my life?”
Are you asking yourself questions like this right now? Are you worried that you’ve tried everything, and still your marriage is on the verge of collapse.
Do you suffer with the pain and anguish thoughts like these bring with them?
If so, let me assure you, you are not alone.
As a marriage counselor, I hear questions like this from clients all the time.
People come into my office, having tried their best to put their marriages back together again, and desperately hope I can give them some insight about whether or not it’s time to end the marriage, get a divorce, and move on with their lives.
I really feel for people who are in this situation.
When you reach a place where your marriage has become so difficult that you are facing the possibility of divorce, the emotional consequences can be absolutely devastating.
What does it mean if you have tried everything and your marriage is still failing?
What will you do with your life if you end your marriage?
Who will you be?
Where will you go?
And what will happen to your family and your children?
Questions like these plague people who are on the verge of divorce, and the truth is that there are no easy answers when it comes to this situation.
Not all marriages work out.
My work revolves around helping people create the best opportunity they have for rebuilding their marriages. I believe in the sanctity of marriage. I believe it is precious and holy. And I believe it can be a blessing and a gift when it works well.
But I also know that not every couple out there ends up living together happily ever after.
Look at today’s divorce rates which hovers around 50%. Obviously, not all marriages make it.
In some cases the pain and injury caused in a relationship is just too awful to repair, or one or both spouses are worn out from trying to make their relationship work. There are some wounds that don’t heal.
And I don’t want to misguide you into believing that every marriage works.
If you are considering the possibility of divorce, the most important thing to understand is that no one can tell you whether or not it’s time to leave your marriage.
Usually when people come into my office asking whether or not I think they should get a divorce, I find they are asking everyone else around them too: family, friends, priests, rabbis, and other people they feel might help them make a good decision.
In the end, none of these people can tell you whether or not it’s time to leave your marriage. No matter how good their intentions are, no matter how informed they are about your situation, they can’t tell you what is right in this circumstance.
Neither can I.
You’re the one who has to live with the consequences of your choices. And you’re the only person who really knows what you can live with and whether or not what you get out of your marriage is worth the emotional price you pay for it.
No one is perfect. Every person who is in a marriage has to live with some undesirable personality quirks in his or her spouse. One hopes these bad traits are minor. In some cases they are. In some cases they aren’t.
In some cases, a good marriage counselor can show you how, unbeknownst to you, you have been encouraging some of the worst traits in your spouse.
However, you are living your experience, no one else is. You’re the only one who knows whether or not you can continue to live with these traits in your spouse. Even your best friend who knows everything about your marriage from the first minute may not be able to understand how you can put up with some of your spouse’s behaviors.
It’s critical that you understand this. Only you can make the choice to continue working on your relationship or choose to divorce.
Having said that, there are a few things to consider as you make this decision that might help you determine the right course of action for you.
Getting Your Marriage into the Best Shape Possible
If you’re wondering whether or not you’ve done everything you can to save your relationship, one thing you might consider is getting your marriage into the best shape possible before making a decision to divorce.
The reason I recommend doing this, is that then you will know what you are giving up if you ultimately choose to leave the marriage.
When your relationship is in bad shape, you can get blinded to the good things that were there by the immediate pain you feel.
I recommend uncovering the good in your marriage (if you can), by getting the marriage back in shape. Then you can make an informed choice about what you are leaving behind.
Keep these tips in mind if you decide to take this approach:
1. Set an imaginary alarm clock for yourself that will go off in 3 months, 6 months, or whatever other time you choose. When that imaginary alarm goes off it’s time to reassess: stay, leave, or hit the snooze button.
The idea of the alarm clock helps most people keep in mind that you only have to put out a good effort for a limited period of time, it’s not forever. Surely, you can do almost anything if you know it is time-limited.
2. Since this is the last ditch effort, you might as well give it your all. Be the best spouse you can be during this time, regardless of how your spouse acts. That way you will know that you have done your best for your marriage.
3. Refrain from using the “D-word” (divorce) until the alarm you have set is going off, or you know the relationship isn’t going to work. In the meantime, act like a family together and assume your relationship is going to last.
Talking about divorce is not something that would happen if your relationship was “on track,” so don’t bring the idea up while you are trying to get your marriage on track.
The marriage may work out, or it may not. You and your spouse will be the ones who decide that. Getting your marriage in the best shape possible will at least give you a basis on which to make that decision.
Even if you don’t stay together, the experience of being the best spouse you can be regardless of how your spouse acts is a wonderful learning experience for future relationships.
Divorce May Not Solve ALL Your Problems
Divorce is not a simple process. When you get into a bad place in your marriage you might tend to romanticize the idea of divorce. You might think:
If my horrible spouse just disappeared from my life everything would be better. I would be happy again. Therefore, if we get divorced, he or she will disappear from my life and I will be happy again.
As attractive and logical as this idea might seem, the truth is that it usually doesn’t work out this way.
Divorce is probably not going to solve your problems the way you imagine it might.
In fact, it might even create new ones.
A study released in July 2002 done by Linda J. Waite, Don Browning, William J. Doherty, Maggie Gallagher, Ye Luo, and Scott M. Stanley titled “Does Divorce Make People Happy? Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages” analyzed data from the University of Wisconsin’s National Survey of Family and Households, and came up with some interesting results.
The study analyzed 645 spouses in the late 1990s who said they were in unhappy marriages. Five years later, they were re-interviewed.
AmericanValues.org, in its executive summary of this study, lists the following three conclusions among others:
1. Unhappily married adults who divorced or separated were no happier, on average, than unhappily married adults who stayed married. Even unhappy spouses who had divorced and remarried were no happier, on average, than unhappy spouses who stayed married. This was true even after controlling for race, age, gender, and income.
2. Divorce did not reduce symptoms of depression for unhappily married adults, raise their self-esteem, or increase their sense of mastery, on average, compared to unhappy spouses who stayed married. This was true even after controlling for race, age, gender, and income.
3. About two-thirds of unhappy spouses who avoided divorce ended up happily married five years later. The unhappiest marriages experienced the most dramatic turnarounds: 78% of adults who said their marriages were very unhappy and who avoided divorce ended up happily married five years later.
These findings are very surprising in a culture that teaches us divorce is an easy way to end your problems quickly.
I’m no “Pollyanna.” I know that things get really bad in some relationships. And I know there are some relationships that don’t heal. In fact, there are cases where people are happier after a divorce.
But this isn’t universally the case–not at all. On average, people are just as unhappy after a divorce. Some are even unhappier than they were in their marriage.
You shouldn’t believe that divorce will solve your problems. There’s a good chance it won’t.
Divorce is a complicated and usually emotionally draining legal proceeding that takes time. In most cases, there is nothing “quick” about it.
That means you will be in contact with your spouse at least as long as the divorce proceedings last. And this contact will most likely not be pleasant.
If the two of you have children, the problem is complicated
You will probably be in contact for a long time after the divorce proceedings end-probably for the rest of your lives-if you share children. You won’t stop being parents just because you get divorced. It doesn’t work that way.
You will have to face the complications that come when divorced people share children. That means dealing with child support, visitation rights, step parents, other children, and their extended families who come into the picture, and a host of other problems.
Studies are showing the negative effects of divorce on children regardless of their ages. Be aware, though, that studies show the group effect and not what happens in a particular family.
I’m not trying to advise you to stay in a marriage that doesn’t work. In fact, I can’t advise you on this situation at all.
But you should be fully aware of the weight of the decision you are making when you choose to divorce.
Whatever you choose there is one thing I can tell you.
When most people come to a point where it is time to divorce, they know it. They can feel it inside, and they don’t need anyone else to tell them what they “should” do.
Usually when you hit a place where divorce is the best option, you are in a lot of pain and are too worn out to work on the relationship any more.
Think about what you can live with and what you can’t. Make your own choice about whether or not you should keep working on your marriage.
In the end you are the one who has to wake up and face your reflection in the mirror-no one else has to.
Good luck with whatever decision you make.
Even though you have to make this decision by yourself, you are not alone. Millions of people face e problems similar to yours.
That may not make your problems easier to deal with. But at least it means you don’t have to face this terrible problem without some company.
There is a growing community on www.savingyourrelationship.com of people who are dealing with these same issues.
Use that community as a support while you face these difficult choices.
Let me know how it goes with you. I’d love to hear about your marriage. Post a comment to this blog by clicking the comment button below.
As always, I wish you all the best on your road to a wonderful marriage