How do you know if your marriage is worth saving? It’s an unfortunate place to reach in a marriage.
Taking a lifetime vowand then feeling disconnected from it can be a lonely, confusing, and even frightening reality. Simply asking, "Is my marriage worth saving?"speaks to the fragility and potential demise of the union.
However, there are ways to slow down the frantic questioning and answer it once and for all.
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How to tell if your marriage is worth saving— once and for all
Questioning the value and durability of your marriage can happen at any point and for a variety of reasons.
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 they 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?”
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Focusing on the value of marriage
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 might wonder, would people married so long decide to quit?
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 marriage.
Is it worth saving? And sometimes, people are afraid to dig down into that question because its answer might dictate an uncomfortable or inconvenient course of action.
If you've grown uncomfortable or unsure in your marriage, how do you go about deciding if your marriage is worth saving?
And if you truly feel unhappy, how do you know if you should stay in an unhappy marriage or divorce?
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Here are six questions that can help you determine if your marriage is worth saving:
1. Do youor your children feel unsafe?
Some things are non-negotiable. And safety tops the list.
If you or your children are experiencing physical 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.
2. Has 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?”
3. Is the trust 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 they say, do, and promise— your marriage might not be salvageable.
4. Are your values still in alignment?
People change over time. Circumstances and personal experiences shape and reshape thought patterns, beliefs, and even values.
A couple that works onemotional 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'll 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.
5. Is there addiction?
The presence of addiction isn’t a 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.
6. Do one or both of you have contempt?
There's 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.
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Here are five reasons that you should work at saving your marriage
1. 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, and even lapse into depression. They may also become more reactive without thinking first about what they say and how they say it, stop taking care of themselves, and even self-medicate.
None of these behaviors are good for a relationship, obviously. But in response to the question at hand, 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?
2. 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 mired in contempt, and you will realize how much you have in your favor.
3. You have children and are good parents
Unless your marriage is facing demons like abuse, addiction, and contempt, look at the whole picture.
Is your own unhappiness cultivated by a 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?
While there are situations more stressful for children than divorce, the breakup 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.
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And remember, you'll always be connected to your spouse, whether you're parenting together or from separate homes.
4. You're both willing to work
Relationships work much easier and more effectively if both parties jump into it 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's necessary to save your marriage.
5. You enjoy one another
If you can still smile and laugh together, the spark of your love is there. Do you enjoy a night out together, even if it’s just to a movie or a casual dinner?
If you're avoiding one another at all costs, your marriage may have deeper issues to resolve. But if you can tap into the love and enjoyment that defined the early days of your romance, you have a lot to build on.
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It's about more than how you feel in the moment
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 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 10 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.
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Dr. Jerry Duberstein, Ph.D., is a couples therapist and his partner, Mary Ellen Goggin, JD, is a relationship guide. In addition to marriage and couples counseling and coaching, they lead private intensive couples retreats. They are also the co-authors ofRelationship Transformation: Have Your Cake and Eat It Too.
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This article was originally published at Free and Connected. Reprinted with permission from the author.