Let’s paint a picture of a marriage in crisis: You and your spouse are constantly arguing, you don’t see eye-to-eye on important matters, you’d rather spend time apart than together and your sex life is nonexistent. Things have hit rock bottom and you’re at your wit’s end. But how do you know your marriage is over? Before determining your marriage is over, consider whether you want to stay together and have the skills needed to make it work. In my practice, I start with the hypothesis that no marriage is beyond repair. Every long term relationship can work as long as you equip yourselves with the right skills and commit to working things out. Ending a marriage is not a decision to be made lightly. In fact, a number of studies have shown that as many as 40% of couples who divorce regret it later. So before calling it quits, take some time to assess where your relationship stands and what you can do to revive it.
Assess Your Relationship Skills
Start by looking at your communication skills. It could very well be that you just need to improve your relationship skills in order to make your marriage work. Some examples are active listening, clarity and respect, and emotional regulation. You and your spouse should start by asking yourselves the following questions:
- Can we learn the necessary skills to improve our relationship?
- Are we willing to put in the time to learn and improve these skills?
- Knowing that every relationship can be improved, how do we define success or an acceptable amount of change?
Think of it this way – you wouldn’t trust an unskilled carpenter to build your house. Marriage, too, requires specific skills in order to build and maintain it. It requires care, nurturing, and a commitment from both partners to keep it running. It’s never too early or too late to acquire and practice the skills needed to increase your relationship competence.
The Question Of Compatibility
Many couples have told me they are concerned about being incompatible. Honestly, it is usually more about lacking relationship skills. There are instances where compatibility must be discussed. For example, do you and your spouse share the same vision for what you want your marriage to look like? Do you agree on big decisions like having kids, where to live, and career paths? These are difficult conversations that require significant compassion and skill from both partners, which is why the you need to clarify with each other if you are truly incompatible or if you are just struggling to have the conversation.
Seek Out Professional Support
Our culture has recently praised do-it-yourself attitudes for almost every part of life. However, rebuilding a broken marriage usually requires professional intervention. Your marriage is perhaps the most demanding, delicate, and rewarding relationship in your life. Reading self-help books can provide some insight, but you will experience far greater benefits with support. Fortunately, there are multiple counseling options available for couples. It’s worth considering whether traditional counseling or a marriage retreat will work best for you.
Professional support from an experienced couples therapist is necessary for mentorship and guidance. The therapist, an objective 3rd party, will be able to ask the right questions, coach you, and provide valuable feedback throughout the process. A good therapist will also be able to provide insights about your relationship dynamics and evaluate whether your marriage is really over or if you’re going through a temporary setback.
When Your Marriage Is Over
Not all marriages can be saved. If you have gone through marriage counseling, worked on your communication skills and tried aligning your marriage goals all to no avail, your marriage may truly be over. The next step would be to work with a counselor or mediator to negotiate a trial separation. Ideally, a path to reconnect should be included if you decide to give the relationship another try, as well as an offramp if you’re ready to dissolve your marriage. You will know your marriage is over when, despite having made the necessary effort to fix your relationship, a separation still seems like the best way forward.
If you’re struggling in your marriage and considering divorce, please reach out to the LifeWise team for a free consultation.