I get the question “Is my marriage worth saving?” from clients every day. The truth of the matter is, no one can make that judgement but you. That said, I can assist you in making the decision by asking you some personal questions designed to help you assess your relationship’s status and “save-ability”.
Let’s get started.
Are you still friends?
A healthy, happy relationship is based on more than sex and romance. In order to enjoy a marriage that lasts – through the ups and downs of parenting, financial challenges, aging and all that good stuff – you have to be friends!
“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages” – Friedrich Nietzsche
Being in a marriage is like being on a team: you have to be supportive, communicative, and in sync to make it work. (Remember: there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’.) Much of the time, the deterioration of a marriage can be put down to spouses thinking with a “ME” mindset instead of a “WE” mindset, and the best way to avoid or overcome this emotional separation is by being good friends.
Good friends think highly of each other and look out for each other no matter what. This means that if your husband comes home having overspent at the grocery store again, while you’re within your right to feel frustrated, your friendly response should be less “OMG, what’s your problem?!” and more “How can we avoid expensive grocery bills more effectively in the future?”
Without the feeling of camaraderie and support on both sides, the many vulnerabilities that each of us feel at different points in our lives would be unbearable to go through in a marriage.
Remember, your spouse sees every low point, every mistake, and every insecurity you experience, and you see every one of theirs. It’s crucial that you’re able to forgive each other your small (and big) failures and feel loved and supported no matter what.
So, ask yourself, when was the last time you and your spouse shared a friendly interaction or a laugh with one another? If it’s been months or years, it’s likely going to be very difficult to turn things around, but it can still be done.
Do you still have chemistry?
Of course the degree of chemistry in a relationship inevitably lessens over time, and to a certain extent that’s just inevitable. After all, if we maintained the level of sexual interest in our spouse that we did when we first met, no one would ever get anything done.
Chemistry doesn’t just have to be sexual – being able to make each other smile and laugh is a huge part of it, too – but the sexual aspect is an important part of maintaining a happy marriage.
There’s no specific standard that determines how much sex per week or month is a healthy amount (and I will always advocate quality over quantity), but for that reason it’s all the more important that you are honest with yourself about whether you’re happy with the level of sexual interaction that exists in your marriage right now. If you’re not, fine. It’s up to you to try to initiate more sexual encounters with your spouse – and I don’t just mean by propositioning them with an underwhelming “Wanna have sex?” before bed. Woo them. Take them out. Get creative.
A relationship without sex can signify a number of things, most notably boredom, and that can be remedied by switching things up a bit. If you give it the college try and just cannot meet your spouse in a sexual realm despite sincere and meaningful effort, then it’s important to consider this when it comes to making choices about your marriage moving forward.
Do you share intimacy?
Intimacy includes (but transcends) sex. Do you cuddle? Do you kiss each other goodbye and goodnight? Do you hold hands when you’re out together, or when you’re watching a movie? Sharing intimacy creates a many layered bond as it requires several different connections between you and your spouse: physical; mental; spiritual.
I don’t think I need to go too far into why sharing these types of intimacy with your spouse is so important, but it ties into everything else I’ve said so far. You’re married, which means you were (and should be) tight. Homies. If you’re not being open and honest with each other, all the other stuff (sex, trust, happiness) is in serious danger of disappearing.
Once again, I understand that these questions are difficult to answer if your marriage is on the rocks, as it may have been some time since you shared these intimacies. But ask yourself: are they gone completely, or just dormant? If the latter, what can you do to reawaken them? If you and your partner are constantly at odds and can’t find a way to be on the same page at the same time, whether sexually or even just in conversation, I’ll be honest: it doesn’t bode well.
Do you have things in common?
Do you share interests? Do you talk about things outside of bills and the school run when you spend time together? Over time people change, and when both partners change in a marriage, it can put tremendous strain on it.
It’s important to make sure that you retain common ground, whether it be the small stuff, like chatting about books over coffee in the morning or looking forward to seeing the new Star Wars movie together, or bigger things like going on a trip next year, taking a class together, or working towards affording your dream house.
If you don’t share things in common, and have common goals, you’ll have nothing to talk about, nothing to laugh about, and nothing to get excited about together. This is the death knell to any relationship. If you stop talking and stop sharing your lives with one another, you will quickly become strangers sharing a home.
Are you kind to each other?
Studies have shown that the two most prominent qualities in a happy, lasting marriage are kindness and generosity (and I mean generosity of spirit as well as resources). Showing kindness and generosity to your spouse is as much in the simple things (making them breakfast, letting them sleep in, watching the kids so they can have a night off) as it is in the grand gestures.
If you aren’t practising these qualities on a daily basis – even when things are on the rocks – then stop what you’re doing and ask yourself: “Do I feel my spouse deserves kindness and generosity?”, “Have I ever shown my spouse kindness and generosity?”, and “Am I able to show my spouse kindness and generosity?”. If you can’t answer “Yes” to every one of these questions, then I suggest you think long and hard about separation, because it’s the only viable solution to your current situation.
Have you tried to resolve your problems?
This might sound like a stupid question (after all, you are reading this article), but it bears consideration. Have you confronted your spouse about your shared problems, or are you too scared to bring up the subject? Have you done any soul searching for yourself, or are you blaming all your problems on your spouse? Have you explained to them how their actions make you feel, or just accused them of being an inconsiderate pig?
So I’m not in any danger of being misunderstood, let me be totally clear: displaying anger, yelling, and resentment do not qualify as attempts to resolve your problems, even if you think you are addressing them by acting this way. There’s a big difference between saying out loud that there’s a problem and taking steps to make the problem go away.
If you’re unsure of the difference, that’s where you need to start.
Are you afraid of your spouse?
I know this might sound extreme, but I want you to give this honest consideration: are you afraid of how your spouse will react to things you do (being late, burning dinner, criticizing them, for example)? I don’t mean are you afraid physically – I’ll get to that in a moment – but if you feel like you are stepping on eggshells every time you’re in your partner’s presence, worrying about what you say or do in case you “set them off”, then I’m here to tell you: you’re in an abusive relationship.
There is no set of circumstances in which you should feel afraid of your partner. If you shy away from confrontation and meekly do whatever it takes to pacify them, stop. Be brave enough to call them out on their bullying and demand they change their ways, because that’s what they’re doing: being a bully.
If you’re too afraid to stand up to your own spouse, then let me simplify things for you: you’re no longer in a partnership, and you should get out.
This brings me to those more black-and-white scenarios where saving your marriage is not the best idea at all. What I have to say may sound like common sense to some, but to many it’s not, and they’re who I’m talking to right now.
For me (and I hope, for all decent people in the world) the single most unquestionable reason for ending a marriage or any relationship is abuse.
Whether physical or mental, abuse of any kind should never be tolerated. Not only is it hugely damaging to the partner enduring it, it affects everyone else in their life as well: friends, family, and most crucially, children. Allowing your children to grow up witnessing the abuse of one parent by another is inexcusable.
No matter how much you’re hurting or how scared you are to leave, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of taking yourself and your children out of that environment. Not only is it dangerous to all involved, but the tragic reality is that children learn by their parents’ example, and abuse is no exception. Keeping your children exposed to cruelty and violence will teach them to use those behaviours against others, and leave them with very little opportunity to live a happy adult life.
Another unquestionable reason for leaving your spouse is serial infidelity. Let me be clear: this does not apply to partners who have a mutual agreement to see other people within their marriage.
Many people nowadays conduct open marriages successfully and retain a loving relationship, but the difference is that in that scenario the decision is mutual.
But if one partner incessantly cheats behind the other’s back, it’s just plain grounds for divorce. Not only is the cheater betraying their spouse’s trust, they’re inflicting terrible pain whether their spouse has found out yet or not. Because they will find out. And when they do, they will be severely damaged by the discovery.
If you’re in a marriage where affairs and infidelity are a regular occurrence, it’s time to re-examine why you’re in the marriage in the first place and take the appropriate actions to end it.
I hope I’ve cleared up a few things for you in this article. Remember, you and your spouse are the only two people that know the whole truth of the ins and outs of your relationship. After you have read through this article thoroughly, I suggest you seek some counselling. Even if your partner will not attend with you, at least you could begin to have some clarity whether or not your marriage is worth saving for your own sake.