Taking Stock in a Marriage: When is it Time to Save a Marriage vs. When is it Time to End It?

Summer is over. The kids are back in school. The normal routine has returned to your life.  This is a comparatively calm time for most households. There are fewer stressors, a little more “me time”0HFF1UYS9S-300x200
and a lot less “rock ‘n roll” than during the summer.  It is a good time to take stock of where you are, what you have accomplished and for those with marital difficulty the State of the Union.

Bad marriages generally careen toward divorce until the final straw. Some people affirmatively try to resolve their problems and sensibly review their options. Others like the famous Ostrich in the middle of the crowded highway simply stick their proverbial heads in the ground until the inevitable truck cuts them down.  Marriages are work and, to a degree, organic. They need nurturing and dialogue to keep them alive. Time, indifference, the cumulative effect of unresolved arguments all weigh it down.

Often I am asked in an initial interview if I think a party is right in deciding to divorce. Many times the answer is obvious; one of the parties, for instance, has a new love who is not going away or there is violence. Usually, however, things are not that obvious. If there are children, there is the desire for stability for the children as well, although I often question how much stability there is in a house visibly divided.  Many times, one or even both parties have no idea what has brought them to the precipice of divorce. It probably is not just one thing. Since we are all human there is likely fault on both sides. The question is what do you do about it?

First thing is not only to recognize there is a problem but to speak to your spouse and see if they agree that things are less then optimal. You cannot fix a marriage unless both parties recognize  that there is a problem and that the relationship is worth trying to fix. You need not at this point agree on what the problem is or what needs to be done. In fact it is likely that if you try to define the problem you will likely only create another argument.  If you both agree there is a problem and that the marriage is worth fixing, you then need to agree on how the repair work should be carried out. If the problem has reached the point where both spouses are considering the end of the marriage, it is unlikely that you can talk it out among yourselves. If this was going to work you would not be on the precipice. When you are close to the end, you likely need professional help, not another child to save the marriage (yes, too many people try this and to my knowledge it never works). The point is change in family numbers, location or other systemic changes are not likely to save a failing marriage.

If a marriage is to be saved there needs to be some soul searching and some recognition of the root cause. People do not change easily. Often times when people are confronted with their own failings the reaction is not positive. If you sincerely want to save the marriage you are going to need help. Perhaps the sources of help are obvious, but I think they are worth repeating:7df9a9b7f03c042ccdfba2b0252bb070-1-300x200

1) Clergy: If you and your spouse are active in your religious community, this is a logical place to look for guidance. On the positive side it is likely that your clergy person knows you and has some insight into your family. Many religious leaders are trained in marital therapy and usually the service is without cost.

2) Marriage Counselors: Many mental health professionals offer marriage counseling services.  Such professionals are unlikely to know you but they are trained and have experience in helping people through those rough marital patches.

3) Friends and family. Sometimes there is a trusted friend or family member that both of you trust who can give you both some insight into what they see in your marriage.  Such persons may know you and your spouse very well to over insight and advice, although they are not, however, trained in how to resolve marital problems.

I have seen intervention by: clergy, counselors or friends succeed and fail. There is no one size fits all formula to saving a marriage. The point is if you both want to save it and are invested in finding a solution you have a better chance to save the marriage then most. It takes two people to keep a marriage alive. Only one to end it.