Deciding how and when to end your marriage is an extremely difficult decision and not one that should be taken likely. If you have been married for any length of time, you understand just how difficult marriage can be.
So how do you decide whether the fights and struggles and difficulties you are having in your marriage are just normal bickering or something that could lead to a separation or divorce?
I’ll be honest. I don’t know the answer to that question. As a divorce lawyer, this is not something that a client commonly asks me about, and if they did I would direct them to a therapist.
Every marriage is unique and has its own unique set of challenges. Perhaps it’s the difficult in-laws, or maybe you have a child with special needs. Maybe your relationship is strained because of finances. Maybe you or your spouse has an untreated mental health disorder.
There are any number of reasons why a marriage can fail.
As a divorce lawyer, I work daily with clients who decide to end their marriage. In some cases, they find out that their spouse is having an affair. In others, there is no synergy or common interests between them and their spouse. In still others, there is a mental health issue (often untreated) that has been simmering under the surface of the marriage.
There are a number of factors that will play a role in when to end your marriage and whether or not a marriage is “workable”. According to Susan Pease Gadoua, LCSW in her book “Contemplating Divorce“, there are three major needs that are indicative of whether a marriage is capable of being saved. Those are:
1. Safety Needs
2. Love Needs
3. Esteem Needs
We’ll take these one at a time.
In a “safe marriage”, there is mutual trust and honesty between spouses. Both spouses feel a sense of safety from a mental, emotional, physical and financial standpoint. There is good communication between spouses, and they have genuine care and concern for each other. Finally, each spouse is kind to the other (i.e. there is no physical, sexual, emotional, verbal or mental abuse).
In a marriage that seems doomed, the spouses don’t trust one another. Dishonesty is rampant in the marriage. Neither spouse feels safe from the behavior of the other. This could manifest itself in mental, emotional or physical abuse. There could also be financial abuse (withholding funds, reckless and uncontrollable spending, etc).
In marriages where there are safety issues, if both spouses are willing to work on those issues to be honest with one another and restore trust, then the marriage can be saved. However, if there was physical or sexual abuse of any kind, then significant therapy and professional help will be required.
In a safe and happy marriage, each spouse shares a mutual love for one another. You have shared interests and a commitment to make the marriage work.
In problematic marriages, there is an absence of mutual love. There may be infidelity and there are no or few shared interests. One or both of you may not be committed to making the marriage work.
Marriages can go either way if each of you is willing to work on creating a foundation of mutual love, end any extramarital affairs, and if you share some interests.
In happy marriages, each partner has high self-esteem and loves and respects the other spouse. In other words, there is mutual respect for one another. There are common goals and a willingness from each spouse to work on the marriage.
In situations where there is no esteem for either yourself or the other spouse, and no desire to change, then marriage will be unworkable. In these cases, there is no respect for each other and no common goals. At least one spouse does not want to work on the marriage.
When there is just low self-esteem for yourself or your spouse, and both spouses are willing to work on their issues, then the marriage may be able to be saved. But there must be a foundation of respect and some common goals for the marriage.
Final Thoughts on When to End Your Marriage
As you read through this, you may already know whether you can salvage your marriage or not. If you aren’t sure, then we recommend that you consult with a licensed therapist to help you work through the difficulties you are having as a couple.