Deciding to end a marriage is one of the most impactful decisions you can make in your life. Though it can be a tough decision, hopefully it results in peace and happiness. Many partners struggle for a very long time before making a firm choice about whether to stay or go. It’s normal to agonize over the decision of whether or not to file for divorce, or to determine whether or not the unhappiness you’re experiencing is enough to end your marriage. One of the most difficult aspects of this decision is the process itself. Remaining in limbo about your marriage can often be more painful than the end result.
For many couples, the amount of time they've already invested in their marriages has a lot to do with their decision to stay or to go. It's generally easier for a younger married couple to divorce and start their lives over again than it is for partners who've been together a decade or more. Those who have been together longer may have more invested in the relationship and a greater willingness to work on the marriage.
But, no matter if you’ve been together one year or fifty, you’ll probably see the same signs.
One sign that you are not in a healthy marriage is if you constantly find yourself thinking about leaving your partner or fantasizing about being single. If you’re already emotionally living in a single mindset, it can be tough to be present in your marriage. Daydreaming often happens right before a divorce, because it tends to pop up when you feel hopeless and are looking for an escape.
Many couples say that even watching movies can trigger a sensation that they want to be alone. In a study of 80,000 people, 33% of men and women admit that they watched a movie that affected them so much they considered ending their relationship. If all you think about is ending your marriage, it may be a sign that it’s time to get serious about not being serious anymore.
Even if you think you don't actually want to end your marriage, that daydreaming can still be a bad sign. Maybe you don't actually want to get divorced — you want to stay together, but you are so disillusioned that you allow yourself to wonder what today would be like, which usually leaves you open for an affair.
While not impossible, it is difficult to fully recover from the breach of trust that comes with cheating–even with years worth of online therapy. When a partner steps outside of your marriage for emotional or physical intimacy, it can be one of the biggest betrayals. Once trust has been broken, it is nearly impossible to restore. Even if you do manage to earn your spouse’s trust, the psychological damage that infidelity does can last for years – even a lifetime. Some people can truly put the past behind them, but most cannot and end up existing in a broken marriage.
Communication is essential for maintaining a happy, healthy relationship. It creates a foundation of openness and honesty with one another that keeps your relationship strong through the hard times. If you and your partner are no longer able to be vulnerable with one another, share anecdotes or observations in each other’s lives, or address relationship issues, your marriage will suffer.
Actively hearing what your spouse is saying is vital to the survival of a marriage. When neither partner is taking the time to really hear what the other is expressing, you are both invalidating each other’s feelings. That never feels good, and removes a safe emotional space for communication within the confines of the marriage. This frequently leads to one or both partners finding someone else to confide in, which can lead to infidelity.
In healthy marriages, both partners work as a team on everything from parenting to running the household to supporting each other's personal ambitions. If you've both started moving in completely separate orbits, or if you're not working together on day-to-day issues, it's a sign of serious trouble. Lack of personal, intimate exchange in a marriage is a very bad sign, especially if you are taking that intimacy elsewhere, outside the marriage.
Marital satisfaction is always higher when spouses have a strong friendship. It’s important to examine your friendship. Is it still there? Perhaps you realize you’ve grown apart as individuals to the point where you no longer have common interests and goals. If you don’t like spending time together, it’s a bad sign. You don’t have to want to do everything together, but some strong common interests are necessary. After thinking it through, you may realize you were never friends. Some marriages happen quickly, born from lust in the honeymoon phase. While sex is critical to a marriage, it cannot be the only thing you have in common because it eventually wanes, and you need to be left with a foundation of friendship.
Has sex become boring or non-existent in your marriage, but you still like your partner? Your marriage might be over, but you are left with a best friend. Regardless, lack of sex and physical intimacy can slowly erode a marriage. Not only does the oxytocin produced during intimacy help promote bonding, but it can also reduce stress and boost trust in a marriage. When your marriage is lacking this important intimate element, it can lead you to feel unimportant, underappreciated, and self-conscious.
One sign that your marriage is on the rocks is when you don’t feel or act yourself. If you or your friends don’t recognize the person you’ve become in the marriage, that can feel scary. Marriages, and all romantic relationships, are supposed to allow us to be the best version of ourselves. But, if they hold us back, or change us in an unwanted way, it can be a problem. If you’re experiencing a drastic change in your personality, your relationship may be the culprit.
Over-scheduling commitments or spending more time on your phone is a strong indicator that a marriage is in jeopardy — especially when it is intentional. There's a certain amount of work that a person has to do, but if you see it's increasing, and it continues to do so, especially over the holidays, that's called distancing. Couples whose marriages are in danger often disconnect from each other before it legally ends. If you're no longer spending any time together, if one or both partners is spending all their time at work, with friends, online — and if it feels like a relief not to be with each other — it's a sign that you've already disengaged from the marriage.
Sometimes when two people get together, someone has a future plan in mind that they fail to relay to their partner before tying the knot. It’s critical to discuss wants and needs, both in the day-to-day, and over time.
There are many areas of compromise in a long-term relationship, but if one of you is absolutely sure you want a child and the other categorically refuses, you're likely in trouble. If one partner is on the fence about having children, for instance, it’s usually possible to work through the issues. But if both partners are on diametrically opposed sides, the marriage might not last, unless one partner can dramatically acquiesce without resentment. With any major life decision in the relationship, you need to be honest with each other about what you want from the very beginning, and never expect or assume your partner will change.
The ability or inability to adapt to change in married life greatly depends on having realistic expectations about one's spouse. If disillusionment sets in when preconceived expectations are not met, it generates enormous dissatisfaction and makes compromise impossible, which leads to an irreparable breakdown of the marriage.
Unfortunately, only you know the answer to the question of whether you're better off staying married or getting a divorce. Sometimes marriage is worth saving and sometimes it's best for both partners to separate. It's important to face the realities—and not just the fantasy—of divorce.
When making this type of a life-changing decision, recognize what you'll lose and don't count on what you may receive. For instance, if your main reason for wanting to initiate the divorce process is because you're unhappy, being single again may not give you the relief you’re seeking, and you may not be in an unhappy marriage. When considering whether to get divorced or not, here are a few things to ask yourself:
If you've said yes to these questions, you may be at the point of no return in your marital relationship. Feeling indifferent or becoming emotionally detached is a strong sign that your marriage is over.
Before you make a big decision about your troubled marriage. It’s important to exhaust all other options and keys to a happy marriage. You may need some time away, trial separation, to view your marriage and marital problems more clearly. Getting away by yourself, even for a weekend, can help you sort things out. For many people, this is when something clicks inside and they know what to do.
If you're contemplating divorce, or you are asking, “does couples therapy work,” seeing a professional licensed marriage counselor will be crucial to your decision and how you recover from the outcome, either way. Even if you end up going to a couples therapist alone, it can make a huge difference in the time it takes for you to bounce back, either into the marriage or life after.
Be sure to see someone with a good amount of experience in couples work. Sometimes a therapist with a lack of understanding of relational interactions will hurt more than help. Better yet, you both can try discernment counseling, a type of couples counseling that focuses solely on helping couples decide whether they want to end their relationship or work on it.
Advekit can match you and your partner with a couples therapist and help you navigate your insurance policy to make sure you get the lowest rate possible. If you are interested in learning more about the cost of therapy, read our blog article answering the question, “how much is couples therapy?”
When it's time to throw in the towel, chances are you'll know. If you do make the decision to divorce, practice grace with yourself. Remember that if your marriage fails and you find yourself impending divorce, it doesn't mean you're a failure. Some unhealthy relationships are not meant to succeed, and when you close the door on a relationship, hopefully another door opens with something better suited.