For most couples, divorce is the last option — all else has failed, their problems seem insurmountable, and one or both partners is at the end of their rope. Even so, you may hesitate to file for divorce. After all, you made lifelong vows, you may still love each other, and divorce is so final.
While not every marriage can be saved, you might feel like divorce is a mistake, like there’s something more you can try to salvage your relationship. The question is: Is your marriage worth saving, or are you just prolonging the pain?
How can you address the problems that have led you to this point and move forward? Should you even try? Here are a few things to consider before you decide whether divorce is the best option.
What Do You Want?
Before you even think about trying to save your marriage, it is crucial that you know where you stand. If you don’t know your own wants and needs, there’s no way you can articulate your expectations to your spouse and begin working toward a place where you feel happy and fulfilled in your relationship.
How do you want to be treated? What behavior from your partner makes you feel loved and valued? What are your goals, both personally and within your relationship? Are you willing to compromise on certain things to make your relationship work?
Answering these questions is the first step toward determining if you even want to work on your relationship.
How does your spouse treat you? Do you receive the amount and type of attention you want, or do you feel like you’re constantly competing with family, friends, a job, and a cell phone? Do you feel seen, heard, and valued in your relationship? Are your expectations realistic?
While you can’t ask your partner to devote every waking moment to you, it’s okay to have some expectations about the time you spend together and the treatment you receive. A partner who loves and values you will acknowledge and validate your feelings and will want to make efforts to ensure that you feel loved and fulfilled.
That said, it’s wise to create realistic and attainable goals and not set your partner up for failure with outrageous demands.
Marriage counselor Gary Chapman, Ph.D., identified five different love languages, or ways in which people in romantic relationships experience love. Most people value one or some of these over the others. The five love languages include:
- Words of affirmation
- Acts of service
- Receiving gifts
- Quality time
- Physical touch
Sharing words of affirmation means expressing love in a verbal or written manner — giving compliments, saying “I love you,” and so on. Acts of service are behaviors that show love, such as doing household chores, running errands, making personalized playlists, or performing other acts of care that show one person is thinking about the other.
Receiving gifts has more to do with the thought behind gifting than the gifts themselves. Giving flowers, jewelry, poetry, or even greeting cards takes time and consideration, and the recipient views these gifts as a representation of love.
Quality time is about how you spend time together, with both partners being not just physically but also mentally and emotionally present and available. Physical touch is about acts of affection and intimacy, and it doesn’t have to be about sex, necessarily. It can be as simple as holding hands and cuddling.
It’s important that you know your own love language so you can understand how to feel fulfilled in your relationship and how to express your expectations to your partner. Naturally, you need to know their love language, as well, so you can both have opportunities to feel loved.
Many couples discuss the possibility of children prior to marriage and are on the same page when it comes to having kids and raising a family. However, you also need to consider other goals you might have.
These could be relationship goals like traveling together or living in a certain region, or personal goals pertaining to your career, hobbies, or charity work, for example. Goals can change over time, but you need to think about what you hope to accomplish and be honest with your partner to see if your goals align.
What Are You Willing to Sacrifice?
Relationships are a two-way street. While it’s important that you’re mindful of your own wants and needs, you must also think about the wants and needs of your spouse.
Compromise can be difficult, especially when you’re coming from a place where you feel like you’ve been giving a lot more than you’re getting. You may be unable to let go of negative emotions tied to past issues, and that can color your behavior and reactions moving forward.
In order to create a future, you may have to let go of the past and try to start with a clean slate. You also have to be honest with yourself about what you’re willing to give up to make your relationship work. Consider whether you’ll regret making certain sacrifices and end up resenting your partner down the line.
Know Your Deal-Breakers
Even when two people are in love and want their marriage to work, there may be incompatibilities that are impossible to overcome. One of the most common reasons for divorce is irreconcilable differences. This could simply mean that you can’t get along, or it could mean that you can’t agree on large, important issues.
If you want to try to honor your marriage vows despite the difficulties threatening your relationship, be honest about the things you just can’t live with. In some cases, it could be impossible to maintain your marriage. You have to be prepared to walk away in order to protect your own health and wellness.
Expanding Your Family
One of the most common points of contention in a marriage is whether to have kids or not. If one of you has a strong feeling that your life won’t be complete without children and the other is ambivalent or dead set against it, there may be no compromise possible.
Alternately, you might have very different ideas about how to raise kids in terms of religion, schooling, and more. If you can’t reach an agreement, these issues could be a deal-breaker in continuing your relationship.
Holding a job can be an integral part of your identity, giving you a sense of purpose and contributing to your self-esteem. However, you and your partner might not agree on working arrangements. What if your partner refuses to work, despite a need for two incomes?
What if you want to stay home and raise children, but you can’t because your spouse isn’t working? What if you both want kids and agree one parent should stay home, but neither wants to give up their career? These issues could all contribute to the failure of your marriage.
For some couples, an open marriage works just fine. Others expect a marriage to be monogamous. If you and your partner can’t agree on this point, you don’t have a strong foundation for a lasting marriage.
If one partner wants to be monogamous and the other doesn’t, the likely result will be not only infidelity but also lies to cover the cheating. This erodes trust in a relationship and can be incredibly difficult to overcome.
There are no two ways about it — addiction can destroy relationships. This is because addiction to alcohol or drugs is all-consuming, leaving no room for the attention and nurturing a relationship requires to survive.
That’s not to say there’s no hope, even if both partners suffer from addiction. Healing the relationship would require admitting there’s a problem and seeking help through some kind of recovery program and therapy.
Whether your partner is abusive physically, verbally, mentally, or emotionally, the toxic environment created by this behavior makes a relationship unsustainable.
There’s no rule saying you can’t work through such issues and break the cycle of violence, but because abusive relationships can be so dangerous, you may have to separate while you work on issues in counseling. Prioritize your own safety and the safety of any children involved.
Steps You Can Take to Save Your Marriage
If you want to work on your marriage, you should start by asking yourself how you may have contributed to problems. From there, you need to think about what you could do differently moving forward to create better outcomes.
Owning your part in a bad situation is important if you want to make a positive change. Both partners have to be willing to participate in examining what went wrong and accept responsibility. There are cases where one partner holds significantly more blame, but almost always, it’s not just one person involved in creating or perpetuating problems.
Know Where You Stand
The first thing you need to do is clean your own house, so to speak. You can’t participate in a partnership until you determine what you want and whether you can attain your goals within your current relationship.
Working with a life coach can help you figure out what it is you really want and create pathways to reaching your goals. Your partner may or may not fit into the equation, but it’s best to start by being honest with yourself.
Attend Couples Counseling
Regardless of the issues that are tearing your marriage apart, couples counseling serves as a safe space for airing grievances, discussing issues, and generally learning how to communicate effectively with one another. If counseling helps you discover that you cannot communicate or agree as a couple, you’ll have needed answers and closure.
If addiction is part of the reason you’re divorcing, recovery through AA or perhaps a more intensive rehabilitation program will have to be part of the process if you want any shot at saving the relationship.
Moving Forward With Divorce
When it comes down to it, you need to do what’s best for your own health and wellness, and this could mean letting go of a relationship that’s simply not working. The good news is that you aren’t alone.
Lawyer consultations can help you find professionals who will advocate for your best interests and help you emerge from the divorce process stronger and ready to take the next steps in your life.