Marriage can be a blessing, but it can also break your heart—especially if you think you’ve reached the end of the road. There’s no easy path to the decision to divorce, and the journey through uncoupling is different for everyone. If you’re contemplating this difficult decision, you need to determine if your relationship is so troubled that your marriage cannot be saved.
Only you know whether you can or should repair your relationship. But there are signs that can help you decide when it’s time to divorce. And there are also signs that, with relationship counseling and hard work, your marriage can be saved.
Is Your Marriage Worth Saving?
If you and your partner are considering divorce, there are questions you might ask yourself and factors to consider before coming to a decision. Ending a marriage can be incredibly complex and challenging. Admitting you may not love your partner anymore can be difficult. And even if you still love each other, that may not be enough to save a marriage. This can make divorce that much more difficult. Counseling, either together or separately (or both), can help you with the decision-making process.
Know the Signs
There are some marriage concerns, like abuse, that should be absolute deal-breakers. However, there are many more signs that are not so clear. Each of these issues should still be taken seriously.
Keep in mind that deciding whether or not to separate is a very complex and personal issue. Not all of the following signs alone indicate that your relationship can’t recover.
Divorce is hard, but for many, it’s harder and more painful to live disconnected and disengaged emotionally from your partner. Indeed, the toll negative relationships take on physical and mental health can be huge.
An abusive relationship needs to end. Abuse is never acceptable and no one deserves it or should have to live with it. It’s important to seek support if you are dealing with abuse in your marriage. Keep in mind that abuse is not always physical and can come in other forms, including emotional abuse and verbal abuse.
If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.
Lack of Affection or Intimacy
While couples may go through periods of more and less physical intimacy throughout their marriage, a sexless marriage could be a sign that there are underlying issues that need to be resolved in order for the relationship to survive.
If your partner led you to believe you two were the only people in your marriage, but then you find out that’s not the case—you’ve been deceived. On top of that, bigamy is illegal.
Finding out your partner has a criminal background can be challenging to get past, especially if the crime is very severe. Not only is there a sense of broken trust, but you may question if you know your partner as well as you thought you did. It’s difficult to forgive lying in a relationship, and this is serious lie designed to cover up a serious issue.
Is your partner always putting you down? This could be bad for your health. One 2020 study published in Health Psychology found that negative relationship quality after five years—specifically involving criticism received from a partner—was linked to an older adult’s risk of mortality.
Criticism is also one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse which clinical psychologists Drs. John and Julie Gottman use to predict the end of a marriage. The other three red flags: stonewalling, defensiveness, and contempt.
It can be extremely difficult to be in a relationship with someone who won’t seek treatment for—or plainly denies—their addiction. The addiction may also contribute to job loss, therefore impacting finances, or be the root of most arguments between partners.
If you and your partner were formerly in agreement on big lifestyle choices, such as having children and where to live, but now one of you has changed your mind, you may be at an impasse.
Similarly, if your goals and outlooks on life are no longer aligned, you may find that logistically the marriage can’t be sustained. This is something that could be explored with a counselor to see if compromise is possible.
Infidelity can be extremely difficult to experience. While cheating often lead to divorce or separation, it doesn’t always mean it will. Some marriages can survive infidelity. Whether yours can may depend on the circumstances of the infidelity and the presence of other complicating factors. Couples’ therapy will be essential to moving beyond infidelity.
Perhaps your partner brought significant debt into the relationship and wasn’t upfront about it, struggles to hold down a job, or consistently overspends. Or perhaps you’ve had a significant financial setback, like the loss of a business or unexpected healthcare costs. No matter the source, financial worries can create serious conflict in a marriage.
Inability to Compromise
Compromising is essential to a healthy relationship. If your marriage is completely one-sided and your partner struggles to meet you in the middle (or refuses to try), you could be in a toxic relationship.
Lack of Empathy or Remorse
A partner who won’t apologize, take responsibility for their mistakes, or won’t try to understand what you’re feeling can be very frustrating to be with. You may feel like you’re always putting more into the partnership and that your needs are never addressed.
Being unhappy in your marriage causes stress and pain. Whether you stay together or split up, having support and guidance is important. Relationship counseling can help you resolve conflicts and make decisions, and individual therapy can be valuable too.
To find a counselor, ask for a referral from your physician, your workplace employee assistance program, or a friend. If you belong to a religious congregation, you may be able to access resources there. You can also consider online marriage counseling.
Signs Your Marriage Is Worth Saving
Even in the presence of one of the danger signs (except abuse), you may still be able to repair your relationship. The spark that drew you together may be flickering, but there is still a possibility of rekindling it, especially if you can identify some of these hopeful signs.
You Love Each Other
A strong emotional connection may not be enough to sustain a troubled marriage. But it may be the push you need to seek help and begin reconnecting.
You Share Values
If you and your partner have similar beliefs and philosophies on big-picture topics (such as parenting, religion or ethics, and finances), you may realize that where it matters, you are united. Smaller disagreements may have clouded the picture, but you have a strong foundation from which to rebuild.
You’re Both Ready to Do the Work
When you and your partner are both committed to your relationship, and willing to take the necessary steps to strengthen it, that’s a sign that you can overcome your present difficulties. This means acknowledging that both of you have played a role in the current state of your marriage, and both of you have a role in making changes.
Your Problems Are Caused By Stress
Financial troubles, health concerns, extended family conflicts, parenting issues, and other stresses can put a lot of strain on a marriage. But if these problems are managed (through counseling, social support, self-care, and other strategies), then you may find that your marriage can also be saved.
Being unhappy in your marriage causes stress and pain. Whether you stay together or split up, having support and guidance is important. Relationship counseling can help you resolve conflicts and make decisions, and individual therapy can be valuable too. It’s a difficult and heavy choice to end your marriage, but if you’re fighting a losing battle or are feeling trapped and powerless in a relationship that is ultimately causing you harm, don’t wait for a single sign to tell you to stay or to leave. When it’s time to leave a bad relationship, chances are you’ll know—you’ll feel it in your gut. If you’re still wavering, ask yourself what’s still good about your marriage and what isn’t, and most importantly, whether the good outweighs the bad.