hands holding - is my marriage worth saving?

Takeaways: Every marriage counselor knows that couples sometimes question whether they should stay married, or call it quits. It’s totally normal to question if your marriage is worth saving. In fact, this can be a turning point that leads to growth and positive change in your relationship. Learn why your marriage is worth saving and how to use this “relationship crisis” to strengthen your connection.

Is My Marriage Worth Saving?

It’s not uncommon for a couple in the midst of a struggling moment to ask, “is my marriage worth saving?” Every marriage goes through rough patches. But sometimes, it can seem like the rough patches in YOUR marriage will never end. That’s when doubts about your relationship can start to seep in. 

And after weeks of nasty exchanges and hurt feelings, why shouldn’t you start to wonder if you’re really compatible? After a series of bitter fights with no resolution, why shouldn’t you start to feel a little hopeless?

How Do You Know If Your Marriage Is Worth Fixing?

I’ll tell you a secret, it’s natural to question your marriage. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from over a decade of experience as a couples counselor and discernment counselor, and nearly two decades of marriage, (Yep, I’m that old) it’s that almost every couple has gone through stages where — for one reason or another — one of them sits down and thinks, “Is my marriage worth fighting for?”  

So, how can you tell if your marriage is worth saving? In my marriage counseling practice, I’ve sat with literally hundreds of clients struggling with this very question. And I know that it can be very difficult to remain optimistic about your relationship when you’ve been having bad experiences with each other. But here’s the thing: when you’re feeling hurt, angry, frustrated, or afraid, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and the opportunities that lie beyond the struggles.

Because it can be so hard to think straight when you’re mad and hurt – I’m going to hold the hope for you and share my long-term perspective with you.

5 Reasons That Your Marriage Is Worth Fighting For

  1. Ambivalence is NORMAL 
  2. It Gets Better (Really)
  3. Relationship Issues Will Follow You If Left Unchecked
  4. This Stopped Being About You When You Had Kids
  5. There is REAL Help for Your Relationship

#1 Ambivalence is NORMAL

Stepping on each other’s toes, getting upset with your partner (or having them get mad at you) is how we learn where we need to make changes.

All couples go through challenging times together, it’s part of becoming married.

It’s one thing to get married. (Having a ceremony and a party is a piece of cake — pun intended). It’s quite another thing to become married. The process of becoming married doesn’t start until the honeymoon phase is over, because, unfortunately, we don’t even know where we need to learn and grow until we have a conflict about it.

Stepping on each other’s toes, getting upset with your partner (or having them get mad at you) is how we learn where we need to make changes. Those skirmishes outline the current boundaries. Becoming married is the process of redrawing those boundaries.

Becoming married usually involves learning how to communicate with each other, learning how to show each other love, learning how to work together as a team around household tasks, parenting, finances, learning how to respect and honor each other’s boundaries, learning how to prioritize your relationship, learning about your own “growth opportunities,” and learning how to accept each other — faults and all. (Listen to “Cultivating Unconditional Love.”) 

This is a lot of work, and is often, regrettably, hashed out over many, many fights and tense exchanges. Reflect upon how many months you spent planning your wedding? Plan on it taking much longer to successfully become married. FYI, many couples put this work off, not fully “becoming married” until many (often long) years after the actual wedding occurred.

#2 It Gets Better (Really)

Sadly, many couples crash and burn during this normal growth process when they think that the relational turbulence they’re experiencing means that something is intrinsically wrong with their relationship. It isn’t.

Becoming married is challenging for everyone. It’s tragic to me when couples bail on their relationship without giving themselves and each other the chance to grow together.

Because when you successfully get to the other side of this it gets much, much easier. Imagine what your life will be like when this is resolved: communication is easy, you have a set of agreements that you’re both on board with, you have systems in place that allow your life to run smoothly, you’re not constantly triggering each other’s anger or anxiety, you’re supporting each other’s hopes and dreams, you’re both feeling loved and respected, and you’re having a good time together. (And even having sex!)

I believe this is possible for you, as with all couples, there is work to be done between here and there. Start by reconsidering your expectations that this “should be easy.”  

To give you a timeline, I think my husband and I began to figure all this stuff out around year five at our house (and that was actually about 8 sessions into our marriage counseling process). It could have happened a lot faster, in retrospect, had we gotten help sooner.

Grow Together

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#3 Relationship Issues Will Follow You If Left Unchecked

Even if you can’t stop a divorce and you do ultimately choose to end this marriage, you’re going to take your patterns and unexplored growth opportunities (aka, “issues”) with you into your next relationship. 

If you want to be successfully married to anyone, sooner or later you’re going to have to work on your ability to communicate, show love, work together, respect boundaries, etc.

The research shows a very clear and significant relationship between the number of marriages people attempt, and the success rates of those marriages. Despite common misconceptions about high divorce rates (read “Why Divorce Rates are Down”), most couples in first-time marriages who come into marriage from a place of strength in terms of their age, education, socioeconomic status (read, “What’s The Best Age To Get Married?”) can make it work.

However, second marriages have a much higher divorce rate. Second marriages with children involved are not for the faint of heart. Third+ marriages are frequently troubled and haunted by ghosts of the past.

The punchline: No matter how many partners you churn through, your patterns in relationships are unlikely to change until you do.

You’ve already made the vows — why not double down on your commitment and do the work right here? If you do that, your very worst case scenario is that (1) You’ll grow into a stronger, healthier person more capable of having a high quality relationship. (2) If you ultimately decide to leave, you’ll do so knowing you did your very best.

And the best possible outcome? You’ll create an amazing, satisfying, intimate and happy marriage that lasts a lifetime. Win-win!

#4 This Stopped Being About You When You Had Kids

…[K]ids learn how to resolve conflict in healthy ways when you model it for them.

Disclaimer: Although I am very much pro-marriage, I’m not necessarily “anti-divorce.” In fact, sometimes ending a relationship is the most responsible thing to do if two people have discovered they are really, intrinsically incompatible AND that they aren’t committed enough to make the changes necessary to have a healthy marriage with each other. (Read, “Can This Marriage Be Saved?”) This is particularly true for dating couples, childless couples, empty-nesters, or younger couples who are still in the process of developing an adult identity.

However, if you already have kids together…. I believe that you owe it to them to fight as hard as you can to make this work.

[Read: How to stop a divorce and save your marriage

Of course, there are rare times when it is better for the children if you live apart, particularly if one parent is not safe for them to be around (in cases of domestic violence, physical, verbal, or emotional abuse, and substance abuse situations, for instance). However, in less extreme circumstances, even when divorce is handled as sensitively as possible, it is very hard on kids.

The chaos of getting shuttled around to different homes (and the potentially different rules and expectations in each), dealing with suddenly single parents who are distracted, overworked or dating, negotiating step parent/step sibling relationships, and coping with the grief of their lost family, is an awful lot for kids to handle. It frequently overwhelms their ability to cope, and may be either externalized (showing up as behavior or emotional issues) or internalized (trying to be “perfect” and not have feelings). Neither is good for developing little minds and hearts.

Some people believe that it’s bad for kids to be around fighting and conflict. This is certainly true when toxic, scary fighting is happening, like name calling, abusive language, things getting thrown, or people being hit.

However, kids learn how to resolve conflict in healthy ways when you model it for them. They also learn that normal, healthy relationships still have conflict and friction, but more importantly they learn how to successfully work through it. That way they won’t feel worried that something is terribly wrong with their own marriage when it’s time for them to do the work of “becoming married” too.

I know it can feel hopeless sometimes, especially when you feel like you’ve tried everything. Divorce can seem like the only reasonable solution when you have no idea what else you could possibly do, and when your partner seems dead-set against changing. But just because YOU don’t know what to do, doesn’t mean there isn’t a path forward.

#5 There is REAL Help for Your Relationship

Getting expert help and guidance can open new doors that you didn’t even know were there. Is it hard work to pull a marriage back from the brink of divorce, and save a family? Yep. But imagine how relieved you’ll feel when you’re on the other side of this, with an intact family and a happy home.

Having a strong, healthy marriage is the greatest gift you can give your children. It’s worth the work.

I hope these ideas help you keep your head up, and remain hopeful about your future together… even when times are hard. Keep fighting for love, my friend!

And if you would like support from a couples counselor on my team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation.

xoxo, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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16 Comments

  1. We tried counseling years ago and I know he won’t go back. He moved us 3 1/2 hours from him and has now had separation papers sent to me by regular mail. I don’t know my next step. I’m frustrated, confused and do not kniw how to stop this. I was keeping in contact with him. Now, I just wait for him to contact me. He’s telling our kids that we’ll still be a family, that he and I just won’t be a couple anymore. I won’t accept that and I haven’t signed the separation papers. Help, whats my next step?

    1. Lori — thank you for reaching out. What a scary and heartbreaking time this must be for you. I am very sorry you are going through this; it sounds like it is not what you want. I would strongly recommend that you contact a local divorce mediator to talk through your options, and the next practical steps ahead of you. When the time is right, you might also consider starting some emotional recovery work either with a good therapist or through an online program like the one we offer at http://www.breakup-recovery.com. Again, I am so sincerely sorry for your loss and wish you all the best on your journey of healing and growth. xo, Lisa Marie Bobby

  2. Im very glad my minister shared this article with me.Yes i am going thtough some trying times right now with me n my fiancee..We are scheduled in be married in a few months..Its very trying..After reading ur article gives me some hope that this shall pass ,if the necessary steps are taken to save it..I will share with my fiancee hopely she will read it n feel the same as I do. Making some changes can improve our relationship..thank you 4 sharing..

    1. Thank YOU Arnesta. I’m glad that this article gave you hope for your relationship. It sounds like you and your fiance are both very committed to making this relationship work. I’m glad that you are wise enough to know that relationship problems tend to not “just get better” on their own, but tend to get worse over time if no positive action is taken. I sincerely hope that you two get involved in some high-quality premarital counseling so that you can resolve your current issues, and walk confidently into the adventure of marriage together. I have every confidence that with the right support you two can turn things around, and create an enduring, satisfying, and happy marriage. (And please tell your pastor “Hi” from me — I appreciate his sharing this article!) All the best to you on your journey of growth… Lisa

  3. Hello,
    How do u tell your partner it’s over and how to walk away when you have tried everything I mean everything to make it work and it won’t especially when your partner doesn’t want to let go?

  4. We tried counseling years ago and I know he won’t go back. He moved us 3 1/2 hours from him and has now had separation papers sent to me by regular mail. I don’t know my next step. I’m frustrated, confused and do not kniw how to stop this. I was keeping in contact with him. Now, I just wait for him to contact me. He’s telling our kids that we’ll still be a family, that he and I just won’t be a couple anymore. I won’t accept that and I haven’t signed the separation papers. Help, whats my next step?

  5. Lori — thank you for reaching out. What a scary and heartbreaking time this must be for you. I am very sorry you are going through this; it sounds like it is not what you want. I would strongly recommend that you contact a local divorce mediator to talk through your options, and the next practical steps ahead of you. When the time is right, you might also consider starting some emotional recovery work either with a good therapist or through an online program like the one we offer at http://www.breakup-recovery.com. Again, I am so sincerely sorry for your loss and wish you all the best on your journey of healing and growth. xo, Lisa Marie Bobby

  6. Im very glad my minister shared this article with me.Yes i am going thtough some trying times right now with me n my fiancee..We are scheduled in be married in a few months..Its very trying..After reading ur article gives me some hope that this shall pass ,if the necessary steps are taken to save it..I will share with my fiancee hopely she will read it n feel the same as I do. Making some changes can improve our relationship..thank you 4 sharing..

  7. Thank YOU Arnesta. I’m glad that this article gave you hope for your relationship. It sounds like you and your fiance are both very committed to making this relationship work. I’m glad that you are wise enough to know that relationship problems tend to not “just get better” on their own, but tend to get worse over time if no positive action is taken. I sincerely hope that you two get involved in some high-quality premarital counseling so that you can resolve your current issues, and walk confidently into the adventure of marriage together. I have every confidence that with the right support you two can turn things around, and create an enduring, satisfying, and happy marriage. (And please tell your pastor “Hi” from me — I appreciate his sharing this article!) All the best to you on your journey of growth… Lisa

  8. Hello,
    How do u tell your partner it’s over and how to walk away when you have tried everything I mean everything to make it work and it won’t especially when your partner doesn’t want to let go?

  9. Cristyna, you’re not the only one struggling with this. I recently had another person get in touch with a similar question that I answered, in detail, in an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast called “How to Break Up With Someone You Love.” I hope you check it out and that it helps you get some direction and clarity for how to move forward with integrity.

    All the best, Lisa

  10. My boyfriend and I plan to get married soon but we had an argument. I became needy, he shut me out. I have tried to communicate with him but it is getting worse. Now, he feels uncomfortable talking with me. I have not texted or called since last Sunday. I tried to give him personal space. I do not know how long should I wait to contact him to tell him how much I have appreciated him and our relationship. I do not want to make him feel uncomfortable. I just would like to communicate and find a compromise way for us.

  11. Married for 26 years. He is temperamental, abusive and I have tried to learn and grow for our relationship. He in the other hand hand say I have to take it or leave it when it comes to his character. I have 2 adult and 1 teenager abs they are saying mom enough. You tried very hard now it’s time you think about yourself. The last month has been worst especially of his possessive and insecurities, he went through my diaries which I have comfort in, he went through all my phone messages and my emails. He practically tore me apart. How do I move one with a person like this? No boundaries, respect?

  12. Pear, I am sorry this happened, but this is a pretty serious relationship warning flag that you’d be wise to address prior to marriage. I would recommend getting involved with some in-depth premarital counseling or couples therapy to figure out what’s going on here. (NOT premarital counseling with a pastor — premarital counseling with a marriage and family therapist.) If you are serious about marrying this person, there is some work to do. Good premarital counseling will either help you both understand the issue and productively resolve it together OR provide you with enough information to make informed decisions about whether or not this is something you want to sign up for. But the kind of behavior you are describing is not compatible with a healthy, successful marriage.

    Thank you for reaching out Pear. I wish you all the very best, and hope that you guys are able to do some productive growth work together.

    Xo, Dr. Lisa

  13. Soni, 100% agree with you and your kids. This sounds like a really bad situation. Please browse through the information available on this website: https://www.thehotline.org. This is a non profit organization with a mission of helping people in abusive relationships get themselves and their children to safety. I hope you consider reaching out to them. They can help you get connected with a domestic violence counselor, can get you connected to supportive resources in your community (including housing), have resources for legal help, and more.

    If you require other emergency resources, here is additional information I put together on where you might turn for help and support during this difficult time. Emergency Resources

    Thank you for reaching out to me Soni, so that I could provide you with guidance on where to get help. Good luck to you and your children.

    Sincerely,
    Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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