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When Is It Time To Throw In The Towel In A Bad Marriage?

FAQ 8. When is it time to throw in the towel and get a divorce? We have come close so many times. There have been so many threats. I’m sick of the roller coaster. When is enough, enough?

Frequently Asked Questions
From Dr. Andrew D. Atwood, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

This material is presented for educational and informational purposes only. No other claims are made. Always consult your health care professional for specific personal care recommendations.

Look, I have to level with you. I have a strong bias toward maintaining a marriage. I’m not stupid, however. There does come a time when enough is enough. A sex problem can escalate into complete emotional apathy.

Physical or emotional abuse can result in apathy, and maybe even enough real threat to cross the line. There are real reasons for ending a marriage. But, my bias is for working it through, and out. Let me unpack my opinion on this some more.

The statistics speak of themselves. 47% of first marriages end in divorce, and 57% of second marriages. These numbers are staggering. The divorce rate seems to have level off over recent years.

What is noticeable is that young people today are waiting longer to get married and they are more inclined to be cautious about that first marriage.

Many have gone through their own parent’s divorce, and they don’t want to repeat the situation in their own lives. This is a trend that, frankly, I think is rather healthy.

Most people who divorce wish they had worked harder at reconciling differences. That is “most” but not all. There are plenty of people out there who got out of a bad marriage and are eternally grateful for it.

But the reality is that most people find out that the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence, that second marriages come packed with a lot of their own problems, and that no one gets to have a life that is any richer than the life they work to build for themselves.

“It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.” Yogi said that. No one, not anyone else, can tell you when enough is enough. But when it is over, you will know it because something inside you will shift and you will feel the difference. It may take a while to get there, but it will be a noticeable shift in your emotional well-being. A certain kind of clarity will arrive and you will be certain about the next step. I’ve seen this happen time and time again. Someone walks into my office and say, “I’ve given up.” Then we aren’t doing marriage counseling anymore, but divorce adjustment therapy.

There have been some books written lately designed to help you to get to your decision. Each has its logical approach. However, people divorce for emotional reasons, not logical reasons. Consider it.

Did you marry because it was the logical thing to do? Probably not. If you did, you never had an emotional commitment to the relationship and you are in trouble today. Maybe you have grown to love each other, maybe not. Divorce isn’t logical, it is emotional.

Divorce is emotional, and physical. I have worked with individuals who are emotional divorce, but yet remain married. I have also worked with individuals who are legally and physically divorced, but are still emotionally married.

In fact, in the later case, our office has an arrangement with the local Friend of the Court to work with those cantankerous couples that are fighting in the Courts because they are divorced, but yet emotionally married.

The kids are always suffering in that sort of extended emotional enmeshment. Rule of thumb: you aren’t divorced until you are emotionally divorced, and you shouldn’t get a legal divorce until you are emotionally divorced.

If you are a Ready Adventurer you might jump ship a lot earlier than you spouse because you can shift your emotions rather quickly. You may have become bored with the state of affairs; maybe even had an affair, and you want to get on with the next adventure. Look out! You might be too ready for change.

If you are a Loyal Caretaker you might hang on for dear life. Your loyalty will keep you in the game longer than your heart and mind would advise. Be honest with yourself, of course.

If you are an Authentic Idealist you might have lost the idealism you had at the start of your marriage. Maybe you have idealized another relationship with another person. That can be troublesome, of course. “The truth will set you free.” While such a conviction works for all individuals and couples, it is particularly applicable to the Authentic Idealist. But, when it is over, it will be over.

If you are a Careful Thinker you will have to get your head, as much as your heart, well around the reality you are facing. Sorting it out can take some time, but once you have reached the conclusion that it is over, it will be over.

I have a chapter in my eBook, You Can Save Your Marriage, titled How close to death is your Marriage? In that chapter I walk the reader through a process for examining different levels of exhaustion. Some marriages die a little at a time, while others die in one fell swoop.

Frankly, I think that chapter is worth the price of the whole eBook if it can help you to get clarity around a very critical issue. In it I look at your marriage, Body-Mind-Soul-Spirit, and outline some decisive issues.

Of course, if you are in a relationship where there is domestic violence (more than one hit) then you should separate immediately. Period. Got that!

There is nothing to work on but your own safety and that of your family. Separate, get you act together personally, and then see where you go from there. Nothing to negotiate if there is domestic violence.

But remember Yogi’s advice!

To which I would add, “If the horse is dead, get off.”

You will know when death has arrived. Like death after a long illness, it will bring some relief, clarity, grief, and a conviction to action.

Dr. Atwood

Hopeful Solutions for Your Sexless Marriage is the BIG, 173 page eBook written by Dr. Atwood. The companion volume is You Can Save Your Marriage. You can find both, and more, at Dr. Andrew D. Atwood, LMFT. 534 Fountain St. NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 - Voice 616.456.1178 - Email ©2002-2004 Save Your Marriage, PLC. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: The material presented on these pages if for your information only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice. It may not represent your true individual medical situation. Do not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting a qualified health care provider in person. Please consult your health care provider in person if you have any questions or concerns. Always use common sense and research your own personal situation thoroughly.


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