Should we stay married?

January 2020 View more

By Lisa Pisha, MS, LMFT

  1. Respect is a major issue in the relationship. One of the most common reasons couples seek counseling is that one or both of the partners no longer feel respected by the other. While money, sex, or parenting might be what gets them in the door, the lack of respect is what shows up weekly.

    Feeling disrespected in a relationship is a common reason for ending one, but it can also be the breaking point that gets the two of you talking. Respect hinges on a lot of other emotions, such as love, admiration, and a willingness to learn and be influenced by the other. What often happens instead is that small seeds of resentment grow into giant houseplants of contempt and disgust. Love simply can not grow in that environment, and it damages the way you start to see yourself as well.

    While contempt is something that can be remedied, it takes a tremendous amount of will and work to reframe it. If this is something that’s saturating your relationship and you or your partner are unwilling to or cannot change, it might be time to have an honest conversation about the state of the union and the direction you’re leaning toward.
  2. You dream about life alone, not just time to yourself. It can be so easy and enticing to romanticize life alone when the world in which you and your partner live is so difficult. While this can be the visual that gets you through the day, spending time plotting your escape isn’t a good sign.

    If you’re doing this, chances are you’ve passed the hurt and grief stage of your relationship’s demise. You’ve spent a lot of time thinking you’ve tried fixing things and have come to terms with you or your partner never changing. Before you make a move, though, consider that your partner truly might not have any idea that this is where you’re at.

    While difficult, opening up about your desire for independence, peace, a sense of calm, and feelings of wanting to leave may help pivot your relationship into a better direction—or at least offer that direction you’re looking for. Often when we’re honest, we open the door for others’ honesty as well. You may be surprised at what you’re met with here, and get the response that gives you clarity.
  3. The majority of your friends are divorced. I often tell a story to my clients about how I hated capri pants for the first two years after they’d hit the market. I. Hated. Them. Yet everywhere I went, there they were. I hated them until one day I didn’t. The marketing worked—what I constantly saw, I started to want. This is how the human brain works. We’re deeply influenced by what’s around us it has a big impact on the lens we look through.

    If you’ve been thinking about ending your marriage, take a look at the people you’ve been hanging around. If the majority of them are divorced, you might want to change up your social circle to get some new perspective. When you’re in a relationship that’s in a bad place, being single can look so sparkly, fun, and free. Remember there’s struggle on both sides of the fence, and what you don’t finish in one relationship often gets brought with you into the next one.
  4. You already feel like you’re by yourself. Loneliness is no joke, but your marriage should be the one place where you feel a healthy sense of attachment and belonging with your partner. I’m not talking about codependency here—nor am I rooting for epic independence, either—but if you’re in a relationship where you feel alone, change is necessary for your mental wellness.

    Outside of doing things together—like creating what John Gottman calls “rituals of connection”: mealtimes, holidays, the rhythm of the home—feeling known by your partner is a big indicator of a healthy relationship, and many couples reach out for therapy because this is missing from their marriage.

    It’s easy to fall into a pattern of transactions in a relationship you’ve been in for a long time. “How was work?” “Did you make that doctor’s appointment for so-and-so?” That’s not the work. The work is letting your partner see inside yourself by sharing something near to you, something that truly only you would know. The growth is in the share.

    Before you decide whether separating or divorce is a viable option for you, and if it’s safe to do so (meaning there’s no physical, mental, or verbal abuse present in the relationship), make it a goal for you both to become more vulnerable with one another.
  5. You have children together. The research has wavered a bit on this topic over the years, as have people’s general thoughts on this issue. This is a deeply personal decision, and many factors go into a divorce or separation when it comes to kids. But know this: Oftentimes the issues you had with your partner’s parenting style do not go away after a divorce. On the contrary, they can actually grow in intensity, and in most cases, there might not be much you can do about it.

    Do we owe it to our children to stay married? I don’t know, but here’s one thing I do: We owe it to our children to be healthy adults handling conflict respectfully, pragmatically, and lovingly. We also owe it to our children to show them what loving relationships look like, because we are the models. Having children does not necessarily prevent you from separating or divorce, but it does give you the ultimate responsibility, however, to model humanism.
  6. You’re financially dependent. Fair or unfair, finances do play a role in making this decision, and can inhibit your options if you cannot support yourself without your partner’s income. If you’re financially dependent on your spouse, educate yourself about your family’s finances, be in the know about expenses, and start getting a really good idea of how much your lifestyle costs—whether you’re considering leaving or not.

    This is also a good time to think about what you could live without and what your absolute necessities would consist of. I also advise meeting with other professionals who can contribute to knowledge surrounding this idea. Financial planners, lawyers, and career and life coaches can be incredibly helpful here to shed some light on how to get on your feet through a separation or divorce.