Ending Marriage: How to Know for Yourself When it is Over

Ending marriage is not a subject I like to talk about. It cuts agains the grain of my passion.

Helping couples and families connect.

The reality is, not all marriages succeed. More than half end in divorce. To avoid talking about this subject is a disservice to my audience. Having been through divorce several years ago, I understand how painful this process is (my story). Making the decision of ending marriage is complicated and difficult. So much is at stake, particularly if there are kids involved. No parent wants to make life hard on their children. Unfortunately, some marriages are already really hard on them. In some cases, staying together makes it worse. [Tweet “Some marriages are hard on children. In some cases, staying together makes it worse.”] Ending marriage is a personal decision. You may get a lot of advice from people, but in the end you have to know for yourself if and when it is time to divorce. Here are seven indicators a marriage is dying.
When the toxicity takes its toll
In my previous blog I highlighted 5 symptoms of a toxic relationship.  Toxicity erodes the basic elements of a relationship: security, trust, love, and acceptance. Not a good sign. Mistrust, bitterness, resentment, and animosity take a toxic toll on the relationship. Once allies, you are now adversaries in a marriage void of loving feelings. No matter what you try, you cannot get out of this pattern.
When you have done everything on your end to make it work
Because so much is at stake ending marriage, it is important to do everything you can on your end to make it work. It requires looking in the mirror, owning your faults, correcting them, and working on changing your attitude and actions in your marriage. If you have done everything on your part and it hasn’t changed, it may be an indicator that the marriage is dying. This is a sad realization. It is not what you wanted. Knowing you can’t do the work of two, it may feel like it is over.
When exhaustion sets in
In general, marriage is hard work! Couples have to work at it together. When you’ve been doing everything on your end for a long period of time without change, it gets tiring. Here is where exhaustion sets in. It gets harder to do the work. The will to continue to fight for the marriage is weak. The fight is gone.
When you lose all respect
Respect is another fundamental element in marriage. If absent, the relationship is toxic. Without it, there is no hope for the marriage. Indifference toward marriage is a bad sign. A spouse who has worked very hard to save a marriage and has not seen their partner work on their end, will likely lose all respect for him/her. If you have given your best to marriage and your spouse has not reciprocated, it will be hard to keep your respect.
When the actions by your spouse are a deal breaker
What constitutes a “deal breaker” is a personal thing. Tolerance for inappropriate behavior varies with individuals’ attitudes and values. Be that as it may, everyone has a breaking point. In my profession, I find three areas in particular (“big 3”) that often become a deal breaker in ending marriage. They all begin with the letter A: Adultery, Abuse, and Addiction. Patterns of the “big 3” can wreck a marriage beyond repair. Note, I use the word patterns. I have helped couples recover from one or more of the “big 3”. However, where a pattern exists the probability of a marriage surviving is low.
When you cannot get past the past
Some individuals are haunted by memories of the offenses of their spouse to a point that they cannot get past the past. This is particularly true among those who have experienced one or more of the “big 3”. No matter how hard they try, the images and feelings override. It is difficult for them and maybe the spouse who is trying to repair the marriage. If you cannot get past the past offenses, ending marriage may be what is best overall.
When the only way to reclaim your life is to leave
In a toxic marriage, a person can lose their self-identity. I see this happen in my work with couples. In my profession, we call it a symbiotic relationship. One spouse’s identity is absorbed into the other spouse. Sometimes the only way a person can reclaim their life is to end the marriage. This is not an easy process. Feelings of guilt and fear often keep a person in a relationship far too long. However, once a person makes the decision and begins the process of reclaiming their life, healing can begin.

Now it’s your turn

If you are in a toxic marriage I understand your pain. You may feel lonely, depressed, and/or trapped. Deciding what to do about it is complicated. Hopefully the seven indicators of a dying marriage will help you figure things out for yourself. Before you consider a big decision like ending marriage I recommend the following
  • Do the best you can by working on yourself
  • Seek individual counseling
  • Consider marriage counseling if your spouse is willing
  • List the pros and cons of ending marriage
  • Map out a plan for how you will live following divorce
Do not rush into a decision. Neither should you making avoid one!