If all you read is the Ladies Home Journal column "Can This Marriage Be Saved?", you'd think the answer is always a roaring yes. But that standby, a popular read since its launch in 1953, is selected by counselors of couples in situations they can salvage, especially with the help of therapists.
Outside of LHJ's pages, many marriages do not last and should not last. Is yours one of them? According to psychologists, marriage counselors and divorce experts, there are signs that you should break things off.
For couples evaluating whether to stay or go in a troubled marriage, divorce coaches and counselors offer seven signs that point to the door, and five that indicate counseling might help put you back together again.
7 signs you should probably leave your marriage
Domestic abuse has entered the relationship. This is the most difficult break to deal with because the abuse ordinarily escalates when a victim tries to leave the relationship. But it's one of two reasons a person should not play the divorce waiting game, certified divorce coach Cathy Meyer said in LiveAbout. The other was a spouse who had an addiction to pornography.
You have shaky reasons for wanting to stay married. People who are staying in a marriage to avoid pain or fear probably aren't in a marriage that will endure, according to licensed clinical social worker Susan Pease Gadoua in Psychology Today. "This indicates the marriage hasn't much glue." Sample statements in that vein include, "I'm staying because I'm afraid of not seeing my children every day," "I don't know how I'd make ends meet without my spouse," and "No one will ever love me like this again."
Gadoua recommended a strict examination of reasons for staying in an unhappy marriage. "Where I see people go wrong in such a decision is when they forgo their own needs and focus primarily on meeting the needs of their spouses or children." Once people awaken to the fact that they've done all they can to improve the relationship and must now sever the tie, almost all realize "letting go of the unhealthy relationship was the best decision they'd ever made," she noted.
One spouse is a serial cheater. Certain people are not able to remain monogamous and this makes them not cut out for marriage, Alisa Bowman, author of Project: Happily Ever After, told Woman's Day. A secondary sign that it's time to move away from a marriage with a cheater is when he constantly tries to blame you for the philandering and untrustworthiness, usually claiming you are too jealous or controlling, she added.
An unfaithful spouse keeps an ex-lover as a friend. Just ending the affair is not enough, according to Bryce Kaye, Ph.D., author of The Marriage First Aid Kit, told WD. For a marriage to fully get past adultery, the unfaithful half of the couple cannot maintain a "friendship" with the former lover, even if he or she professes that the friendship is completely innocent. "Nothing good can come out of it," Kaye advised.
Your interactions are almost exclusively negative. When you're trying to evaluate the worth of a struggling marriage, take into consideration both how strong and how frequent your negative interactions are, advised marriage counselor Racheal Tasker on the GuideDoc blog. "The magic ratio in any happy relationship is five positive interactions for every one negative interaction," she said. "If you find that you have significantly more negative interactions with your partner than positive interactions, it may be a sign that you need a divorce."
Another crucial indicator that divorce should be a possibility: severe and hurtful arguments, particularly if they tend to become personal insult fests and you can't resolve conflicts without feeling devalued.
One partner dramatically changes the way they handle money. From an attorney's perspective, according to Dawn Cardi, a Manhattan matrimonial lawyer who spoke to WD, the shifting around of accounts is telling, even though a spouse may shrug it off. "People will come to me and say, 'My husband changed accounts. He's moving money.' That's a sign to me that he's already ready to get out of the marriage and move onto the divorce stage."
One of you wants children and the other does not. There are many areas of compromise in a marriage, but this is not one of them. If one partner is categorically opposed to having kids and the other has becoming a parent as a prime item on the bucket list, "you may be looking at the end of your marriage," Bowman said in WD.
There are also reasons to stay, according to experts.
Consider these 5 signs you might want to give it another go:
Barring physical abuse or untreated drug abuse, there are some signs that a couple might be a good candidate to try to repair an ailing marriage. These are five signs that indicate a marriage may be down, but it's not out:
A rift has recently been disclosed. The more recently a crack in the marriage has come out into the open, the better your odds of repairing the breach, according to Kaye.
"The clock starts ticking on the end of a marriage as soon as one spouse puts the [couple's] problems out in the open," he said. "The more time that passes after that without any effort made, the lower the odds are that you'll stay together."
You still share the same core values. No, you'll never agree on everything, and no one really wants to if you're being honest. Still, to get in the marriage salvage arena, you'll need to continue sharing basic values.
"If there is at least a little common ground regarding religion, politics, finances, education and the like, there is a decent foundation upon which to build," noted Robert Weiss, a licensed clinical social worker and certified sexual addiction therapist, in Pop Sugar. If you share core values and can agree to disagree on peripheral issues, there's a good chance you'll be able to work through marital challenges.
You both want to work through a cheating episode. For most people, infidelity might seem like the top reason to answer, "Oh hell no" to staying in a marriage. If the cheater is unwilling to do the heavy salvage work, that's certainly true, according to Bowman. But some cheating falls into the "This marriage can be saved" category -- if the cheater has regrets, makes apologies, promises to put an end to the affair and seek counseling.
You still enjoy spending time together amid the tough times. "One of the primary reasons for being around another person is that it's fun and enjoyable at least some of the time," Weiss added. If you still like to hang out and enjoy some shared hobbies, that might also indicate your relationship is worth saving.
The thought of leaving fills you with the distress of doubt. This is not the same as the manipulative doubts that are usually involved in a domestic violence situation. So, if that's not your issue, and you find yourself "constantly mulling" about a decision to stay or go, you might need to stay, according to marriage therapist Michele Weiner-Davis in Pop Sugar. If you are still resisting leaving, you probably still have sound reasons to stick around and rebuild the foundation of your relationship.