How Long Should We Keep Trying to Work It Out?

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Individuals who are at the crossroads of divorce face a challenging decision that affects every aspect of their lives. Deciding how long to try to work out marriage problems can be a difficult and emotional process. However, couples should consider four factors to improve the marriage before they make the move to end it.

1. Weigh Rewards versus Barriers

Researchers have found that individuals considering divorce make their decision to stay or leave based on the rewards they gain from the marriage, their perceptions about finding a better relationship, the amount of investment they have made in marriage, and the barriers against leaving the marriage. Some unhappy couples choose to stay together, even if the rewards from marriage are few, if there are crucial barriers to divorce such as concerns about:
Religious beliefs
Disapproval (by family & friends)
Fears (of dating and being single, again)

Barriers to leaving a marriage can keep the marriage together in the short run, however, unless the relationship improves, the barriers are not enough to keep a marriage together for the long haul. In the United States, researchers estimate that 40% – 50% of all first marriages will end in divorce or permanent separation. The risk of divorce is even higher, 60%, for second marriages. Utah’s divorce rate is slightly above the national average.

The decision is very much a personal one, and that what is right for one individual may not be right for another. Both partners need to choose the marriage to make the marriage thrive. Sadly, sometimes you may be the only one working on saving the marriage and eventually you may have no choice but to concede to a divorce only after a long fight where every stone has been turned. The law allows one partner to end a marriage without the consent of his or her spouse. The research is clear that the process of family breakup marked by divorce has potential problems for children, adults, and their social communities.There are absolutely valid reasons for divorce. In some instances, divorce improves the lives of those involved, but for the majority, researchers have found that divorce generally has negative effects.

2. Allow Time Itself to Improve Marriage

Research suggests that some, maybe even many, individuals at the crossroads of divorce may be able to repair their marriages and avoid those potential negative consequences. Most unhappy marriages can become happy again if couples stick it out. Marriages are not like fruit; when fruit gets bruised or rotten, it gets worse with time and it has to be thrown away. Marriages, however, often do improve over time. In a recent study, married Utahns were asked if they ever thought their marriage was in trouble. Nearly half (47%) said “yes.” About one in ten individuals said they talked to their spouse about divorce in the last three years. But more than 94% of married individuals, both men and women, who said their marriage at some point was in trouble reported they were glad there were still together. A significant number of divorced individuals, nearly half, report that they wished they or their ex-spouse had tried harder to work through differences.

3. Seek Pro-Marriage Therapist

Individuals and couples who are seriously considering divorce should seek a qualified, trained, pro-marriage therapist. A great website for finding professionals in your area is Individuals have a responsibility to themselves, their children, and their communities to try and save a marriage when there are serious problems. Just as it is wrong to not seek treatment for a life-threatening physical illness when there is a reasonable chance for a cure, it is wrong not to seek help to overcome relationship problems that threaten a marriage. Studies show that 80% of couples see some improvements in their relationship after visiting a marriage counselor. Forty to fifty percent say almost all their major problems were resolved. Unfortunately, only half of Utahns who divorce received marital counseling.

4. Separate with Commitment to Marriage

A controlled separation has its place if there are boundaries in place, such as, a limited time frame, no divorce attorneys, money is not moved, children continue to be parented by both partners, no dating other than with each other, and family and couple time remain a top priority. A separation is not to test the waters of divorce and single life. It is to give the couple some distance from the intense conflict of their relationship and to begin to grow towards each other, again. Most couples feel some relief at a temporary separation and then make the mistake in believing that this “relief” must mean they are happier outside the marriage. However, the relief is only from the stress. It’s interesting to note that most individuals are not happier after divorce. However, there are many factors that influence how divorce affects individuals. It is hard to work through a difficult marriage and it is hard to work through a divorce.

More Resources

“A Guidebook for Individuals and Couples at the Crossroads of Divorce,” A. Hawkins and T. Fackrell.
“Should I Stay or Go?” L. Raffel
“Should We Stay Together? J. Larson