Is My Marriage Worth Saving?

6 Ways to Know When to Quit and When to Fight

How do you know when it is time to call it quits in your personal relationships? Is there a defining moment, or has the relationship been going downhill so long that you forgot the last time it was on an upswing? Not surprisingly, Americans are very concerned about the state of their personal relationships today. 93% of Americans state that having a happy marriage is one of their goals in life. But not everyone gets to have it.

If you’re a longtime reader (thank you, by the way), you already know how tedious and labor intensive having a rewarding, happy marriage is. Saving one that’s on the brink of divorce is doubly difficult. So the question stands, how does a guy know when to dig in and try harder than he ever has in his life, and when do you forgive yourself for failing?

Here’s how.

6 Strategies to Help You Know When to Quit or Fight

1. Positive versus Negative

Successful marriage counselors John Gottman, Ph.D. and Nan Silver stated in their best-selling book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work that they could gauge the success of 91% of couples they treated within the first 15 minutes of their initial session. The key lies in the level of positivity spouses used in their interactions.

They note that couples who responded with a yes-friendly way were more likely to be successful in saving their respective marriages. Couples who added the word “but,” as in “Yes, but…,” didn’t fair as well long term.

Using positive terms in everyday conversations creates a positive bond between spouses that ensures the marriage has some strong footing.

Their “Yes, but” couples displayed obvious reservations about their willingness to put in the time and energy into repairing their tattered union.

To Quit or to Fight?

This answer goes either way because couples with positive attitudes should have the occasional disagreement. Negative couples either need to reevaluate or quit.

2. The Power of Humor

Knock, Knock!

Who’s there?

The future of your marriage…

The future of my marriage, who?

The future of your marriage is affected by your daily interactions. Namely, can you laugh at what’s not going your way? Can you joke around and poke lighthearted fun at your spouse?

It’s the “…best medicine” according to the old adage. It links us and connects us to others emotionally.

A study conducted by Saroglou, Lacour, and Demeure looked into laughter as the component of healthy marriages. They set about to compare men and women from 98 married couples and 48 divorced ones.

Their conclusions show that women who employ self-defeating humor were more likely to end up divorced. Men who displayed constructive humor increased the quality of their relationships and decreased their likelihood of divorce.

To Quit or to Fight?

Humor plays an important role in relationships and demonstrates a couple’s ability to keep going or to quit. A relationship lacking laughter isn’t a happy relationship.

3. Increased Risk of Heart Disease

Numerous studies report how older married couples have fewer occurrences of disease, lower heart disease risks, and a decreased chance of developing dementia.

However, new studies discovered that older women in bad marriages are at an increased risk of heart disease than those in good relationships. Women in their 70’s and 80’s are from a generation before the popularity of marriage counseling. These scientists concluded that older women who internalize their feelings have higher instances of depression and suffer cardiovascular problems due to their lack of support.

That is not surprising since other research shows how a woman’s neural activity relates to their husbands positive or negative emotions more than they do to strangers. Spouses can literally change the other’s brain chemistry with their daily interactions.

To Quit or to Fight?

IF your marriage is slowly killing you, then it might be time to consider quitting.

when to quit and when to fight for your marriage4. Counseling

Raise your hands if you’ve been to marriage counseling?

If your hand isn’t waving around in the air like you just don’t care, you’re one of the few who hasn’t. For the newbies among us, here’s how it works.

First of all, no one who goes into it out of obligation will get anything out of it. If you don’t want to work harder than you think you should, stay home. Save your cash. You’ll need it for your divorce attorney.

If you’re pumped and ready to change almost everything you’ve come to know about your union, enter in with an open mind and yielding heart.

Sometimes you’ll go in together. Other sessions will be private and one-on-one. These sessions will be about different things and will help you get a perspective you’ve never had before.

A marriage counselor is like a referee. When the both of you go, you’ll get the advantage of learning the playbook and whose job is what. On your own, your counselor will focus on you specifically. You’ll leave there with a list of assignments to complete designed to give you a new focus.

To Quit or to Fight?

Most guys tend to put up their defenses when talking about couples’ counseling. Don’t. Think it through. In fact, you should consider setting it up in the beginning when your view of married life is filtered through rose-colored glasses. This way, you’ll set up a strong foundation of being willing to understand things you might not think you don’t.

But if you’re in trouble, and your spouse doesn’t seem to want to spend time in therapy with you, ask her why. If her answer angers you, it’s time to quit.

5. Keep Score: Write About It

Learning the playbook is great! It’s an awesome start. But no game is played without knowing for damn sure who’s doing what and how well.

Recording your thoughts either daily or weekly will help you do just that. It’ll keep you accountable to yourself as a man. If you set out to come home on the daily and hold a worthwhile conversation with your wife about her day (for example), and you want to be able to remember that chick’s name she keeps mentioning, write it down.

Professionals have discussed the merits of writing (technically, it’s journaling) for catharsis for years. It’s not new. But do it while you’re still in it.

To Quit or to Fight?

This one isn’t as clear as the ones before it. Not journaling regularly won’t (by itself) kill your marriage. It’s a tool like any other. How you use it is completely up to you. And by the same token, you can’t really blame your wife if she decides not to do it. We’ll call this one optional.

Take it from me, though, it helps. Since my divorce, I journal regularly. I don’t focus on my divorce or harp heavily on whatever still looming negativity I might still be feeling. But I do go there and use it to lift off some of my frustrations.

6. What About the Kids?

In Take Back Your Marriage, Second Edition: Sticking Together in a World That Pulls Us Apart, William J. Duherly talks about the role of kids in adults’ decision making. His research yielded some rather interesting findings.

He states, “70% of unhappily married, low-conflict parents’ kids do not do as well. 30% of unhappily married, high-conflict parent kids do better after the divorce.”

All the research over time has shown that two-parent families do better. Therefore, if the parents can get along, then it is reasonable to assume that the parents can stay together for the benefit of the children.

On the reverse side, parents who are constantly in conflict might do better for their kids if they separate. What is needed is a joint goal to keep them together.

For example, Duherly talks about one family whose belief in having a family Shabbat dinner helped them work out their challenges. They beat the odds because both of them strongly believed carrying on their religious tradition was necessary part of raising their kids.

Final Thoughts

Determining whether to stay or leave is not easy. It’s not supposed to be. Building a life over time and destroying everything you’ve built almost overnight hurts. But so does staying in a unideal marriage. Actually, it hurts more than walking away does.

It is a very personal decision, and you should weigh your options carefully. The information above is meant to give you some ideas. While not an absolute science, knowing where you stand and what you’re willing to do to save your union will make it easier to arrive at your final decision.

Give us some insights in the comments below. How did you know when to stay in and fight and when it was time to walk away? Is there something we missed, or something you found resonated with you? Let us know.

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