Love & Sex

When You Think Your Marriage is Over, Give It One More Year

One of the questions I’m frequently asked is, “How do you know when it’s time to give up on your marriage?”

If you’re considering divorce, I suggest first trying to make it work for at least one more year.

Did you hear that?

Try for at least one more year!

And I mean REALLY try. You can always call it quits. You always have that option. But once you pull that trigger, it’s over. No more chances. Your life will never be the same. Do you have kids? Their lives will never be the same.

If you end your marriage, you don’t want to have a shred of doubt about what might have been. You don’t ever want to look back and wonder if things could have been different. You don’t want to ask yourself, “What if this? What if I tried that?”

If you have to end your marriage, you want to know DEEP IN YOUR HEART that you did everything you could to make it work.

Giving it one year of serious effort will also help you to move on with your life and into another relationship with a clear head, should you ultimately divorce. You want to come to a place of healthy closure. That is crucial! In my experience, the best way to do that is to work at your marriage for at least one additional year. I know it probably seems like a long time, but it’s an investment in the rest of your life.

Here’s the key point: It’s a good investment for the rest of your life whether your marriage succeeds or not. Obviously, it’s a good investment if you turn your marriage around. But if you don’t, it will not have been a wasted year. It will have been the most important thing you could have done with that year because of the impact on the rest of your life and (if it comes to this) your next relationship.

I have seen too many cases of spouses ending their marriages prematurely, and as a result, never reaching closure in the relationship. A few years later, they find themselves in the same situation with someone else.

Sometimes the progress individuals make in relationship counseling turns out to be more beneficial for them in their next relationship than in their current one.

I remember an instance when a man’s marriage ended in the middle of a seven-week marriage boot camp. The individual asked whether he should continue with the final weeks of the program. I said, “Absolutely.”

He responded, “Why? What’s the point? My marriage is over.”

“You’re not doing it for this marriage,” I explained. “You’re doing it for the benefit of your next one.”

Now don’t get me wrong; your intention for working on your marriage shouldn’t be simply to benefit your life after marriage. You need to be intent on restoring your current relationship.

But if you fail, your effort will not have been for naught.

Bottom line is this. If you’re asking, “When is it time to call it quits?”

The answer is: one year after you think you’re done. If after one more year of trying everything in your power to make your marriage work you’re still miserable, then you should consider moving on. Until then, hang in there and don’t give up.

This topic reminds me of my situation many years ago. I remember learning late one night that my wife had an appointment with a divorce attorney the next morning. We were hours from “done.” Who would have thought that we could turn things around at that point?

We did, of course.

It’s never too late! In fact (and here’s real food for thought), very often the turning point in a marriage is when a couple hits rock bottom. Sometimes it’s not until things couldn’t get worse that they can get better.

“Much of the advice people get about their marriage problems is wrong. It sounds good. It makes sense. The problem is: it usually doesn’t work,” Fertel says. “Reconciling a broken marriage is tricky. The process is not intuitive. You really have to be careful that the advice you’re following has proved to achieve the outcome you’re looking for.”

Fertel says his tips often run counter to many ideas existing within our culture’s zeitgeist.

“A lot of the advice people get is logical, but it’s not psychological,” he says. “It’s ineffective because it doesn’t take into account the unique dynamics that occur between a husband and wife who are emotionally disconnected.”

1. Go at it ALONE.

Most people think, “I need my spouse to work with me to fix our marriage.” But it does not take two to tango. One person’s effort can change the momentum of a marriage, and very often, it’s that effort that motivates the obstinate spouse to join in the process of saving the relationship.

2. The wrong question.

Many people wonder, “Did I marry the right person?” But that’s the wrong question. The key to succeeding in marriage is not finding the right person; it’s learning to love the person you found. Love is not a mystery. Just as there are physical laws of the universe – like gravity, which governs flight – there are also relationship laws that, depending on your behavior, dictate the outcome of your marriage. You don’t have to be “lucky in love.” It’s not luck; it’s choice.

3. Absence does not make the heart grow fonder.

That might have been true in junior high school when you went away for the summer. But in marriage, particularly in a broken marriage, absence separates people. It creates distance, and that’s the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve, which is closeness.

4. Don’t talk about your problems.

Talking about the problems in a marriage doesn’t resolve them; it makes them worse. It leads to arguments and bad will. Besides, you’ll never talk yourself out of a problem that you behaved yourself into. Marriages change because people change. Say little; do much. Speak in the vocabulary of your actions. New choices resolve marital problems; discussion don’t.

5. Don’t think marriage counseling is the answer.

Marriage counseling does not work in most situations. The success rate is dismal. Most couples report being worse off after marriage counseling. One of the reasons relates to point 4 above.

6. Don’t talk to family or friends about your situation.

One of the most important values in a marriage is privacy; therefore, it’s a mistake to talk about your marriage or your spouse to family or friends. It’s a violation of your spouse’s privacy and it’s wrong.

Mort Fertel

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