Ups and downs in a marriage are totally normal. Even the strongest marriages go through difficult times. Communication that may have once seemed easy can become more and more difficult as time goes on and life’s stressors add up. Before you know it you may find yourself asking, “Is our marriage over?”
Fortunately, difficult times and poor communication don’t have to mean your marriage is over. However, they do mean you’ll need to take action to ensure that doesn’t happen. At Guy Stuff we talk to couples daily who are worried their marriages may be done and are looking for a way to save it. Below you’ll see a question from David, a man who’s concerned that his marriage may be over. My response to him follows.
When Is A Marriage Over?
We are at a point in our marriage where it's hard for us to even talk with each other without one or both of us getting very upset. I think we both feel very unappreciated and things that have happened in the past just won't go away. Is our marriage over?" -David A.
David’s situation isn’t unusual at all. Many people think that as time goes on communication in a marriage will become better and easier. Unfortunately, that’s just not true. It’s far more likely for couples to forget how to effectively communicate with one another and begin to make assumptions that ultimately backfire. And many of these couples don’t recognize what’s happening and seek out help until things have gotten really, really difficult and painful. At some point, without making changes, feeling that your marriage is over is inevitable.
Is it over is a tough question to answer, David. Ultimately, that's a decision that only you and your wife should make. I will tell you this though, what you describe about how you feel in your marriage is very, very common.
A lot of couples tell me that they hardly talk to each other. When they do talk, it's mostly about day-to-day issues regarding things like the kids and household. Rarely, if ever, is there real communication about their marriage or relationship, and this is to prevent what happens if they do -- they get very upset and fight, just like you and your wife. A common statement I hear in marriage counseling is "we never talk" and this is the primary reason.
Life piles up on all of us. It's easy to feel unappreciated by your wife when you're both so busy just trying to keep up with life. But it doesn't have to be that way. Couples with successful marriages have learned the skills that build appreciation and respect even with hectic schedules. When these skills are practiced regularly you'll discover the stuff that happened in the past doesn't keep coming back up so much anymore.
I'd recommend that you and your wife see what your relationship is like when you practice some of these skills with each other before deciding the marriage is over. A marriage counselor can teach you these vital relationship skills.
Preventing Your Marriage From Ending
The best way to keep your marriage from dying is to be proactive and never let things get to a dire state. Of course, this is easier to say than to do, but it is possible. Below are some of the things I described above that can keep your marriage happy and healthy.
- Schedule Time Together. As a marriage grows and life gets busy it’s really easy to lose touch with each other. Making a point to set aside time for just the two of you to talk, listen, and connect over things that aren’t so stressful (bills, house, kids) is crucial.
- Remember the Romance. Marriage generally begins in a romantic way. Losing that romance as time goes on weakens your connection to each other. For some, if there is no romance in the marriage they will be tempted to find it elsewhere. So, be playful, flirt, tease, send flowers, light candles, hold hands, or whatever it is that feels romantic to you and your spouse.
- Apologize. You’re not always right. Neither is your spouse. Making a point to apologize when you’re wrong or insensitive is important in maintaining respect and closeness.
- Avoid Getting Defensive. As soon as you become defensive the communication starts to break down. So, avoiding a defensive attitude - even when it’s difficult – will go a long way maintaining effective communication.
- Remember to Compliment and Thank. We all like to feel appreciated and noticed. This is true for both women and men. Sadly, as time goes on, we often forget to do those things for our spouse. Doing your best to thank and compliment your spouse will let them know you notice them and appreciate their place in your life.
No one can determine whether your marriage is over but you and your spouse. I will tell you from experience, however, that many people who think, “My marriage is over” discover that with the right efforts it’s not. So, if you are one of those people and wondering if your marriage could be over, be encouraged and take action. There’s probably a good chance you and your spouse can bring your marriage back to a happy state again.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published November 26, 2009 and has been updated with new information for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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