When marriages fall apart, it's pretty typical that one partner wants to end it and the other does not. The partner wanting to save the marriage then gets stuck (literally) trying to answer the question of how to know when your marriage is really over.
Knowing when your marriage is truly over is very difficult. And it’s a decision that should never be taken lightly. You very likely didn’t get married overnight and you certainly shouldn’t decide to end things that quickly. So how do you know when the relationship is really done?
Unfortunately, there isn't a formula or a checklist to follow to get this answer. Helping men and women decide whether to fight for their marriage or let their partner go is one of the things I do everyday and is one of the benefits of marriage counseling. Recognizing when a marriage is over is very tricky.
Here's a note I received from a wife in just such a situation:
My husband and I have been together for 32 years, 27 years married with two boys, one 18 and one 23. He recently told me that he wants a divorce to find romantic love. He says he wished he loved me, but never did, because it would make it easier than getting a divorce. He said he respects me and will provide for me financially, but he wants to be married to someone with whom he has a "spark." He doesn't want to die without finding romantic love. He has been an excellent provider and good for our boys. He told me that he likes me, but never loved me. He told me that it is selfish of him to go for the divorce, but he needs that "spark" in his life. Please advise. I am very confused. Should I fight for him or let him go? I do love him very much." -Shelley D
Shelley's in a really tough spot. The decision to fight for him or let him go depends a lot on whether she thinks her marriage can be saved. And she will need to determine what fighting for him actually looks like. People often wonder if there is a 'moment' when you know your marriage is over.
The truth is that the "spark" her husband is looking for from another woman can disappear from any relationship if we stop nurturing it. Many people mistakenly interpret the "spark" being gone as a sign the marriage is over, but that doesn't have to be the case. The "spark" isn't just automatically there or not; it can be at first, but not later on, and it can come back again. So when it ebbs and flows, fades or even disappears, as it does in almost every relationship, it doesn't have to mean the relationship is over.
Relationships change over time. And as the saying goes, life happens. The day-to-day can take its toll on any relationship and usually does. Our focus gets placed on the practical parts of life that need to be dealt with -- work, kids, money, and managing a household are big factors for nearly everyone. These things can cause us to forget about taking care of our relationship and putting the time into making it strong and healthy. Simply put, we take it for granted and expect it to always feel the way it did at the beginning. And when it doesn’t, and we have grown apart from our spouse, we often jump to, "it’s over – the spark is gone."
When the in-love feeling is gone it doesn’t automatically mean the marriage is over. Determining that is much more complicated. There are many things to consider before actually calling it quits.
Wives who are in Shelley's shoes not only want to know if their marriage is truly over, but also 'why' -- 'Why' is he suddenly acting this way? 'Why' does he want to walk away from years together without trying? 'Why' did he say he loved me when he didn't? I'm often asked in situations like this -- are these symptoms of a midlife crisis? It's certainly possible, but I can't say for sure without knowing more information.
What should Shelley do in response to her husband wanting out?
- Be Patient. One of the biggest mistakes partners make in these situations is to either pressure for a decision or chase to keep them from leaving. Nothing will push him away faster than ultimatums and desperation.
- Don't Make a Quick Decision. The uncertainty of the future of a marriage can lead a lot of people to make a life changing decision based more on feelings than a well thought out plan. This is most likely what Shelley's husband is doing, so she shouldn't jump on board and do it too.
- Go to Counseling. Get some objective, professional help in making your decisions. Learning how to manage the racing 'why' thoughts can be priceless. So can finding out how to save a marriage when your husband says he doesn't love you.
The truth is that many marriages go through times when one partner or the other wonders if things might be over. What helps some last where others fail is the ability to communicate and look at the bigger picture. The moment in time when you’re wondering if you should stay or go should be followed by many moments taking stock of your relationship and lives together and talking – seriously talking.
I've seen many men like Shelley's husband change their mind about ending their marriage. The true answer about how to know when your marriage is really over comes over time and is shown through actions, not just feelings and words.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on July 17, 2014 and has been updated with new information for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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