He Wants Out: How To Know When Your Marriage Is Really Over


    5 Min Read


    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) struggling with how to know when your marriage is really over.

    Knowing when a 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. There are, however, some important considerations that can help you feel more comfortable with your choice.

    What To Consider When You’re Wondering If Your Marriage Is Really Over

    Helping men and women decide whether to fight for their marriage or let their partner go is one of the things I do every day. It’s one of the benefits of marriage counseling, which is something I believe all couples should do before divorcing.


    Because recognizing when a marriage is truly over is very tricky.


    To illustrate what I mean, take a look at 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. She’ll also need to determine what fighting for him actually looks like.

    People often wonder if there’s a 'moment' when you know your marriage is over.

    For some there may be, but it’s not a moment out of the blue – it’s a moment at the end of many other frustrating, sad moments, when one partner says, “I can’t do this anymore.”

    The truth in Shelley’s case is that the "spark" her husband is looking for from another woman can disappear from any relationship if we stop nurturing it. But for many couples the “spark” isn’t actually gone for good – just covered over by all those sad, frustrating moments.


    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 there at the beginning, fade, and 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.

    Why Is It So Hard To Know When A Marriage Is Over?

    Relationships change over time. And as the saying goes, life happens.

    Our focus goes to the practical parts of life that need to be handled,

    • Work

    • Kids

    • Money

    • Managing a household

    These are big factors for nearly everyone, and life can become so overwhelmingly busy that there’s little time for other things – including maintaining the “spark.”

    Over time, the day-to-day takes its toll on all relationships.

    Once we forget about taking care of our relationship and putting time into keeping it strong and healthy, it creates opportunity for cracks to form.

    Simply put, many of us take our relationship for granted and expect it to always feel the way it did in the beginning. When that doesn’t happen and we grow apart from our spouse, we often jump to, "It’s over – the spark is gone."


    Another term people use rather than “spark” is feeling “in-love.”

    It’s very common for people to also assume that when that “in-love” feeling is gone the relationship is over. However, just the like the spark, when the love fades it doesn’t automatically mean the marriage is over.

    Determining when a marriage is over is much more complicated. There are many other things to consider before actually calling it quits.

    What To Do Before Ending A Marriage

    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 even 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, midlife crisis divorces do happen (and more frequently than necessary), but I can't say for sure for Sheila’s husband without more information.


    So, what should Shelley do in response to her husband wanting out?

    Here are a few things that can make a difference.

    1. 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.

    2. Don't Make a Quick Decision. The uncertainty of the future of a marriage can lead a lot of people to make a big life changing decision based more on feelings than on 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.

    3. 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 you’re wondering if you should stay or go should be followed by many moments taking stock of your relationship, your lives together, and talking – seriously talking.

    What To Take Away

    Ending a marriage should never be done in haste. Anger, frustration, and a desire to feel the way you did at the beginning, can cloud the judgement for many partners and lead to divorces that are often regretted later.

    Before you decide your relationship is really over, remember the following things:

    • Natural fluctuations in relationships are normal. The “spark” and feeling “in-love” will come and go over time.

    • Keeping a relationship strong and healthy takes work and not all of that work is easy or fun. It is, however, worth it in the end in almost all cases.

    • Ending a marriage without going to counseling isn’t wise and can lead to a lot of “what-ifs” later on.

    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 found 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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