I shouldn’t be married. Neither should my husband. Sometimes I think we’re just not cut out for marriage, and yet, here we are.
After a whirlwind romance, an engagement, marriage, pregnancy, and giving birth to our daughter over three years ago, I wonder if I made the right choice, to be quite honest. My husband had a bad divorce nearly 20 years ago, and I never wanted to get married. I could just never see myself as a married woman. I always knew I wanted kids, but marriage, not so much. Yet, we changed our minds for each other.
But we are just so different. We have a very large age difference between us, we have completely different political views, and we have completely opposite ideas of how we should be raising our daughter.
But we love each other. A lot.
We fight, but we keep pushing through. And not just because of our daughter, because I’ve never been one to believe in staying with a partner just because you have kids together. But we keep going because at the end of the day, we truly love each other, and I hope to make it to our golden anniversary.
But is our way, right? Is our love for each other enough? Or should we just call it quits?
I don’t know.
With the help of Krista Jordan, Ph.D.—a national board-certified psychologist who specializes in marriage, divorce, couples therapy, and communication—we will discuss common issues couples face when trying to decide whether it is time to give up on a marriage or keep working at it.
Different Life Goals
In the case of differences in life goals, it’s important to get clarity on that as soon as possible. Before my husband and I even got serious, I made it very clear early on that I wanted children and so did he. For me, a deal breaker would have been no kids. This is a very important question that you have to ask before things get too far. “If you feel that your life will not be fulfilled without children, living abroad, retiring at 50, etc. then you need to be crystal clear with a partner that the issue is a non-negotiable priority,” said Dr. Jordan.
If they can’t get on board, the relationship is destined to fail, and it’s better to face that sooner rather than later, explained Dr. Jordan. Don’t make the error of thinking that someone will change their mind. This seldom works out and can lead to wasted time.
Jordon said that infidelity is often a salvageable situation—even if it’s hard to imagine. “The actual infidelity is not the real problem, it’s the underlying cracks in the foundation of the relationship. Infidelity becomes the signal that the relationship is not solid and needs rehabilitation,” said Dr. Jordan.
She said that if both partners are willing to roll up their sleeves and do the work, infidelity can actually lead to important and hard conversations about what people really want out of the marriage.
As you can imagine, there are a number of serious reasons to finally make the decision to give up on a marriage.
Physical or Sexual Abuse
One of them is physical or sexual abuse, which should ALWAYS signal the end of any relationship. “Those situations are too volatile to be ‘worked out,'” said Dr. Jordan. Sadly, women are more likely to be killed by a romantic partner than anyone else. “In situations of physical and/or sexual abuse, safety is the number one priority and that cannot be established while being in a relationship with an abusive partner.”
If you have experienced sexual violence and need support, call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
Emotional abuse is difficult to define. If you feel that your partner is emotionally abusive, it should prompt a serious conversation about that pattern. “It’s important to be clear about what your boundaries and needs are,” said Dr. Jordan. “For example, ‘if you continue to call me names during arguments or tell me that I am not worthy of the love, I will leave you, and I want you to start counseling this month,’” explained Dr. Jordan. Make your requests specific and be prepared to back them up.
Dr. Jordan, however, said that if a partner then does not meet these specific requests, you know the relationship is not going to improve, and it’s time to leave. It’s important to keep in mind that if your relationship involves a lot of verbal conflicts (not physical), it’s essential to also look at how you might be contributing to the pattern. Often, both people need to work on their communication and regulation skills in order to have difficult conversations there are productive and not emotionally abusive.
Deciding to work on your marriage
Luckily, there are many reasons couples decide to continue working on their marriage, just as my husband and I do. We’re not perfect (far from it), but we love each other. We have plenty of issues as do many couples, but the foundation of our relationship is still good and we love each other, and that’s why we always try.
Of course, many people feel that their commitment is not only to their spouse but also to God and their family/community, and ending the relationship would involve not only breaking their word to their partner but to these other entities. Dr. Jordan said that for some people, that is a big enough reason to keep working on the marriage.
Couples must be considerate of these issues when children are involved. “People worry about the impact on children still living in the home,” said Dr. Jordan. Divorce can be traumatic to children, and if handled poorly, can have life-long consequences on a child’s mental health.
Dr. Jordan says that if a relationship can be rehabilitated, it prevents you from having to start over with someone new who, ultimately, is going to have their own set of idiosyncrasies, baggage, and liabilities. Relationships are hard because people are difficult.
Relationships are hard because people are difficult.
“Everyone is a pain at times, so getting rid of one person just means you are likely to end up with some other person who is a pain in some other way. If you fell in love with that person, then those feelings are most likely still there, just often buried underneath un-repaired hurts and resentments. Once we can clear all of those things out, the love often resurfaces and is just as strong as it was in the beginning.”
Is love enough?
For me, this is a tough question. I have moments where I feel that because my husband and I have been through so much in such a short period, that our love must be enough to get us through anything. Then, other times, not so much.
“I tell couples ‘love is a necessary but completely insufficient ingredient for a lifetime partnership’” said Dr. Jordan. “Most of us want to love our partners and for many of us, that is a wonderful and exhilarating part of the relationship. Love alone will get you through the first 18-24 months… but it won’t get you to sitting on the porch at 90 drinking lemonade together. That takes true grit.”
Love is a necessary but completely insufficient ingredient for a lifetime partnership.
At the end of the day, no, love alone is never enough. Marriage is a (hopefully) lifetime commitment, that needs all sorts of ingredients to work. It’s not just about love. You need to respect one another, listen, help each other in times of difficulty, be open and honest, learn how to compromise (for me, this can be a challenge), and you need an abundance of patience (once again, not one of my strong points, nor my husbands.)
It’s not easy being married. I don’t know if our way is right or wrong. But right now, I can hold on to all the love we have for one another and our beautiful daughter that we brought into this world and hope that in the end, we will have made the right choice.