I often get asked, “How do you know whether to stay and fix a marriage or just let go and move on?” Unfortunately, like in most things relational, the answer is, “It depends.” Not much initial help, I know, but there are always clues that can help you answer this question.
First, you need to determine the reasons for staying and trying to make things better. How much do you have invested in terms of time and emotion? How compatible are the two of you in terms of goals, values, lifestyle, and future desires? Are you putting in more than you are getting back? Do you want it to work because you have children, you feel like you’ve failed, or you’re afraid of being alone? Be honest with yourself now because the truth will come out in the long run.
If any of the hard reasons are present–addiction, abuse, personality disorders–leaving may be the only healthy option you have. Soft reasons–poor communication, growing apart, not “in love”–can possibly be resolved. In addition, if you have children together, you won’t be able to truly end the relationship so it may be worth the effort to improve it. The same is true if your lives are entwined in other ways, sharing property, owning a business together, etc.
If you decide to stay and try to improve things, there are a few things you need to focus on. The most important one is to recognize that the only person you have any control over is yourself. You, and only you, are responsible for your choices and behavior. The biggest problem in trying to fix a marriage is focusing on your partner. If you do that, your chance of success will be minimal. After all, haven’t you already tried that?
To really fix a marriage you have to put effort into your side of the equation. Relationships are reciprocal and are a function of what you each bring to the table. Being comfortable in your own skin means you have identified and are willing to honor your own needs and boundaries. You can’t be part of a healthy relationship if you are not clear on what these are. Settling for less than you need or deserve will only lead to your feeling hurt and resentful. Harboring these emotions influences how loving a partner you can be. Identifying the source AND your part in allowing that behavior to continue is critical if you are going to make things better. A marriage that doesn’t work for you is one that isn’t going to work ever.
Second, try to look at yourself through your partner’s eyes. What statements have they made about the marriage? What requests have they made for it to be different? While their view may be an exaggeration, there is some valuable information in their position if you can see it. Take what you can acknowledge and see where you might be willing and able to do things differently.
It’s also important to work on things you already know about yourself. Do you have a bad temper? Are you stubborn? Do you use harsh language or act in unkind ways? Are you willing to make room in your life for your partner or does everything have to be your way? What keeps you from bringing your best self to the relationship? It’s not okay to say, “That’s just the way I am,” if you want a healthy marriage.
I know, you’re saying, “But, what about them?” I get it. But when you do something different, especially something they have been asking for, you provide an opportunity for the relationship to change for the better. When you put something different out there, they can’t respond in the same old way. They may try to push you back to the old behavior or they may not trust your new attitude but, if you keep your new stance, eventually they will have to respond differently. Where most people fail is either not being clear about their new position or not sticking with it long enough for real change to occur.
Change is anxiety-provoking. It takes you out of your comfort zone. And, in reality, you might do all of these things and the marriage still isn’t the way you want it. In that case, you need to ask if you are getting enough from it to let go of what you’re not getting. No relationship will perfectly match all your expectations, but it shouldn’t leave you miserable either. Being the best partner and person you can be is all you can do. Hopefully, that will be enough. If it’s not, the best way to fix that relationship is to let it go.
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This post was previously published on The Hero Husband Project and is republished here with permission from the author.
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