When Is a Marriage Worth Saving?

When Is a Marriage Worth Saving?

10 Things to Think About When Considering Whether to Stick with a Relationship

When is a marriage worth saving? That’s the question that has been asked countless times on countless TV shows from Dr. Phil to political analysts discussing the extra-marital affairs of candidates running for office.

Barbara Cavanaugh, a social worker in Houston, Texas, said the answer is simple: “I always go into evaluating with a couple or individual that all marriages are worth working for, because you wouldn’t have gotten married if you hadn’t had common values or goals or if it was never really good.”

Elisa Bahler of Miami, Florida, wished she had spent more time getting to know her husband before she married him — then perhaps she wouldn’t have gotten married at all. “It’s important that you become friends with someone before you ever marry them, because when you are friends, you get to know each other better before you become intimate,” she says. “…I married a farmer. He would talk about farming. I was a city girl. There wasn’t a relationship with that.Even though I wanted to learn more about that part of his life, even though I tried, trying was not good enough. I didn’t feel like we had anything in common….,” she says.

With almost half of American marriages ending in divorce, Bill Wear, Jr. — a lawyer, minister, therapist, and divorce mediator in Springfield, Missouri — isn’t surprised. “…People in our culture are emotionally, spiritually and philosophically immature. I’ve been practicing divorce litigation since 1974 and almost without an exception, all those hundreds of clients I’ve had, there’s this sense that the reason they’re wanting to get divorced is due to some level of unhappiness they’re experiencing, which they project to the other person.”

Wear thinks happiness should come from inside yourself, not your spouse. “The majority of situations take place between the same amount of competent individuals who …believe if only they could get rid of their spouse, they could be happy again, instead of looking at the real problem, which is, why aren’t they happy?”

Cavanaugh said couples who marry younger can experience problems over time. “Both of them have grown, but in different directions, ten years later. Those marriages very often were entered into the wrong reasons,” like they initially had lots of fun together.” Those aren’t the strongest marriages. Their values and goals are not the same anymore, but that didn’t happen all at once. It happened by ignoring the small problems for many years.”

Bahler said her marriage wasn’t helped by the fact that she and her husband came from different backgrounds — socially, economically and in values as well. “When I left home…I was very materialistic and very spoiled.” In the rural Midwest, she and her husband sometimes didn’t have enough money.” If you have money, you don’t really know how to spend it until you don’t have any money. Then, you learn how to spend every last dollar.It made sense to me later on,” she said.

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In addition, her husband wasn’t expressive, she said. “Everyone has a different way of showing their affection. My husband had never been given a kiss as an adult and said at our wedding, ‘That was the first time I remember my mom giving me a kiss,’ and he told me that, and I couldn’t believe it. You grow up and think everybody’s the same, but they’re not. You have to deal with your issues and his issues. You don’t know what happened in the past.” That’s the main problem in relationships, Bill Wear, Jr. says. “It’s basically an accumulation of life experiences and emotional impacts that life’s had on that individual. That’s what they haven’t specifically dealt with, and when they get to the part of being full of the impact of the past, our tendency is to blame somebody else, and a spouse is the closest target.”

“We interpret the pain as something someone else is doing and need to heal those things so they won’t be projected on the other person. What you have and who you are is a result of your growing up. Nobody’s family is perfect,” he adds.

Cavanaugh thinks relationships get worse when children leave the house. “They enter a crisis when their children enter high school and leave for college. They find that all they are good at is parenting together, not much else,” she says.

Looking back, Bahler realizes that she ignored everything that was wrong in the relationship. “In the end, when you are married, if you look at it in a business form, it’s like a long relationship. It’s much the same as a business. When you marry someone, you not only marry the person, but you marry the family and everything about that person, their background.”

“You can fall in love with someone, but you can fall out of love with someone,” she adds.

Wear says a relationship can still be repaired, even if people have fallen out of love. “Now, love and friendship have the chance to happen if you have two individuals mature enough to assist the other person to be their partner in life.Before giving in to this new relationship, you should know that you are responsible for your own happiness. We both know that, and then as partners, people can assist each other to learn who they need to be,” he explains.

He says American culture tricks people into thinking love is perfect. “When I grew up watching TV, and with our culture, it all looks like happiness is out there somewhere. If you have the right house, money, girlfriend, boyfriend, car, pair of jeans, beer, then it’s going to be great. None of that’s true, and until you try all that, find it unsuccessful, most people are still trying to line up their ducks. A relationship is one of those ducks, and rarely does it bring much happiness. That’s why you see so many successful people who go through husbands and wives like tissue paper, because they think they can be as successful in their relationships as they are making money,” he says.


1. You can always work on fixing the marriage.

“If you have similar goals and ways of thinking about life, it probably can be repaired,” says Barbara Cavanaugh, an LCSW in Houston. “If you got married with, ‘He’s cute. We like the same movies,’ that isn’t strong enough to build a life on. That would be my first question for an individual to ask himself or herself.”

2. If your spouse has an affair, don’t look at the action but what caused it.

“I think that the hardest thing for people going through divorce is to ask, ‘What is my part in this marriage breakup?'” she says. It’s really about our marriage, not the affair. Some people don’t have the ability to forgive because there’s so much that’s gone wrong in a marriage. No one leaves a wonderful, satisfying relationship to go have an affair.”

3. Trust your intuition.

Bill Wear, Jr., a minister and divorce mediator in Springfield, Missouri, says that you can tell when the moment is right for a divorce. “I tell clients, ‘You know when you know.’ The key is when you have someone who’s willing to do the work they need to do in order to become the person they need to become, and you need to do. Then, if it works? Great. If it doesn’t, then you’re at the end of the road.”

4. Realize that without inner happiness, you won’t have a successful marriage.

“Whenever I work with couples, I meet with them both and say, ‘I don’t think marriage counseling should be where people rehearse their resentments toward another. What I’ll do is meet with you individually on how to create the best life for yourself.’ Once you become more successful in finding meaning yourself, then you’re in the position where you can be a confident partner in a relationship. If each person is leaning on each other, they’re both gonna fall,” says Wear.

5. If you are looking to religion for answers, faith-based reasons for staying together are the same as non-faith-based reasons.

“I have represented the most religious and non-religious people on the planet, and they all suffer from the same things,” says Wear. “People think all they need to do is go to church and Sunday school. It’s the same breakdown in understanding what their own relationship is to God.”

6. If your marriage does end in divorce, imagine a happier future for yourself.

“Say, ‘Whether I’m divorced or not, I’m going to make my future much brighter, because I’m don’t want to end up in another bad relationship,'” suggests Cavanaugh.

7. If you do get divorced, study what you can do to make yourself feel better.

“I would recommend things like therapy and soul-searching,” says Cavanaugh.

8. Before you begin dating again, try to recognize bad patterns set up in your marriage and past relationships.

This prevents you from repeating your mistakes.” Look back at previous relationships and see what they all had in common,” Cavanaugh says.

9. Quit blaming other sources for your problems.

“Some people blame their jobs and whatever’s handy for when their lives are not going well,” Wear says.

10. Whether you are trying to save your marriage or are working on a new relationship, remember that dating is not a substitute for personal fulfillment.

“No other human being has the power and capacity to make anybody else happy, and it’s a full-time job figuring out how to make your own self reasonably happy — philosophically and spiritually,” says Wear.

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