How to Know if Your Marriage Is Over

Many people give up too soon on their marriages, believing them to be over when they are not. There is only one situation that signals your marriage is over.

marriage feels over because of emotional distance
Emotional distance, lack of intimacy, and even affairs don’t signal the end of a marriage.

Most of the people I help to reconcile have spouses who at first said, “It’s over.” When their spouse said that they were absolutely sincere. And yet, many of these people reconcile.

As I have said repeatedly about developing trust, sincerity is not a good predictor of behavior. Most people are sincere about their career and personal goals and yet give up on them soon after they make them.

You should never take someone’s sincerity, enthusiasm, or intensity as a long term predictor of their behavior.

Sincerity and intensity of emotions are a good predictor of short term behavior. If your spouse tells you today “It’s over,” then you are unlikely to be going out on a date tonight, although that also happens very commonly.

A good guideline is that someone who is highly reactive will change their mind more quickly than someone who is more contemplative. However, both types of people still change their minds.

The major lesson to learn from this is that what your spouse says is not a good indicator of whether your marriage is over.

In fact, words alone are a very poor indicator of anything. You can’t know whether your spouse loves you or hates you based on words alone. You can’t know if your spouse is going to follow through with a plan based on words alone. You can’t know if your spouse is faithful based on words, and you can’t know if your marriage is really over based on what your spouse says.

You need to use other indicators…

The one situation that is a clear indications that your marriage is over

No contact

If you don’t see your spouse, don’t hear from your spouse at all, and that has been going on for an extended period of time, then you have no relationship with your spouse. By definition there is only a relationship between two things if the actions of one influences the actions of another.

Marriage means joining and relationship means connection. With no contact, you are not joined, are not a couple and don’t act as one. Without seeing or communicating, you and your spouse’s actions are totally independent and so you have no relationship.

While your marriage may exist in your mind or legally, in actuality you don’t have one. You or your spouse have broken the marriage contract of mutual love and responsibility. And, without any contact, there is no way to build your relationship.

You can start a fire from just a little fuel, but you can’t start a fire without any fuel. There is nothing that a coach or counselor can do for your relationship if you have no contact.

Believing yourself to be married with no contact is like believing you are a Christian even if you have no relationship with God.

Our beliefs don’t define reality, but reality should define our beliefs. Everything else is self deception.

What if you are living together, but don’t talk to each other?

Well, in that case, you still see each other. You also influence each other. In fact, you are influencing each others feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. That’s a lot to work with. If you see each other but don’t talk, you have a bad marriage, but you still have a marriage and it is not over. I have helped many people to rebuild their relationship from this point.

(Keep in mind that marriage counseling only works when both people want to rebuild the relationship. When only you do, you must learn skills from a relationship coach to re-interest your spouse in your relationship).

What if your spouse is in a committed relationship with someone else?

Since marriage is defined as united to one and forsaking all others, if your spouse is united to another and forsaking you (total abandonment), your spouse has broken your marriage contract. It is still possible that your spouse could give up the other person and recommit to you.

There is no Christian imperative to divorce, even if it is allowed in cases of infidelity (Matthew 19:9). I have found that in many instances a marriage can be saved if someone is willing to make their spouse choose between being faithful or a divorce. That should be done quickly in a good marriage before the unfaithfulness goes on too long.

The fear of losing a good marriage is the best protection against affairs.

A bad marriage must often be rebuilt before forcing the choice. However, if you have done everything to rebuild your marriage and your spouse is still committed to another despite forcing your spouse to choose between you, your marriage has ended. Whether you legally end it is up to you.

I have laid out all the steps for ending a man’s affair in my book, A Christian Guide to Preventing and Ending Men’s Affairs. Because of gender differences, this book is not well suited for men wanting to end their wife’s affair. For that, I recommend coaching. Of course women can also get help from coaching to end a spouse’s affair.

The mere presence of an affair does NOT indicate your marriage is over. Until you have done all you can do, there is no reason to give up hope for re-winning your spouse. Many people have.

Once you have done all that you can you either wait for a miracle while being patient and loving or you can divorce and move on. There is nothing Christian about staying married while being hateful and spiteful.

Don’t give up just because others say there is no hope

Taking marriage advice from people unqualified to give relationship advice is like getting dental help from your mechanic.

Here are some common things people say that are NOT TRUE regarding when to give up on your marriage:

  • you fight a lot
  • you are critical of each other
  • you are not happy in your marriage any more
  • your spouse is having an affair
  • you are separated
  • your spouse has a substance abuse problem
  • your spouse has a mental illness
  • you are blamed a lot
  • you disagree on how to parent
  • you no longer have sex with each other
  • your spouse wants a divorce
  • you have become “incompatible”

If people followed this advice, then everyone would need to divorce. The truth is that with the proper use of boundaries and restoration of emotional connection, your marriage can be good again regardless of the presence of any of these problems.

It’s not time to give up just because your spouse wants to divorce

Many people assume their relationship is over at this point. But, there have been many, many, couples that have rebuilt after this point, while some others have gone on to divorce. It does not matter whether your spouse says this in the heat of an argument, or carefully and deliberately when things are calm. Of course, either one will eventually lead to a divorce if you don’t handle it right.

If your spouse has threatened divorce, always take it seriously. It is a clear warning sign that your marriage will eventually end if changes are not made. Even if your spouse doesn’t say anything about divorce, if you find yourself thinking about it, there is a good chance that your spouse feels that way too. Act on that feeling in constructive ways to make things better before you get surprised by divorce papers.

Responding to a spouse intent on a divorce

How you respond to this will make all the difference for staying married. Usually, the person who is intent on divorce has thought about it a long time and feels certain about his or her decision. Attempting to change your spouse’s mind through reasoning, crying, or begging is just going to lose you respect. 

If you are willing to validate your spouse’s desire or decision to divorce, the relationship can build even while you are in the process of divorce. Opposing your spouse’s desire to divorce will only create more distance. (For specific examples on what to say, see my book, Connecting Through “Yes!”).

The way to prevent divorce is to focus on helping your spouse to enjoy you again–not creating conflict by opposing the divorce.

Intent to divorce, like intent to stay married, can change over time. How much time depends a lot on what you do and how you respond to your spouse.

This is not the time to try to get your spouse to go to marriage counseling as that is only helpful when both partners want to improve their relationship. You can work with a relationship coach on skills that will re-interest your spouse in you and your marriage.

An affair doesn’t mean the end of your marriage either

Affairs are much more common than you think. People who have affairs are usually not trying to give up their spouse. With the right boundaries and re-connection skills, affairs can often end and the marriage can become loving and monogamous again. A comprehensive resource for women on the subject is my book, A Christian Guide to Preventing and Ending Men’s Affairs.

You can even turn things around with an abusive spouse

If you want to end your marriage to an abusive spouse, that is understandable. But, that doesn’t mean that your marriage couldn’t be saved. You will need support, safety, and boundaries as well as becoming less dependent on your spouse. The resources needed for dealing with a physically abusive spouse are beyond the scope of coaching. If you are in that situation, work with a local psychologist as well as any resources for victims in your area. Don’t try to do these things online.

On the other hand, verbal and emotional abuse can be dealt with in coaching. I have a coaching package that specifically helps people to have the right boundaries for improving a marriage with a difficult spouse.

Other situations

Unless you have no contact with your spouse, there are things you can do to help your spouse to relax with you and find you more desirable. The more contact you have, the more of a chance you will have to use connection skills.

Compatibility is one of the excuses people use to end their marriage. Because compatibility has to do with effort and willingness to change, compatibility issues do not prevent reconciling. You can rebuild a relationship with anyone if you are willing to be the kind of person they wouldn’t want to lose.

I hope that you are beginning to understand that one person, with the right connection skills and boundaries can often accomplish much more than discussing differences week after week in marriage counseling. Discussing differences won’t get you a partner if you are single and it won’t make your spouse want to stay with you if you are married. Isn’t it time to start working on being a valuable and secure partner? Coaching is the no conflict way to help you do that.

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