Every marriage has a moment when you’ll ask yourself the question, “Should I fight for my marriage?” To deny that is to invalidate the full experience of a marriage (or committed relationship) – one full of highs and lows. While each relationship may vary in how the highs and lows are experienced, so many of us have had moments where we’re not even sure we recognize the person who shares our bed.
If you’re finding yourself asking, “Should I fight for my marriage?” This article will explore common challenges in marriage and walk you through factors to consider. Whether this is a passing thought or the first step to making a decision, the content here will help bring more clarity to your situation.
Understanding Common Marital Challenges
Marriage is anything, but easy. Identifying current areas of struggles can give you a better understanding of what is triggering your question and what you and your partner would have to overcome if you were to continue with the relationship.
And you’re not alone! These are common difficulties that many couples face.
- Poor communication. Miscommunications, lack of effective communication, or lack of communication in general can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts.
- Lack of trust. Unreliability, lack of accountability, insecurity, and betrayals of any scale can erode trust.
- Financial stress. Misaligned values on money, disagreement on use, debt/bills… all these things can cause increased stress in the relationship.
- Unfulfilled intimacy needs. Decline in physical and/or emotional intimacy results in partners’ feeling disconnected. Those feelings of distance can compound and affect other areas of the relationship.
- Conflicting priorities. Differences in goals (individual & as a couple) can lead to tensions and ruptures. This can cause feelings of resentment, anger, or helplessness.
- External Influences. Family, friends, and work-related pressures can significantly impact the dynamics of a marriage.
Where are you noticing difficulties with your partner? Is it in one or a few of these areas? All of them? Every healthy relationship encounters many or all of these challenges from time to time. However, a better sense of what is currently contributing to your feelings can help you decide your next steps.
Assessing Areas of Strength
After assessing where the areas of difficulties are, explore the areas that you consider strengths in the relationship. Be honest with yourself – try not to overestimate or underestimate. This will help you decide if you want to fight for your marriage and what may make it easier if you do decide to move forward.
You’ll notice that many of these are the same as the areas above; remember, just because it’s not an area of challenge doesn’t mean it’s automatically an area of strength for you as a couple.
- Emotional Connection. How strong is your emotional bond? Do you and your spouse still share emotional intimacy, understanding, and support for each other? If so, how long has it been since you genuinely felt emotionally connected to your partner? Would you be happy were the emotional connection restored to what it was in the past?
- Communication. Reflect on whether you and your spouse communicate openly, honestly, and respectfully. Can you count on your partner to hear and acknowledge your thoughts, feelings, and needs–and do you do the same for them?
- Trust and Respect. Consider whether you still feel you can trust and rely on your spouse to do what they say they’re going to do and be transparent with you about their thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
- Shared Values and Goals. Couples often come together due to shared values and common goals. Reflect on whether your current values and life aspirations are still aligned with your partner’s.
- Intimacy and Affection. Physical and emotional intimacy are essential components of a marriage. Assess whether you and your spouse still share affection, passion, and a desire to connect intimately.
Find a (Neutral) Sounding Board
Working through all of this on your own can be difficult. Being able to talk through each of these things and hear questions or reactions from another person can be super beneficial. The key is to do it with someone you trust and someone who can be unbiased as possible. If someone in your life comes to mind, great!
If not, a couples or marriage therapist is a great resource to tap into (even if you do have a trusted friend or family member). You can find services provided by therapists with a MFT, LCSW, MSW, PsyD, PhD, or MD degree. Couples and marriage therapists often see both partners, but also provide individual services to one partner when the central focus of the sessions is around the relationship.
Here’s what a marriage counselor may help you do:
- Recognize Unresolved Issues. A counselor or therapist can help identify underlying issues that are contributing to the challenges in your relationship. This can help provide clarity to ones you’ve already identified or uncover others. Humans are complicated creatures; sometimes when you dig deeper, you may find something else is driving conflict than you initially thought.
- Improve Communication. A trained third party such as a counselor can help identify and recommend effective communication strategies. Whether it’s learning new strategies, letting go of ineffective ones, and/or practicing in a safe environment.
- Rebuild Trust. If trust has been damaged, and you’re seeking an understanding of what needs to be done to rebuild it, a therapist can help provide insight. That information can help inform your decision – can the trust be rebuilt?
- How to Say Goodbye. Maybe you’ve already made a decision; but making such a big decision has you questioning yourself. Speaking with a trained professional can help ease the anxiety and set up a value-aligned way to close this chapter of your life. Understanding and processing the grief of the relationship is a big undertaking, and you don’t have to do it alone. It can also help to think through how you’d like to approach this with your partner, and to walk through the various next steps.
Of note, if you are ever concerned for your physical or emotional well-being, please contact the domestic abuse hotline for immediate help. A therapist can also support you in processing any disrespect or abuse, and to make concrete action steps to keep you safe.
Other Red Flags
Still unsure whether you should remain in your marriage? Other questions to consider include:
Is my partner unwilling to change?
Both partners must be willing to work on the marriage for it to succeed. If one spouse is consistently unwilling to change harmful behaviors, admit clear wrongdoing, or seek help, the marriage may be at an impasse.
Are there irreconcilable differences? Such as:
- Religious Beliefs. Do you find that one or both of you have strong, religious beliefs that are incongruent with each other? Do one or both of you find it difficult or even impossible to compromise if it has to do with each other’s religion?
- Financial Values. If financial values differ, partners are apt to argue over spending habits, savings, and long-term financial planning. One partner may be more focused on financial security, while the other may prioritize experiences and enjoyment.
- Cultural Backgrounds. Partners from different cultural backgrounds sometimes have varying expectations, traditions, and values. These differences can impact lifestyle choices, communication styles, and approaches to relationships.
- Family Planning. You both may have been in sync on this topic when you first were married, but is that still the case? As an irreversible decision, it can be a significant source of conflict and not one that can be easily compromised on.
- How to resolve conflict. We all have different communication styles & ways we address conflict. But irreconcilable differences here have a domino effect on a relationship, and can cause a cycle of misunderstandings, unresolved issues, and hurt feelings.
- Social and Recreational Activities. Partners with divergent norms when it comes to socializing or engaging in recreational activities often struggle to find common ground on how to spend their leisure time together. Decreased opportunities to have fun with each other can exacerbate other issues in the marriage and increase emotional distance between partners.
Trust Your Instincts
In the end, only you will truly know when you should fight for your marriage or when it’s time to close this chapter of your life. Your intuition is a power guide – don’t ignore it. If you find it difficult to hear your own thoughts or gut, find a way to quiet your mind. It might be physical exercise, journaling, mindfulness exercises, or going to a calming environment (i.e., nature).
Consider the Well-Being of Children
This article does not focus on children, but as a parent it is a significant factor to consider. A stable and healthy environment is crucial for their emotional development, and that does not automatically equate to a traditional, two-parent household. Children, consciously and unconsciously, absorb information about relationships from what they see – exposure to unhealthy relational patterns does more damage than healthy co-parents.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Fighting for Your Marriage
Q: Is it normal to have doubts about my marriage?
A: Yes, it’s entirely normal to have doubts when facing challenges. Take the time to explore your feelings and seek guidance if needed.
Q: How can individual counseling and/or marriage counseling help in the decision-making process?
A: Individual counseling can provide a safe space to explore and process feelings. Marriage counseling provides a neutral space for both partners to express their thoughts and feelings, helping to gain clarity and understanding. Depending on your’s (and your partner’s decision) it can also be useful to move forward in rebuilding the marriage or ending it.
Q: Can a marriage be saved if only one partner is willing to work on it?
A: This is a question that only a couple can answer for themselves. However, my viewpoint is that it is very unlikely. A relationship (any relationship) is dynamic and interdependent; if only one partner is willing to work on it, significant movement or change is not going to occur. At the very least, the other partner must be open to accepting the changes of the other partner, and allow themselves to react positively to it.
Q: What if I still love my spouse but feel unhappy in the marriage?
A: It sounds like you may not be ready to end the relationship. It depends on what steps you (and your spouse) have taken; if no action or communication has been taken, I’d suggest sharing these feelings with your partner. At the end of the day, if you’re continually unhappy in your relationship I think it’s important to honor your feelings and yourself, and consider alternative action.
Q: Should I consider a trial separation before making a decision?
A: Trial separation provides space for reflection, but clear communication about the intentions and expectations for the separation period is vital. Consider other factors such as any children and financial impacts/feasibility.
Q: How can I nurture emotional intimacy in my marriage?
A: Spend quality time together, communicate openly, and express affection and appreciation for each other regularly. All this sounds obvious, which means it’s also all stuff that can easily fall by the wayside after a few years of marriage, or after you simply sink into a routine or get busy with other parts of life. Make a conscious effort to do these things consistently and you’ll feel a strong sense of emotional intimacy.
Deciding whether to fight for your marriage is a deeply personal journey that requires introspection, communication, and sometimes professional guidance. Remember that every relationship is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. While fighting for your marriage is commendable, remember that your health and happiness are the main point. Trust your instincts, consider the well-being of any children involved, and ultimately make the choice that aligns best with your values and the well-being of both you and your partner.
Dr. Vivian Oberling is the Founding Psychologist at Pace Groups. She is also a licensed clinical psychologist who has dedicated her career to improving the lives of clients across the lifespan. Background-wise, she’s been trained and worked in academic centers and hospitals (Stanford, Harvard, UCLA, Kaiser and Rady Children’s), and utilizes evidence-based treatments and research to enhance non-clinical, supportive services.