Can this marriage be saved?

wedding-bandI get that question a lot. I hear from women whose husbands have cheated repeatedly or from men whose wives refuse to have sex with them. One woman tells me that her husband is so depressed that he sits in front of the TV day in and day out. He refuses to work. He refuses to participate in family life. He refuses to be a husband or a father.

The situations vary, but the common thread is the same: One person desperately wants the relationship to work, but the other doesn’t seem to care and refuses to try.

Is there hope?

That depends on why your spouse has given up. Your husband or wife probably refuses to put effort into the relationship for one of two reasons:

Reason #1. She truly doesn’t want to be married to you anymore and is doing everything in her power to get you to ask for a divorce.

Reason #2. He can. You enable his behavior every single time you put up with it. Sure you nag. Sure you complain, but he continues to do it because he knows that no matter how badly he treats you, you will never leave. You won’t because you fear being alone (or some other negative outcome) more than you dislike being stuck in a bad marriage.

Note that I am using “he” and “she” interchangeably. I am not suggesting only women do #1 and only men do #2.

If you are caught up in one of these miserable relationships, I encourage you to do the following.

Step 1: Become okay with the idea of divorce. If needed, talk to divorcees about it. Visit divorce related websites. Do what you need to do to understand that the end of your relationship is not the end of your life. You can be alone.

Step 2: Grow your self-esteem. This will probably require a conversation with a friend who is in a good marriage. Talk about your marital problems. Ask, “Do I deserve this?” Your friend is going to tell you what you should already know, “No, you don’t deserve this. You deserve better.” If you don’t truly believe that, then sit with that knowledge for a few days, repeating over and over to yourself, “I deserve better. I deserve to have a happy marriage.”

Step 3: Know what you want from your spouse. This should be very specific. Seek treatment for your depression? Specific. Have sex with me at least once a month and seem like you actually enjoy it? Specific. Try harder? Not specific. Help me improve our marriage? Not specific.

Step 4: Give your spouse an ultimatum. When you are both calm, tell your spouse that her behavior is unacceptable. Here is one way to word it:

“I am not happy with our marriage. I think our marriage has potential and I would like to work with you to make it better for both of us. I get the sense that you are not trying. I find that really hurtful because I still love you. I deserve to be married to someone who [wants to have sex with me, does not belittle me, works for a living, etc]. This is a deal breaker for me. If I don’t have this, I don’t think I can possibly be happy in this marriage. If you are not willing to help me find happiness in this marriage, I don’t think I can stay married to you.”

Then you need to wait and see what your spouse says. If your spouse agrees to try, then ask for the change in behavior that you came up with in Step 3.

What if your spouse tells you to take your ultimatum and shove it up your rear end? In that case, you need to follow through. You’ve done the work. You know you deserve better. You know you are strong enough to get through a divorce, and you know your marriage in hopeless. End it.

So you might be wondering, “What about our kids? I want to stay together for them.” In that case, think about what you are teaching your children. You are teaching them that you are a pushover who continually takes crap from others and does nothing to stand up for herself or her own happiness. Is this a behavior that you want them to model when they grow up? What do you want your kids to do when they are grown up and facing a similar situation? Do you want them to stick it out, even if their spouse refuses to try? Even if their spouse is abusive? Even if their spouse is a drunk?

I didn’t think so. You’ll do more damage to your kids by staying in a hopelessly bad marriage than you will by getting out of one.

In the end, it’s the willingness to end it that often saves a marriage. If you both know your worth and know what you deserve, neither one of you will take crap from the other. When you both become I-Don’t-Put-Up-With-Crap-From-Others people, you stop taking advantage of each other. You start treating each other with respect and doing what it takes to keep each other happy, because you both want the other to make the choice every single day to stay married because you want to, and not because you think you have to.

Do you have advice for others whose spouses refuse to try? When should someone give up on a marriage? Do you think someone should stay in a bad marriage no matter what? Leave a comment.

16 comments… add one

  • Sarah June 1, 2009, 3:58 pm

    One of your very best posts ever, Alisa! And so incredibly true! This exactly what is needed when someone asks “Can my marriage be saved?” Thank you for being so clear-cut, concise and honest! You are, as always, the very best! Take care and God Bless!
    -Sarah Liz :)

  • Couplehood Spiritual Path June 3, 2009, 12:53 am

    This is a great post, especially the part about recognizing the other’s motivations. Often times, resentment is so deep seeded, one spouse will do whatever it takes for the other to ask for a divorce. Great post!

    Jesse and Melva Johnson

  • Jennifer June 18, 2009, 8:54 am

    Well I new at this and me and my husband are having some problems. Ever since I have had my child which was two years ago I dont never get in the mood to have sex, now I just do it sometimes for my husband; but I do want to get in the mood too. Then my mom lives next door and she comes over alot and he is starting to get mad about that I dont know what to say to my mom I dont want to hurt her feelings I know she is coming over to see the baby and that she gets bored at home. So my husband just told me last night that he is basicly just there for the baby. I told him not to just stay for her that I want him to be there because he wants to be not because he feels that he has to be. Also he just thinks I nag all the time which I dont think I do I really dont know what I am suppose to do anymore we dont even talk to each other without an attuide from one of us what do I need to do I need some help please……………… If not I think my marrige will be over or is it already over?

  • Andrew Bailey September 9, 2009, 10:12 pm

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  • Jason Cousin December 27, 2009, 1:45 am

    This was a great post… There is alot of truth in what you wrote. The one thing I might add is that if there is still desire or love coming from that other person in any type of way. Then try to work it out. Because it shows that that person is still interested into the relationship. You might have to distance yourself away from that person b/c of abuse, drinking, addictions etc etc. But if they love you they will start to recognize there faults and work on them. But you have to let them know what you want out of the relationship in order for them to have some type of direction. It might take time for them to conquer there issues, but in the long run it will be worth it.

  • Savy February 4, 2010, 4:30 pm

    To Jason Cousin….. I am so happy to see that you wrote and said. I was feeling so hopeless at my relationship. I am the wrong doer in my marriage, and I am struggling to change… I have strong set backs and I know its going to take so much to overcome. I believe that God is working in my heart to let me know that I have to have Faith.. and hope. I am not happy what I did to my husband, and I have regrets…. I just hope I did not permenatly destroyed it. My husband and I are in counseling, and I know we both want to work on our marriage. But sometimes I feel like my husband can quit on us anytime. I never really trusted anyone especially my husband. I was mollested at a very young age and I never really dealt with it until now. How do I know for sure. I am so heart broken…. and afraid. I want him to know That I truley love him, but I know he questions it. True love means sticking together no matter what.

  • Ola Heppel May 29, 2010, 4:31 pm

    Hi. I love your blog! More please!

  • Sam Crix September 2, 2010, 5:52 am

    For me, ending a marriage is much harder than you think. I have to think it over in a hundred times before making any decision might a little help in saving a marriage. You have to consider the advantages and disadvantages when saving the marriage. I will do everything in case it will happen to me.
    Sam Crix´s last blog post ..Married to Your Boss Mastermind for Outrageous Success!

  • Sandy January 1, 2011, 10:03 pm

    It’s nice to find a good article. I really enjoy lots of the articles on your site.

  • Carla April 19, 2012, 8:49 am

    I have tried everything I can think of to save my marriage. I have a 2 yr old and 4 yr old. Ever since the kids have been born, my relationship with my husband has changed. My husband is very controlling and selfish. Everytime I tell him what I need, all he does is say that I make everything about myself. He is verbally abusive – calls me a lazy bitch, or just a bitch, or a child. I can’t seem to do anything right. I will have the house emmaculate and when he gets home he will see one thing I didn’t do and harp on me all night about that. He basically says I am a bad mom and that the kids never want to me around me (which is not true). To him I never do enough and nothing is ever good enough. I give him specific details on what I need from him – again, he just thinks I make everything about me. I was sick yesterday and before I got home from work I told him that when I get home I will be going right to bed. Well I got home and he got pissed that I wasn’t going to make supper. and than he got pissed because I slept for 2 hrs and he would have NEVER been able to do that. I can’t get through to him no matter what I do. I ask him what I need to do or why he treats me like this and he never has an answer. I just don’t know what to do. I tried marriage counseling, but it didn’t work into his schedule. Everything is about him. He drops a fork on the floor and he is swearing. I knew that when I married him that he had control issues and had to do everything. Well after we had kids, he no longer has the time to get done what he needs to get done on his schedule and it is all my fault because (what he says) I don’t do enough and if I would just take care of the kids…. Now I do stuff with the kids. I am not a lazy mom at all. My schedule when I get home. I pick up the kids, I make supper, I do the dishes, I give the kids a bath, and I put my daughter to bed. I don’t know what else I can do. now I do have a fetish about having my kitchen clean, but according to him, I am not allowed to clean my kitchen until the kids are in bed. Well I am sorry, but I dont want to be cleaning the kitchen at 930 at night. but he gets pissed when I do it right after supper. So I just don’t know what to do. Any suggestions?

    • Carla April 19, 2012, 8:52 am

      and the thing about supper last night. He was home at noon. Granted yes, he came home because we had people coming over to do some work on the house, but they left long before I got home with the kids. He had plenty of time to make supper and I told him 2.5 hrs before I got home that I was going to be going to bed because I had a horrible cold and fever. but still not good enough. I can’t talk to him.

  • Sarah April 24, 2012, 1:38 pm

    I am in a similar situation. No matter what I do or don’t do, no matter what the situation is, I am always at fault. My husband refuses to accept responsibility for anything. A person can only do so much. A marriage takes two people, not one. My husband is verbally and emotionally abusive. It sounds to me like you are in an abusive relationship as well. In his quest to control me, my husband raped me. I kicked him out of the house. The next day he was arrested on possession charges. He blames me for this because in his mind, if I hadn’t made him leave, he wouldn’t been in possession of narcotics and wouldn’t have been arrested. I let him back into the house because I felt obligated. I placed certain conditions: 1. Stay calm. 2. Sleep in the kids bedroom. (They slept with me) 3. Be nice. I was only giving him someplace to sleep. I had no intention of reconciling. He didn’t understand that. I asked him “What made you think we were back together?” He said “Because that is what you do.” It was such a telling statement for me. In those few words he told me he has no respect for me, he is taking advantage of me, he has no intention of making our marriage work. Carla, you need to make a stand. I see that you are not happy with the way things are. Put your foot down and tell your husband what you need and expect. If he loves you, he will want to make you happy.

  • Lee July 5, 2012, 12:26 pm

    I came across this after googling about saving abad marriage.I have been married 10 years,we met via a dating site & we lived in different countries.I live in the Uk,she in the US.After giving up her good job in New york,she ended up in the Uk with a jobless me! 1 year later,we were in the US,alot of job changes & then our son arrived.After 7 years in the US& loosing a well paid job were arrived her in 2009 & until last month I did not have a job & my PT job is hardly worth it.She has worked also PT since 2010! We have had fights throughout,but it was not until 2 years ago,the sex went & when we moved into our present house in November 2011,we had our seperate rooms! My wife accuses me of not wanting to work,as I am attempting to try & do acourse(finishes June 2013),I do the school run,but little else.I have got so angry with her,that I grabbed her round the neck & she called the police! We go to different churches,we agree on little.We have little money,so do not go out.I feel we are in a rut.My wife & my parents do not like each other & they keep saying to me:”Just leave her”!! I am not sure which is worse,their comments or my wife screaming at me! Our 7 year old is in the middle!! We do not really talk,so i have no idea what she wants.Somestime I say:”where is the marriage i once had”? But my wife says it has always been bad!! I do not know what to do? I do not want to loose my son,but I am stressed over being called lazy & my family trying to tell me what to do! In the eyes of both,I do the wrong things!

  • crystal August 5, 2012, 8:29 pm

    I am with you all.. My husband works 36 hours a week or 3 days.. I work 6days 2 jobs. I come home and fix dinner, clean the house, clean Landry, and much more. He sets down from the time he gets up and plays video games, and or plays on the computer. I fix his lunch, pick out his clothes. And he doesn’t do anything to help me. I also have 3 kids. I love him but not like I use too. Its not even a friendship love. I believe its cause of our kids. I have tried talking to him a ton of times. But he just doesn’t want to listen. He can say that he loves me. But can’t tell me who good I look. I believe its really over. We dont sleep together. When I am awake he’s in bed and when I am in bed he’s awake. I need help. What should I do…

  • sara October 28, 2012, 12:35 pm

    I am really struggling with this right now. The hard part for me is that my husband is willing to work on our relationship. In fact, we’ve always gotten along really well. We’ve been through counseling before, and our communication improved, and some of the specific troubles we were having at the time were fixed (fighting over inequality in housework/childcare, mostly).

    Still, I think I want to leave for 2 reasons that never seem to change: he drinks too much and he is lazy. The drinking is only in the evenings, and he is not abusive. Still, I just don’t like it. I worry about his long term health (he drinks upwards of 2 bottles of win/night), I worry about him as a role model for our son, and I find it unpleasant to have to be around a drunk man so often. It’s just not attractive. So, that’s actually the easier of the two issues. I know I need to let him know that this is a deal-breaker for me and it needs to stop. I think he is capable of quitting if he is motivated to.

    The harder one is the laziness/lack of ambition, b/c I am not entirely sure if he can change this even if he wants to. He does work, but he makes very little money and we are constantly struggling. I am in school, and once I graduate I should be able to bring in plenty of income to support us. I don’t mind being the main breadwinner, but what does bother me is the general lack of passion and ambition he displays. A hard work day, for him, means starting the day at noon and ending it at 5:00pm. Even this would not be so bad if he had other passions that filled his leisure time, but he doesn’t really. He just watches internet videos or goes out to the bar or other social gatherings in the evenings. Basically, it seems like he wants to just hang out a lot of the time. He does get grand ideas sometimes about how to improve his career or make more money, but there is never enough follow-through to make them actually happen. This is how he has always been, and I kind of was blind to it when we got married. I made the classic mistake of thinking he might change. Meanwhile, I am working my butt off in school, and almost never have any leisure time.

    I’m having a really hard time with these issues because I don’t like the way things are, but am not sure if I’m just being too picky. He does love me, is very sweet, shares childcare and housework with me reasonably well, and his financial support (while minimal) has been allowing me to continue my education. I guess the bottom line is that I don’t want to be married to someone who is not being his best, who has no passion, who indulges his bad habits so much of the time and then feels bad about himself. On the other hand, I feel I am being ungrateful to this sweet man, and I love him. I am not in love with him (not enough respect left for that), but I do love him and I know he loves me. We still make each other laugh, we still often have fun together. Yet, I feel like I am carrying him so much of the time. I daydream about how nice it would be to have a partner who is thriving, alert, and passionate about life. Sometimes I daydream about how nice it would be just to love with my sister and not have a partner!

    Really, I often think that we would have made great friends, but we are not very good partners. I am seeking couples counseling again for us, but don’t have a lot of hope. I don’t think couples counseling is going to change who he is, and I really think our paths and goals in life have just grown apart.

  • sara October 28, 2012, 12:42 pm

    I just read Jason Cousin’s post. That is encouraging. My husband does love me, I have no doubt about that. I’m considering asking for a separation, and just letting him know what my needs are (I need him to seek help for his drinking habit and counseling for his low self-esteem/lack of ability to follow through on his ambitions). If he wants to change, and if he wants to stay married, then that will give him the space to work on himself without me hovering over him every day. If, on the other hand, he feels that is too much change to make in order to keep the relationship going, and that he would be doing it all to please me and not for himself, then at least we can end our marriage with both of us knowing we are picking separate paths rather than him feeling like I am rejecting him.


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