How Long Should We Keep Trying to Work It Out?

October 20th, 2010

While many of our posts on this blog are dedicated to helping people prepare for marriage, this post focuses on those who are already married and facing touch choices.

Individuals who are at the crossroads of divorce face a challenging decision that has powerful consequences for the future of their own lives and the lives of their children, extended family, and community. If you or someone you love has been facing the painful question of “How Long Should I Keep Trying to Work It Out,” you know what it is to deal with making a gut-wrenching decision that affects every aspect of life.

What determines whether individuals who are considering divorce actually pull the plug and end their marriage?

Weigh Rewards versus Barriers

Researchers have found that individuals considering divorce make their decision to stay or leave based on the rewards they gain from the marriage, their perceptions about finding a better relationship, the amount of investment they have made in marriage, and the barriers against leaving the marriage Some unhappy couples choose to stay together, even if the rewards from marriage are few, because there are many barriers including concerns about:

  • Money
  • Children
  • Religious beliefs
  • Disapproval of family & friends
  • Fears of being alone

Barriers to leaving a marriage can keep the marriage together in the short run, however, unless the relationship improves, the barriers are not enough to keep a marriage together for the long haul.  In the United States, researchers estimate that 40% – 50% of all first marriages will end in divorce or permanent separation. The risk of divorce is even higher, 60%, for second marriages. Utah’s divorce rate is slightly above the national average.

The decision is very much a personal one, and that what is right for one individual may not be right for another. Circumstances are as different as people. Both partners need to choose the marriage as a first step in making marriage thrive! Sadly, sometimes you may be the only one working on saving the marriage and eventually you may have no choice but to concede to a divorce but only after a long fight where every stone has been turned.

There are absolutely valid reasons for divorce.  In some instances, divorce improves the lives of those involved, but for the majority, researchers have found that divorce generally has negative effects. If you or someone you know is facing this tough decision, make sure to consider the following:

  • Allow Time Itself to Improve Marriage – A significant number of divorced individuals – nearly half – report that they wished they or their ex-spouse had tried harder to work through differences.
  • Seek Pro-Marriage Therapist – Individuals and couples who are seriously considering divorce should seek a qualified, trained, pro-marriage therapist. A great website for finding professionals in your area is
  • Separate With Commitment to Marriage – A controlled separation has its place if there are boundaries in place, such as, a limited time frame, no divorce attorneys, money is not moved, children continue to be parented by both partners, no dating other than with each other, and family and couple time remain a top priority.

It’s interesting to note that most individuals are NOT happier after divorce. However, there are many factors that influence how divorce affects individuals. It is hard to work through a difficult marriage and it is hard to work through a divorce.

Great Resource: “A Guidebook for Individuals and Couples at the Crossroads of Divorce,” A. Hawkins and T. Fackrell.

~Dr. Liz