What to consider before heading to splitsville

If even a couple of the below sound familiar to you, separation or divorce could be on your mind:

* It feels like something is missing
* You don't have as much fun together as you used to
* You are no longer excited by sex
* You are increasingly irritable and critical
* You feel angry at your partner too often
* You are bored or lonely and think about other choices you could have made
* It shouldn't be this hard to be married, should it?

Having these kinds of feelings and thoughts must mean your relationship is doomed- right? Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. Remember the part of your marriage vows that talked about "for better or worse?" These lines are used because struggle and conflict is a universal experience in all relationships. It will never be easy and fun all the time- and sometimes, it's much harder than you anticipated it could be. Therefore learning how to identify what are the true potential deal breakers in your marriage and teasing these out from the workable issues is the first step you should take before seriously considering the next step of "I don't."

The above list contains many of the most common complaints that folks voice when they come in to see me. Often they report that the problems have grown over time and have never really been addressed by either person except in the form of offhand complaints or sullenness and perhaps withdrawal. Sometimes one partner has made unsuccessful attempts to address these directly, and now believes that their spouse doesn't care how they feel or just isn't listening. It's also common for women (especially) to tell me that they have addressed these issues indirectly, dropping hints and hoping he would read their mind and know how they feel- and when he didn't, they became more angry and distant. The good news here is that many couples like this can be helped to address these issues, work together on solutions and recommit to a stronger and better marriage. I can happily report that with focused help in learning and using new skills and communicating clearly and effectively, I have seen many success stories. It's also important to note that couples who have been together for a number of years and have built a truly shared life, especially those who have children together- have much incentive to put in this work and many good reasons for staying together.

The following is a list of common deal breakers reported by couples:

* You have only been married a couple of years and are recalling the misgivings you had before saying "I do"

* He's your good friend, but nothing more

* You are frequently fantasizing about other men

* Your partner has an addiction that they refuse to acknowledge or work on

* Sexual intimacy is nonexistent and/or you dread the thought of being approached

* Your partner is verbally or emotionally abusive- yet denies this and identifies you as the problem

* All attempts at communication have ceased

* One or both of you has decided they want to be with someone else and do not want to work on the marriage

Issues like the above can signal that one or both people has already at least partially left the marriage. They can also indicate that this couple married for the "wrong" reasons. Wrong being that they are together not because they couldn't imagine their life without this other person, rather that they were already living together and it was too hard or expensive to break up, their shared relationships with family and friends would be negatively impacted, they were concerned about not finding anyone better, it was convenient and safe, and/or they had invested so much time already and were worried about being too old to have children or the family they want with someone new. Perhaps they met when they were very young, dated for a number of years, then lived together and decided to get married. Now just a year or two later, they realize they were too young and have changed and want something else.

My experience with couples who voice these issues is that they often end up separating and deciding to divorce. Often they come to the realization that investing a lot of time and energy to work on something that they don't truly want would be an even greater waste of time and would lead to more hurt and resentment. Instead, we work on how to move towards an amicable separation (whenever possible). I talk with each about their individual needs and goals and support them is being the person they want to be, often a person they learned they could not be in their relationship. We don't look for fault--instead we focus on their dynamics and all the choices they made that brought them to this place. The take away is that they learn a great deal more about what they truly want and what they need from a relationship--and they learn to see this as a painful growing experience that can help them not to fall back into old patterns in future relationships, or they risk having more than one failed marriage.

Want to read other articles on this subject?

This is the first "Help with Conflict" article.

List of more "Help with Conflict" articles

" Couples Therapists--One size does not fit all"


Toni Coleman, LCSW
Phone: 703-847-1768


Copyright 2008 Antoinette Coleman. All rights reserved.

Distribution Rights: The above material is copyrighted, but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information. However, you may not copy it to a web site.

Reprint permission will be granted, upon request, to student newspapers, universities, and other nonprofit organizations. Advance written permission must be obtained for any reprinting of this material in altered or modified form.