When Your Marriage Is Failing, You Have 3 Choices — Choose Carefully

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sad couple

Most marriages have the same beginning and the same end.

Most marriages begin with two people in love, and without anyone blackmailing them or forcing it against their will, both promise to love one another forever in front of family, friends, a wedding officiant — and if they're believers, their God.

They do so with the best of intentions, full of hope and optimism. They're often kind, smart, decent people, fully aware of what's involved in committing to a legal and/or spiritual marriage. The ink unites their civil union. The vows unite their souls. "You and I, 'til the day we die."

Most marriages end with two people resenting one another for failing to live up to promises and a little bit confused as to how they got from point A to point B.

Ask anyone who has been through divorce or is now standing on the precipice. And five to 10 years later, more than half of them divorce.



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Marriages don't usually die from some big, dramatic happening. Divorce is usually death by a million pinpricks. And then, with one or both asleep at the wheel, someone has an affair or a traumatic life event occurs like the death of a close family member or friend. And because the marriage is no longer a source of safety and comfort, everything falls apart.

"Who the heck is this guy?" you might be thinking. I'm nobody; I'm just some divorced guy. But I know things now that I didn't know during my marriage, and I write about them hoping that someone will read it, think it makes sense, and then maybe not get divorced afterward.

I repeat: Two competent, legally sane adults with good intentions promise to love one another forever with a decent understanding of how bad it will be if they're wrong. They often make this promise with almost everyone they know as witnesses.

Divorce is the great social crisis of our time and people don't talk about it enough. Some people are bad at partner selection, and most simply don't know how to be married. It doesn't have to be this way; it can be better.

Bill Murray said it best while living the same day over and over again in "Groundhog Day": "Maybe God isn't omnipotent. Maybe he's just been around so long, he knows everything."

Maybe clairvoyants can't magically see the future. Maybe they've just heard the same stories so many times, they can accurately guess what happens next.

Two good people who, so slowly they didn't see it coming, accidentally ruin their marriage.

you have three choices when your marriage is failingPhoto: Alena Darmel / Pexels

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And so, we're left with choices. Big ones that profoundly affect our lives, our children's lives, and the lives of everyone close to us. Forever.

The end of a marriage tends to involve one partner who feels beaten down emotionally. She doesn't have the energy to hate her husband anymore. Only apathy remains. Her personality changes and her husband finally senses danger.

Her husband is afraid now, because she really means it this time. He's never understood before now. He's never taken seriously any suggestions or thoughts that their marriage might end.

Because, for the entirety of their relationship, it always seemed as if she was getting upset about things he perceived as petty or unimportant. Because he never thought her concerns or complaints were worth worrying about, he (usually without realizing it) walked away from each fight leaving her feeling angry and abandoned.



She thinks, "Why does he always have to win or be 'right'? Why can't he just LISTEN to me and care that I'm upset? Is that how little he respects me? Is that how little he appreciates me? Is that how little he loves me?"

Because he says and feels "I love you" every day, he thinks she knows she's loved. He's wrong. She resents him now. She doesn't trust him now. And she doesn't want him now. She simply can't feel attracted to a man who makes her feel so ugly and invalidated.

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Sex becomes non-existent. He's watching late-night internet adult movies and not even trying with his emotionally distant wife. She's fantasizing about whatever man in her life makes her feel attractive and respected.

This is the way your marriage ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper. The next bad thing that happens will topple the house of cards.

you have three choices when your marriage is failingPhoto: cottonbro studio / Pexels

I've seen couples get back together and make it work. Multiple times. But there's a caveat: I've only seen it happen after both people go have sex with someone else, realize it's not the slightest bit fulfilling, and that it actually sucks a little bit after the endorphins wear off. Then they start to miss the deeper and more life-giving nourishment that comes from real love.

Some people seem more compatible than others, but I see no evidence these dynamics don't happen with most couples. So when divorced people inevitably jump into that new relationship in an attempt to fill the void, it's all hope and unicorn dreams.

You never imagine your new lover in the shower fantasizing about his hot co-worker or some gross habit he has like leaving bitten fingernails on the floor by your couch, or how he doesn't respect or appreciate some aspect of your personal life that's sacred to you like your ex-husband did.

At the beginning of your new relationship, you focus only on the good stuff. At the end of your marriage, you focus only on the bad stuff. Then bad things start to happen, even though you're both good people and you both have good intentions, just like most people.

And just like most people, you slowly push one another away. And one day it hits you: Every time I get used to someone and all the warm fuzzies go away, it feels exactly like this.



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It's really important to remember that attraction, or a lack thereof, is all in your head. I'm not saying it's not real. It is real. Too many people report this exact same story for it to not be legit.

But this is why I write what I write. I want people to love one another and do the little things we need to do to NOT kill our love and attraction in the first place.

Think of it this way: Of every possible eventuality, somewhere out there is the perfect combination of words he can say and actions he can take that, when blended with whatever emotional or psychological exercises you try, will reignite your attraction and sexual desire for one another.

Maybe you don't believe that. But if it's possible, isn't that worth fighting for? Because the grass is not greener over there. And it never will be.

So we have three choices when our marriage is failing:

  1. Get divorced
  2. Stay married, resent one another, hate your lives and have affairs
  3. Choose to love the person to whom you promised forever and work together to make it beautiful

Two of those can have happy endings. One cannot.

you have three choices when your marriage is failingPhoto: Klaus Nielsen / Pexels

Of the two that can end well, both demand courage, pain and sacrifice.

Of the two that can end well, one is chock full of tears, failure and regret.

Of the two that can end well, one is a story of redemption, triumph and personal growth.

And when we look at the three choices through that prism, you might say there's actually just one.

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Matthew Fray is a writer, relationship coach, and author of "This is How Your Marriage Ends." He's been featured in The New York Times, NPR, The Daily Mail, The Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, The Sunday Times, BBC Radio, and The Atlantic, among many others.