When Is It Too Late To Save a Marriage?

I get asked the question all the time: When is it too late to save a marriage?

It's a tough question to answer - after all, each marriage is unique and has its own dynamics, past injuries, and challenges. However, when couples come to me for help, I often assess for a few key indicators, so I can see how big the mountain is to climb.

The biggest indicator I look for is withdrawal - who has withdrawn from the marriage and how far has it gone?

Here's the cycle I most often see: One person feels unimportant or devalued in the marriage and makes attempts to "protest" or get attention. This can take the form of complaining, picking fights, or criticism. Of course, these behaviors just push the other person further away, which escalates the intensity of the "protest."

Then, if the cycle isn't addressed, withdrawal starts to happen. the "protester" figures he/she won't get anywhere anyway, and the object of the "protest" feels he/she can't do anything right.

When both parties withdraw, the end to the relationship is often near. In fact, it's misguided to believe marriages end because of too much conflict. By contrast, most marriages end because of disconnection and lack of affection.

For your humble therapist, this is most often when couples walk in my door - when things have gotten so bad one or both are considering leaving the marriage.

Repairing the marriage, breaking the cycle, and understanding the underlying dynamics are the focal points of therapy, but when both parties have already withdrawn, the work is hard and arduous.

Still, to answer the question at-hand - it's never too late to save a marriage. But, be prepared for some heavy lifting if you wait until withdrawal starts to become standard operating procedure.


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