Undecided About The Future of Your Marriage? How to Know What’s Next.

Have you reached a crossroads in your marriage where you are wondering about your future together? Do you have doubts about whether you both have the same goals and values in life?  

Are you unsure how you truly feel about your relationship?  Do you feel uncertain about your feelings toward your spouse? Has your trust and faith in your marriage been shattered in some way?

Did communication, closeness, and intimacy leave the building a long time ago?

If so, how do you decide what’s next?

Should You Stay or Leave?

A hard question!  Leaving a marriage is an incredibly difficult decision to make, one that should never be taken lightly or quickly.  At the same time, staying in a loveless or hostile relationship that holds no hope for change is a equally hard option to choose.  

When both partners are in agreement about the best path, the decision holds less angst.  In many cases, however, one partner wants to make it work and feels the marriage is salvageable, while the other just wants out. What do you do with this situation?

Be aware that even if you want to save the relationship and can get your mate to come to marriage counseling, it doesn’t guarantee success. It is important to know where you both stand with regard to making the relationship work. Couples therapy is hard work, even when both partners are invested in change.  If one of you is just going through the motions as a last-ditch effort, it only leads to frustration and bitterness.

If you're the one who wants you leave, you must remember that divorce is rarely a smooth or inexpensive matter.  Consider carefully how it will affect your emotions, your economic situation, and the lives of your children. It is imperative that you’re absolutely sure you’re ready to give up saving your marriage. Once you make the decision, it’s almost impossible to turn back.

Time and guidance are definitely necessary for both partners to think it through and make an informed decision.

The Next Step: Discernment Counseling

Discernment counseling is not therapy. It is a process to help married couples find clarity about the future of their relationship and decide if they should begin marriage counseling or just separate and divorce. Having a clear understanding of how committed each partner is to repairing the marriage can help you avoid half-hearted attempts at couples therapy.

Discernment counseling sessions are usually done primarily with each spouse individually followed by a brief session together.  It gives you both the opportunity to talk openly with your counselor about the things that concern you and are affecting your decision. The counselor will help you slow down and look at your marriage from all different angles. This includes exploring your own contribution to the problems in your relationship. It’s never a good idea to end a marriage without understanding your role in the issues. You will only carry them over into your next relationship. (That is why second marriages have an even greater potential for failure.)

The counselor will not take sides. They will help the spouse who wants to save the marriage avoid pushing their partner further away. And they will assist the spouse who wants to leave reach a clear and confident decision.

At the end of discernment counseling – a short-term, 1-5 session format – you should be able to agree on taking one of three paths:

  1. Remain in the marriage and go on as is, giving each other some more time.
  2. Separate and begin divorce procedures, understanding and accepting that you have no future together.
  3. Stay together and commit to several months of marriage counseling, making a genuine effort to salvage your marriage.

Make Good Use of the Discernment Counseling Process

Maybe your spouse has betrayed your trust. Maybe you keep having fights that killed the joy you once felt in your relationship. Maybe you’re attracted to someone else.  Or you may just feel hopeless about any possibility for recovery.  

Whatever the reason, don't make a hasty decision.  Let discernment counseling help you make the best decision.  At the very least, you and your spouse may be able to part more amicably.  If you have children, that alone is a good reason to invest a little more time and resources to exploring your future together.

Suggested reading:  Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay: A Step-by-Step Guide to Help You Decide Whether to Stay In or Get Out of Your Relationship, by Mira Kirshenbaum.