All relationships ebb and flow, regardless of their longevity or level of commitment. The relationships change over time because the people within those relationships are changing. Sometimes those ebbs can be particularly treacherous, though, threatening to dissolve years of a couple’s hard work. When unhappiness rears itself—whether it is because of loneliness, external stress, or one of the million reasons a couple drifts apart—it can be very difficult to decide whether the relationship is temporarily out of service…or bound for the junk yard.
The first thing to figure out is what are you unhappy about? This is very important for one reason: is it directly related to your spouse? If it is work stress or a sudden death in the family, chances are it has nothing to do with your relationship. Rather, your spouse has become a scapegoat for your frustrations. However, if it is because of something your partner is doing (or not doing), that may be different. Is it your partner’s decreased sex drive? Is he or she not showing enough affection anymore?
Next, how long has this been happening? Are you on Day Three or Year Three of feeling like your marriage is doomed? While there is no definitive length of time within which you can consider your relationship to be in a rut, you may want to give it at least a couple months. Within that time, circumstances can drastically change, behaviors can adapt, and a looming problem can be resolved. However, this does not mean you should stick your head in the sand during this time. By all means, work on these problems as they crop up…but don’t consider your relationship null and void after a bad couple of weeks.
Can You Work It Out?
Third, is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Is there anything present which gives you hope for the future? Maybe it is an unexpected, passionate kiss in the kitchen while cooking dinner. Maybe it is the admission that he or she was thinking about you all day. While these gestures are small, they can give just enough hope to the desperate partner to keep trying.
Next, is your partner willing to work on these issues, as well? You can read all the self-help books in the world, apply the techniques created by experts, plan extravagant dates to sweep your spouse off his or her feet; but if that person is not reciprocating or even trying, your efforts are in vain. It takes two people keep a relationship going. While the amount of effort may change over time, there must be at least a little exertion coming from each spouse.
Finally, think about your life without this person. Would you be happier without this person in your life? This is the most telling sign of whether your bad relationship has reached its expiration date. Even in the gloomiest lulls or the most volatile arguments, a person can still think objectively: “My partner may frustrate the bejeezus out of me, but I still want him/her in my life.” If you think of a life without your spouse and all you feel is relief or hope, however, it is time to call it quits.