• Isabelle Morley, PsyD

"Can My Marriage be Saved?"

Updated: Aug 24

When things get rocky, we all want to know if our relationship can be fixed or if it's not worth saving. There's no definitive way to know, but here are some signs that your marriage can be saved.




If your relationship has hit a rough patch, you may be wondering what will happen next. Will you breakup? Get divorced? Find a way to fix the problems and stay together happily? Or stay together even with the problems, and be unhappy but still in the relationship?


During my consultations and first sessions with couples, I often get asked: Can our relationship be saved? People want to know if they're past hope for making things better or if there's still a chance to make it work.


No therapist, no matter how much of an expert, can accurately predict if you'll be able to successfully work through your problems and save your relationship. We can point out the red flags of problematic behaviors or dynamics that we see, what work you would need to do to fix things, patterns you'd have to change, and perhaps how difficult it might be. We can give you information and feedback, and guide you in the process of trying to save the relationship. We can tell you when we aren't seeing changes and help you assess if you want to keep trying or if it's better to part ways. But we cannot see the future and know, with certainty, if your relationship can be saved.


The most important thing to know is that if you want to save the relationship, you should try.


So, while the answer to the question "Can our relationship be saved?" depends largely on the specifics of the relationship and people involved, there are a few key indicators that yes, your relationship can be saved.



The most important thing to know is that if you want to save the relationship, you should try.



You Both Want to Try

If your relationship has a chance, both people need to be invested in making changes. One person can be more invested, you don't need the same amount of motivation, but both of you need to be willing to try. Sometimes this means one person begrudgingly agrees to try something new or go to couples therapy, but begrudging participation is still participation.


Once one of you is done and doesn't want to fix things, it's over. You can't force someone to stay in a relationship. But as long as there is even a tiny amount of motivation from both parties, you have a chance.




You Still Have Affection for Each Other

There needs to be even a shred of love and affection left. If all you feel towards each other is contempt, resentment, and hate, then it will be incredibly hard to save the relationship.


Relationships are built on a foundation of fondness. Basically, we start dating someone because we like them and are attracted to them. You need to have some affection for your partner to A) make the relationship worth saving and B) motivate you to do the work necessary to save the relationship.


If you can't think of one nice thing to say about your partner, it's time to ask yourself why you want to stay together.


It takes two people to keep a negative cycle going. In order to change these patterns, you'll both need to do things differently.


You're Both Willing to be Wrong

If you come to couples therapy, you're going to hear me tell you that something you're doing is wrong or isn't working and you need to change. One of you might be more wrong than the other, but still.


You're probably stuck in unhelpful patterns; negative cycles that reinforce bad habits or behaviors that make you both unhappy. It takes two people to keep a negative cycle going. In order to change these patterns, you'll both need to do things differently.




There Hasn't Been Physical Violence

Physical violence and domestic abuse make a relationship unworthy of saving. Full stop.


In fact, therapists won't work with couples when there is domestic abuse because it is unethical to try to help someone stay in an abusive, destructive, dangerous relationship. We'll work with individuals on staying safe and getting out of those relationships, but we won't work with couple to stay in a physically abusive relationship.


Once there has been physical abuse, it's time to call it. Getting out of an abusive relationship can be incredibly challenging, and getting support from others can help.



Physical violence and domestic abuse make a relationship unworthy of saving. Full stop.


You Have Compatible Goals or Needs

Sharing a life requires compatibility in the most important goals or needs. You don't need to agree on everything, but having a shared value system and similar goals helps establish a foundation for your relationship.


For example, it's going to be nearly impossible to make things work if you absolutely, without a doubt do want kids and our partner absolutely, without a doubt doesn't want kids. This is a major life goal that can't be reconciled and would require one of you to sacrifice an incredibly important need just to be together.




So, Is It Worth Trying?

If you think your relationship can be saved, then it's time to try. Couples typically wait too long before they start therapy, over 5 years of being unhappy and wanting things to be different, and so the sooner you start the better.


It's not too late to try if you both want to work on things. Get clear on your reasons for staying together, be willing to do the work, and if you still can't make enough change to be happy, then at least you tried.


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