8 Red Flags That It Really Might Be Too Late
I've got to shoot straight with you: This is a painful blog for me to write, because I want to believe that there is hope for every single marriage — that no matter what happens, love can be strong enough to overcome anything.
I don't want to acknowledge the truth that a marriage could ever get to a place where it really is over. But, what I'm about to share needs to be said. And here's why: For the past several months, I've been watching people very close to us go through a nasty divorce and it's really had me thinking about the question: How do you know when it is really, truly, actually ‘too late’?
For years I've watched our friends go through cycles of explosive ruptures & what they thought was real ‘repair’ & healing, but was actually just a band-aid over the real issues. I've watched them struggle to grasp and truly put into practice concepts like forgiveness, new/updated boundaries, and reconciliation. I've watched them hurt each other and their family by waiting too long to get help for themselves and their marriage. I've watched, very slowly, and over time, as their marriage has gone from full of hope to hopeless; from we have some time to work this out, to it's too late; it's over.
It is now ‘too late’ for their marriage, and while getting to this place could have been prevented... they don't get to live in the past or in the land of "if's and only's". They have to live in the present, and in front of them and their friends and family is a marriage that has crumbled. Through watching them close up, and working with the countless other couples that we hear from every day, I've had to face the hard truth that sometimes the damage that has been done is too big or too heavy to move past… and it is time to let go.
If your marriage has been in a cycle of "explosive rupture" and "ineffective repair" for a long time and you're not sure whether or not it's time to call it quits, here are 8 red flags to consider that it might be too late.
As you read through these, please recognize that even if these aren't true for you, they might be true for your spouse; even if you aren't ready to call it quits, based on these red flags, your spouse might be. A very hard truth to face, but a very important one when it comes to being self-aware of the marriage your spouse is living in and how it's different from the one that you are in. Your realities might be totally different.
So, please read this from your perspective, then read it again from your spouse’s perspective. That might be a big pill to swallow, but if you are here reading this, then that means there is something in your life and in your marriage that is really hurting, so I hope this helps you to have insight, new understanding, and motivation to be the best version of yourself that there is.
The only person who can turn things around right now is you, so don't hesitate; work on your self-awareness, get a life coach, go to counseling, go to AA or rehab—do whatever you need to do to break the chains and negative cycles in your life.
Ready? Take a deep breath and here we go:
Long-Term Counseling Isn't Helping
If you have been in marriage counseling for 3 months (weekly or bi-weekly sessions) and nothing, and I mean nothing is getting better, then it's time to consider why that is. Have you put in the work? Has your spouse? In 3 months’ time, you should be seeing small wins in your marriage. You should be seeing some growth and some kind of change. If you aren't, that's a huge red flag. Especially if after at least 3 months in therapy your spouse is only pointing fingers and isn’t assuming any responsibility for the place your marriage is in. Nobody is perfect, so if you’re spouse isn’t willing to own their faults and apologize for them, that’s a big deal.
If your spouse is the one who has had multiple affairs, it's time to consider why that is; why aren't they keeping their word and changing? Why do they keep going back to another lover instead of working on the steps to repair your marriage? Why are they not taking you seriously when you say that if it happens again, it's over? Why are you allowing the behavior to continue? We have seen couples repair their marriage after an affair, but there has been real change: the spouse cut off contact with the lover and put 110% effort into counseling and rebuilding the trust that was broken. They didn’t make excuses or try to blame their partner for their mistakes. The faithful spouse, in turn, was willing to truly forgive them and move forward, as well, and they worked it out. But, a repeat affair shows lack of real change, lack of respect for you, and indifference toward your marriage. It’s time to ask yourself if that’s a marriage you want to be a part of.
When it comes to addiction, the hard truth is that you cannot help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. If your spouse is struggling with addiction of any kind (porn, sex, alcohol, drugs, etc.) you can’t fix them and you can’t save them. It has to be their choice. I want you to know that we have seen spouses recover and move forward to have a healthy and connected marriage after the addiction surfaces and comes into the light the first time, provided that the addicted spouse agrees to go through whatever treatment or program, agrees to continually meet with a counselor, mentor, or sponsor, and chooses to truly show up and do the work necessary to make (and continue) the change in their lives and in their marriage. Unfortunately, however, while it is possible, that isn’t always the case.
With continual relapses and spouses who refuse treatment to begin with, it is time to ask yourself five very hard questions:
How long can I continue to live this way before I personally snap?
If real and lasting change hasn’t come by now, will it ever?
At this point am I helping my spouse heal from their addiction or enabling it?
Have I set very clear and understandable boundaries for my spouse so that I can be certain that he/she knows what is at stake here?
Is this a healthy and safe environment for my children (or yourself, for that matter) to be in?
If your spouse is in a relapse or is refusing to get help, you can call the American Addiction Centers at (888) 970-3730 or visit their Addiction Guide for Spouses and Partners. Only you know how much you can take. Don’t wait until it’s too late or until you snap. Don’t wait until your kids see their parent arrested. Your spouse might be heading in a downward spiral of destructive behavior, but do not allow them to drag you down with them. What we allow to continue in our lives is what will continue. Please consider that.
Abuse Of Any Kind
Abuse of any kind should never be tolerated. If you are being sexually, physically, mentally, or emotionally abused by your spouse, please call the domestic violence hotline number at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). If it is not possible or safe for you to call, then you can visit their website where you can also chat with a safe representative online. Either way, they will be able to assess your situation and help you determine the next steps or send emergency professionals if required. Please get yourself and your children somewhere safe until you can work with a professional on what to do next.
Abuse is a huge red flag of a greater issue going on inside your spouse. It is not something that you can fix, it is not something that you can "love out of them" or "love them enough to make them want to change", and it is not something that you deserve. Period. If your spouse is abusing you, then you both need help right now!
You Have Hit Your Breaking Point
Everyone has a breaking point. In fact, there are quite a few scenarios in which an individual might finally throw up their hands and decide, “I've had enough.” Here are some examples:
Constant emotional laziness that has been addressed but nothing changed
Begging to go to counseling but your spouse refuses to go
Abuse of any kind
Addiction of any kind
Constant use of pornography
Putting the kids’ needs above your spouse
80-90 hour work weeks with no willingness to implement boundaries
Frequently investing in hobbies but not investing in the marriage
Lies and secrecy with no change of behavior
Sometimes, for some people, enough is enough. Only you and you alone can know if you've gotten to that point. If you're not sure if you're there yet, check out our webcast called When Your Spouse Stops Trying and make sure you've tried all the steps we talk and walk you through before thinking about throwing in the towel. There might be something that you haven't tried yet!
You Cannot Forgive
Forgiveness cannot be an idea, it has to be an action. You can either forgive someone or you can't. Period. A healthy marriage never includes a partner living in un-forgiveness toward the mistake(s) of the other. So, you need to ask yourself “Can I truly forgive __________ (whatever the offense is)?” This is especially important if your spouse has had an affair or is recovering from an addiction that you have been hurt in the wake of. If your spouse has apologized and worked to repair your marriage but you still can't forgive them, then you need to own that. If they’re remorseful and are actively making changes, but you're still emotionally holding it over their head, you unfortunately won't be able to have a happy or a healthy marriage. Ever. The past cannot live happily in the future; it was never meant to. We are meant to learn and grow from our mistakes, but they are to have no power in our lives otherwise. If you're not sure if you will be able to forgive or not, or are struggling with how to start the process of forgiving your spouse, please check out our webcast How To Forgive and watch immediately.
The Same Fight Over and Over
No matter what the situation is, if you get to a place where you keep going through the same fight cycle over and over again (fighting about the same things and never coming to a solution or truly healing, but ignoring the problem for awhile in the name of ‘peace’) then you have a big problem. At some point, you have to be able to compromise and get on the same page. By fighting about the same thing over and over again you're storing up tension and discord under the surface, just waiting to explode. That is not healthy and is most certainly not fair to either of you. If you can't get on the same page or come to a compromise you can both feel good about on a big issue, it's time to consider why that is. I recommend watching our webcast The Proper Apology to help jump-start the conversation.
Your Spouse Isn't Taking Your Separation Seriously
We do not believe that a separation is the step before divorce. We believe that a separation can be healthy and incredibly effective for couples to hit ‘reset’ and start over again. During a separation, as the couple is living apart, we encourage weekly date nights that are purely fun, marriage counseling to work through the issues, daily emotional connection, and consistent self-awareness building for each person. A separation is not a vacation or a time to ‘live it up.’ It's a time to be apart, reset, and heal while truly considering if there is hope for your marriage or not, and doing everything you can do to make sure you’ve tried everything before you let go. The goal of a separation should be reunification and if your spouse isn't taking it seriously, that’s a major red flag for you to consider and it's time to think about why that is. There’s a reason you got to the place you’re in now, and in order to have a healthy and connected marriage moving forward, you both have to show up and do the work. You both have to own your part, apologize for what you can, forgive what you need to, and work toward your goals as a couple moving forward.
In conclusion, when it comes to our friends and marriages around the globe experiencing the same things, the truth is that even though it may be too late for their marriage, it's still not too late for each of them to navigate forward in a healthy and amicable way. They still get to make that choice. They have chosen divorce as their next step, but they still get to determine how that looks for themselves, for their kids, and for their friends and family. They can either both go to counseling and get to work on being the best individuals they can be right now, or they can allow the bitter broken pieces to be the thorns in their sides, causing unhappiness, discontentment, and pain for the rest of their lives.
If you have decided that it's too late, I want to make sure you know that even if it's too late for your marriage, it's not too late for you.
You can still become the mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy individual you haven't been in the past. No matter what mistakes you've made and no matter what you've endured through no fault of your own, you can still work towards new goals to better yourself and pursue joy in your life. There might not be hope left for your marriage, but there is hope left for you.
Your marriage may be over, but your life isn’t.
So please, make sure to keep living it.
Yes, you have some real and valid pain to work through in the coming weeks, days, months, and probably even years, but that pain is not forever. You cannot change or un-do what's been done in the past, but you can choose love and hope for yourself moving forward; and I hope you do, because you are worth it.
DISCLAIMER: We cannot legally tell you to get a divorce, so if any of these red flags apply to your marriage, please know that we are not saying ‘If you notice these, then you should get a divorce.’ Instead, we are presenting these red flags for you to consider as you move forward and make decisions about your life. The most important truth is that it takes two healthy and committed individuals to make a marriage work. If both people are committed and working to implement change, then we truly believe a marriage can come back from almost anything. However, it is also true that we teach people how to treat us and what we allow in our lives is what will continue. What you allow in your life is entirely up to you.