When Is the Marriage Really Over?

Anthony kind of slumped into the office and comfortably settled himself into the easy chair. “Doc,” he said, “I’m here to find out if my marriage is over. To me, it seems like it really is.” He went on to explain that his wife, Julie, and he had been living two separate lives for as long as he could remember. She was very involved with the children’s activities; she worked full time and had a rather hectic schedule as a corporate attorney. They rarely ate together and their conversations, though cordial, were impersonal.

“She had a function at work and invited me to come,” he said. “I came because it seemed like the right thing to do. But it was weird. I didn’t know anyone there. Everyone knew her and she had something to say to all of them. To me, there was nothing to say. We drove home in silence.”

Anthony added, somewhat indignantly, that she also knew nothing of his work and his passions; she never asked. Finally, he mentioned, almost in passing, that he had been to another therapist who agreed with him that it sounded like the marriage was indeed over and that the reason he had come in for therapy was to get some help in easing out of his comfort zone.

Anthony looked up, his wide eyes searching, and said, “But I don’t think that’s why I came into that guy’s office. I wanted something else.”

Ah-ha. There it is. It’s always there. That spark. That little telltale giveaway that comes after 15, 20, or 30 years of marriage, more or less. It’s the connection. People are connected on a deep, soul level whether they want to recognize it or not. Like embers that refuse to die out, there’s something there that, when kicked, can roar into a fire.

I think Anthony was looking for the fire.

“What a great opportunity!” I said, smiling at him.

“Huh?” he replied.

It’s always nice to get people’s attention with an unexpected view of life. But I really did see it as a great opportunity. Let’s say he walked into a party and started talking to some hot chick. If he wanted to get to know her, he’d be asking her about her interests, her dreams, her goals, her activities. He’d be sharing these with her. On the other hand, she could find him boring and she could just walk away after 10 minutes. Or he could. And then he’d have to start over. Meanwhile, back at the courthouse, he’d be fighting over the custody of the children and there would be bitterness over the undelivered dreams. He’d have to shell out large sums for the attorneys and it wouldn’t be money well spent. It would be sad money, and he’d wonder what he was really accomplishing.

So I asked him: Why not get off his duff, stop expecting his wife to show interest in him first and just start asking her the questions he would ask the beautiful stranger?

“Oh, that wouldn’t work,” Anthony assured me. “I already tried that years ago. I would ask my wife questions and she would give me these non-answers. She wasn’t interested at all.”

“Did you ask her at a candlelit dinner in a nice restaurant?” I asked, smiling.

“No,” he admitted. “It was over the breakfast table while we were trying to get the children out the door. But that was a better alternative than at dinner when we have to keep on top of homework and we each have work of our own to do.”

I asked Anthony what line of work he was in. He explained that he was a systems analyst for a large company. In answer to my question, he informed me that he had worked hard all his life to climb up the corporate ladder and he was proud of how far he had gotten.

“I imagine the same is true for Julie,” I responded. He agreed, and I pointed out that they certainly had a work ethic in common.

“Oh, yeah,” he laughed, “that’s one thing we have in common. Besides the kids, of course.” Anthony grew silent. He was smart enough to see where this was going. Things worth having take effort. He got up in the morning for work and put his full attention to it; he could certainly do the same for his marriage.

So, to answer the question we started out with: When is the marriage really over? We don’t know until we try doing the things that stir up the embers. When we’ve tried everything—and I mean everything—and nothing has worked, then we can ask that question again.

Related articles:
Harness the Power of the Marriage Bond
Are You Steering Your Marriage or Have You Been Cruising?
I’m Doing Everything I Can but My Marriage Still Isn’t Working, What Do I Do Now?

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Deb Schwarz Hirschhorn, Ph.D., Relationships & Marriage Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • CC

    January 19th, 2012 at 1:34 PM

    I have always been of the opinion though that if you are having to ask, then that might mean that you already have the answer to your question.

    I think that even in the worst marital situations one partner always knows whether that spark is still there even without having to question it.

    If there is something in that relationship that is causing you to question then there may be a big problem that needs to be resolved.

    I don’t think that you give up without trying to fix it, but you have to have sense enough to be able to try something instead of just allowing it to easily slip away.

  • Warner

    January 19th, 2012 at 10:17 PM

    They say infidelity is the number one cause for divorce. Where does being uninvolved stand?I don’t think it’s too far down in that list!

  • StacyL

    January 20th, 2012 at 12:26 PM

    I knew my own marriage was over when I actually WATED my boss to tell us at the end of the day that we had some mandatory overtime that had to be done!

  • matt jefferson

    January 20th, 2012 at 11:46 PM

    When is marriage really over?

    Well its a tricky question really and tbh there’s really no fixed answer. There’s a lot of things to be considered going into this but really,there’s far worse things that you may have to go through after its end.So when you have that initial feeling that it may be over,give it that one last attempt and if it still doesn’t work,then by all means,you can move out of it.

  • SteveN

    January 21st, 2012 at 9:47 AM

    Why is it that more couples are now more willing to call it quits than thenused to be? Marriage used to be something sacred, not it seems like for too many of us it is something that we give up on far too easily. When the going gets tough them most of us are headed for the door. Our parents would have never done that. they would have toughed it out and worked it out.

  • spence

    January 22nd, 2012 at 7:20 AM

    sounds like Anthony came in more looking for affirmation that the marriage was NOT over instead of the conclusion that it was over

  • Katie

    January 23rd, 2012 at 10:19 AM

    Its not over until u think it is.A lot of this is in ur mind.If u really want to save the marriage,then think positive.There’s nothing more stronger than positive ideas n it might just do d little bit required to stop u from assuming ur marriage is over.

  • Deena Hobbs

    January 23rd, 2012 at 4:55 PM

    If the marriage is not built on a firm foundation from the very beginning then you know it is going to be hard to right that sinking ship. There are just too many people who give up too easily on marriages these days. When the going gets tough then they want to get out, but I am willing to work a little bit harder than that to keep my marriage strong. But I think that what we forget is that it does not stay strong on its own. It can go bad through abuse and neglect and we often forget about that. Marriage is all about the work you put into it. Like anything else you get out of it exactly what you put in. Put nothing in, and the well goes dry.

  • Murray Hobbs

    March 17th, 2012 at 8:54 AM

    The marriage is over when either one of the couple decide that they no longer want to stay married .
    The marriage is still over , even though one of the couple still want to stay married .
    You can not make the other , want what you want .
    It can be for any one of hundreds of reasons that are an acceptable excuse to end it .
    The chances are that the marriage has become meaningless to one of the couple .
    In my marriage at the very beginning my partner had no desire or ambitions to be married for any decent length of time , I guess it was more of a ” hey look at me ” statement , not a statement of everlasting love no matter what . The oath ” for better , for worse till death do us part ” only meant what it means to one of us .
    She openly admits too saying she thought it would be okay for a year or two , but she had no expectations of happily ever after . I know for me there is no reason that she could have presented , that would have changed my views on ” till death do us part ” . I was there for ever .
    The marriage should not go through abuse or neglect if you are in love , and you should not have to work at your marriage if you are in love ,because love makes the marriage take care of itself , but because we are human and are subjected to sicknesses the marriage can be a strain that we don’t want to deal with , but hopefully with time to recover it will return to its best .

  • Dhruv Bhagat

    June 28th, 2013 at 4:04 AM

    Its all dependent upon the one person who wants to break all the relationship.. This is really not healthy sign for both of them..

    If a guy or girl were married happily earlier, then its always possible to be in relationship till the end.. All they need to do is to spend time together and nothing else!

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