**This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a close friend, who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.
After fifteen years of marriage, my friend divorced her husband. She told me that she still loved him and that he was a good man, but he was a terrible husband. I asked her what she meant by that, and she said that he just wasn’t there for her.
“He wasn’t abusive or anything like that,” she said. “But he refused to participate in the life we were supposed to be creating together. Sometimes he would go through the motions, but he was inconsistent.”
In other words, he wasn’t present.
I asked her if she had tried telling him how she felt and communicating her needs, but she said he would change for a while, then he would return to his old ways.
Eventually, she couldn’t take it anymore and decided to leave.
“He’s intelligent, kind, and handsome. And we are both still attracted to one another,” she said. “But I fell out of love with him because he didn’t show up for me. He didn’t show up for us.”
My friend said she never felt like he was her partner. She wanted to feel like they were in it together. And without that feeling, she said, she couldn’t stay married to him.
“He’s a good, hard-working man, but he was a bad husband,” she told me. “And I deserved better.”
My friend’s plight is not uncommon, I’m afraid. In my work as an intimacy and relationship coach, I often see one partner trying desperately to get the other to show up while the other seems content to let the chips fall where they may. It’s heartbreaking to witness because, more often than not, one person feels like they’re doing all the work in the relationship.
I have seen couples in similar positions turn things around and create a happy, healthy, and thriving marriage. I have also seen people stay in their unhappy situations because they’re either unwilling or unable to do the work required to improve things.
A 2020 control trial study conducted in Denmark supports the “global trends regarding an increased importance of emotional and psychological aspects of relationships.”
When participants were asked why they divorced, the most common motives were “lack of love/intimacy, communication problems, lack of sympathy/respect/trust, and growing apart.” And the least common reasons were “violence, addiction, accident or illness, and personality.”
In other words, the number one reason people divorce is because they don’t feel loved, respected, or valued by their partner.
Like all relationships, every marriage has its ups and downs. But for some people, the pain of staying married outweighs the pain of leaving. So, how can you tell if your marriage is still salvageable?
Below are five signs that suggest there’s still hope:
You turn toward one another.
“The people who have stable, happy relationships are much gentler with one another than people who have unhappy relationships or break up.” — John Gottman, Psychologist
It can be easy to turn away when things are not going well. But if a couple still turns toward one another when they talk (without being instructed), this is a good sign. It shows that they still care about the other person’s feelings.
You take an interest in each other’s lives.
“Most couples think they’re communicating with one another, but what they’re really talking about is what I call ‘maintaining the household…” — Terri Orbuch, PhD
Showing interest in what’s going on with your partner is a good thing. If you can’t remember the last time you asked your partner about their day or what they’re thinking and feeling, this may indicate that you’ve lost touch with one another.
You listen to each other (and not waiting for your turn to speak).
“The listener has to hold back their own emotional reactions and interpretations, and really try to get the essence of what the speaker is putting out.” — Robert Solley, Ph.D
To feel heard, it’s essential that you not only listen to your partner when they’re speaking but that you also validate their feelings. This means listening without judgment and trying to see things from their perspective.
You fight fair.
“Conflict is part of every couple’s life in a variety of ways. No matter how much you love each other, there are times when you’ll disagree. The problem isn’t that you fight but how you fight.” — Kathy McCoy Ph.D.
Couples who can have disagreements without resorting to name-calling or other forms of disrespect are more likely to be able to work through their issues. If you find that you can no longer have a calm discussion without things getting out of hand, this may be a sign that you need help learning how to fight fair.
You’re willing to put in the work.
“If you truly want a healthy marriage, however, take responsibility to evaluate what you need to work on and get whatever support you need to improve your skills.” — Danielle B. Grossman, MFT
One of my friend’s biggest complaints about her husband was, “He only changed his behavior in short spurts, then things would go back to ‘normal’ until the next conversation.”
She felt like the temporary shifts in his behavior only served to keep her quiet. “He wasn’t committed to doing the work,” she said. “I needed to know that things would be different and he couldn’t do that.”
If you’re willing to put in the work required to make changes, there is still may be a chance to right the course of your marriage.
But in the end, only you can decide if your marriage is still salvageable. If you’re both willing to do the work, there’s a good chance that things can improve.
In any event, I encourage you to seek professional help. A therapist or coach can help you assess the situation and give you tools to help improve things.
As for my friend, she has taken the necessary steps to move on. She and her ex-husband are still friendly, but she is looking forward to building a new life and hopefully finding more compatible love. She is already much happier now.
What do you think? Is not feeling loved, respected, and valued a cause for divorce? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.