How do you know when your marriage is over? Is it when the love is gone? When you can’t find things to talk about anymore? When the children have grown? When you start being attracted to other people? People say all kinds of things but I’d like to hear your answer because I’m thinking of ending things with my wife of 22 years.
This is a really important question that I’m guessing you’re asking yourself about the future of your own marriage, so allow me to take each of your possibilities, one at a time:
The Love is Gone
This may mean that you and your wife didn’t do a stellar job of tending to your relationship, and one another’s needs, along the way. You may have been distracted over the years with a focus on you careers, children, health, outside hobbies, family matters, or countless other distractions that can fill our lives.
If we’re not careful, this can cause a kind of drift that results in you and your spouse getting farther and farther apart until you can barely “see” each other. You feel like strangers and have no clue about what your partner wants or needs. You start to doubt that you’re the person who can fulfill these desires or feel that your wants and needs have changed as well.
Remember that love isn’t a feeling that flies in and out of our lives on a whim! You may believe that it was a feeling that began effortlessly at the beginning of your relationship during the exciting phase when you met and fell in love.
At the risk of popping your bubble, the “feeling of falling” in love is largely due to brain chemicals and other hormones that are present during the early stages of a relationship when things are new and exciting.
As we get to know each other and begin facing the everyday demands of life, the shine begins to wear off. We feel like we’re now “falling” out of love but this just reflects a new stage of our relationship when the heightened, blissful state we enjoyed at the beginning decreases to a more normal level and plateaus.
This is when you learn that love really isn’t a feeling at all. It’s a decision—a choice that you must make every day to “love” your wife in word and deed and allow her to love you in return.
This represents the original commitment you made when you said “I do . . . for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish from this day forward until death do us part.”
Keeping this commitment may not be exciting and sexy, but it defines who you are as an individual and as a partner.
You Can’t Find Things to Talk About Anymore
There’s an old adage that you can always tell who the married couples are in a restaurant because they’re the only ones not talking. And sadly, this is often true. In fact, I realized as I recently sat with Michael in a local eatery that we fell into this category.
Before you panic over the possibility that this spells disaster for your marriage, I want to offer several possible explanations using my restaurant analogy:
> You’re very comfortable with each other. You know each other so well that there’s no need to keep up a constant stream of chatter and small talk.
> You have already had many important conversations and know that you can express what’s bothersome, funny, or most meaningful to you (but a loud restaurant or other public place might not be the ideal place to do it).
> You’re both introverts and you enjoy re-charging in silence over a good meal and just people-watching.
> Any one of a number of other explanations.
Does this make you feel any better?
If not, use our list of 99 Questions to gin up some new and interesting conversations with your wife and see where they take you. I guarantee you will learn something about her that you didn’t know before.
If you need a refresher on manners that can slip in marriage, check out our blog on
12 Rules You Learned as a Child that You Need to Practice in Your Marriage
The Children Have Grown
Some animal species mate in order to rear young and then separate after these babies fly the proverbial nest. But we’re not birds and most of us envision and commit to a life-long marriage when we stand at the altar.
However, referring back a few paragraphs to “The Love is Gone”, staying connected and in sync with our better halves is often difficult in the midst of the harried childhood years—at first when sleep (vs. eating, talking, sex, or almost anything else) is the priority and then later when you may be physically in separate places as you shuttle kids to play dates and ballet practice. It takes time, dedication, and effort to make yourselves the priority.
Couples who DON’T remain connected as their children are growing, or who make their children the priority often look at one another when they’re alone again and feel like strangers. They begin to question whether or not they even want to stay together.
Do this instead: have an open, honest discussion about any sadness you feel about the kids’ starting a new and necessary chapter of their lives and how this opens up an entire universe of new possibilities for you. You can travel more easily, have more disposable income (possibly), and can have sex in any room of the house you want.
In essence, consider this a new and exciting new phase of your own lives and begin to create that together. You may find this a very rewarding endeavor.
You Find Yourself Attracted to Other People
Let me tackle this one head-on and say that being attracted to other people has nothing—zip, zero, zilch—to do with whether or not you love your spouse and should remain married.
As humans, we’re designed to recognize beauty and be attracted on many different levels to others, whether that attraction be emotional, mental, spiritual, or intellectual.
What’s MORE important than your attraction to someone else is your own character, your commitment to your spouse, and your respect for him or her. After all, choosing to act on your attraction essentially shows your partner the ultimate disrespect.
Many people don’t consider this before acting on a strong attraction to someone else, and then realize they have to pay the consequences afterward.
While some attractions come and go—such as when we notice an attractive stranger at the grocery store but never seem them again—others are more difficult to deal with because they’re “in our face” constantly or difficult to ignore. Being attracted to a co-worker is one such scenario because we can’t always avoid the person.
If you can’t side-step contact with this person, take steps instead to protect your marriage. Discuss your feelings with your spouse (tread carefully) and establish some reasonable boundaries.
(Some couples I know have a list of do’s and don’ts pertaining to these kinds of things, like not being in a car or elevator with someone of the opposite sex. But this may be overkill for you. Mike and I have both had long careers in the professional world and would rather just trust each other until there’s a reason not to. However, there’s nothing wrong with being accountable and fully transparent to your spouse (who, by the way, has almost certainly dealt with her own attractions to others).
The Golden Rule applies well here: Do unto your wife as you would have her do unto you. Unless you are someone who is okay with your spouse acting on her attraction for someone else, don’t allow yourself to go down that road. Not even one step.
As I hope I’ve shown, the answer to your original question is that a) your love isn’t truly “gone” and b) even if it were, it’s not a good reason to leave your wife. Focus on rekindling the spark and intimacy you once shared: I can almost guarantee you’ll be so glad you did!
If you enjoyed this article, you may want to read this one:
6 Keys to Staying in Love