We know for some of you, this episode is going to be a tough one. We’re going to speak the truth in love because we’re committed to integrity, but at the same time we want to give you hope because this IS hope, and recovery of your marriage IS possible.

If you’re at the point where you think your marriage is fine, I hope you will take from this post the need to be proactive. Don’t want until you’re wondering if you can recover your marriage to take action – take action now!

A Marriage Checkup

If you want an objective evaluation of your marriage, download this assessment tool. Even if you feel your marriage is doing great, this might highlight some blind spots you weren’t aware of, so that you can work on them. Remember it’s only a measurement tool: what you do with the information is what really matters!

Personally, we don’t believe that any marriage is ever beyond recovery. We do believe that in some cases, like an abusive marriage, it is not safe to recover the marriage until the abuse issue is addressed thoroughly.

We do not have any judgment for folks that have decided to move on – we’re not God and it’s not our job to judge that – but if you’re out there today and you just want someone to tell you there’s hope, then listen, there is hope! We’re going to talk about a number of things that challenge that hope, but we will end up with some things that you hope, so stick with us.

Indicators That a Marriage is Moving Beyond Recovery

Research indicates that the following behaviours may be warning signs that a marriage is headed past recovery and towards divorce.

A Lot of Spouse Hostility

Hostility without warmth is a major warning sign that your marriage longevity is seriously threatened.

A study was conducted of over 400 couples married an average of 18 years. The study went on for five years and looked into the hostility of these marriages, the divorces that happened, and the quality of the interaction between spouses.[i]

Hostility became a theme in the marriages that ended, so let’s look at hostility for a moment. The researchers looked for the frequency of how often a spouse had:

  • gotten angry
  • been critical
  • shouted or yelled,
  • ignored their spouse
  • threatened to do something that would upset their spouse
  • tried to make him or her feel guilty, or
  • said that their spouse had made him or her unhappy.

On the other hand, warmth looked like times when their spouse had:

  • asked for his/her opinion
  • listened to his/her point of view
  • let them know that he or she cares
  • acted in a loving and affectionate manner
  • let them know that s/he is appreciated
  • helped them something important to him/her
  • had a good laugh with them, or
  • acted supportive or understanding.

Here’s what they found: “In every instance, greater marital instability was associated with more hostility and less warmth in marital interactions.”[ii]

This warmth vs. hostility dynamic was so apparent that the researchers were able to predict with an 80% level of accuracy which couples would divorce the following year. All they had to look for was high levels of hostility and lesser levels of warmth.

The researchers summarized their findings with the following statement, “Couples observed to exhibit high levels of hostile, angry, critical, stubborn, inconsiderate, defiant, or rejecting behavior that is not counterbalanced by considerate, cooperative, or affectionate behavior were more likely to perceive high levels of hostility in their marital interactions, were more likely to have unstable marriages, and were more likely to actually separate or divorce.”[iii]

All that to say, that hostility needs to be counterbalanced with warmth in a marriage, or it will have lasting negative effects. We all get our ugly on once in a while unfortunately, but if those times are balanced with a lot of warmth and affection, it will serve your marriage much better.

Significant Ambivalence and Lack of Responsiveness

Another study looked more into the newlywed end of the spectrum and found the following. Couples who divorced after 2 years of marriage had:

  1. lower levels of love,
  2. more ambivalence and less responsiveness to each other,
  3. fewer affection acts in their marriage, and
  4. more frequent negative behaviors.[iv]

That study speaks for itself, I think. Be sure you don’t take your spouse for-granted, and remember to respond (lovingly!!) each and EVERY time they speak to you.

Total Lack of Fondness and Admiration

Dr. John Gottman, in his training resources, refers to what he calls the fondness and admiration system. He says if that fondness and admiration system is still functioning the marriage is salvageable. He also says outright that if there is NO fondness or admiration in the marriage anywhere, then move the discussion towards how they can divorce as amicably as possible.

Now, you need to take this with a grain of salt. When you’re mad at each other – and perhaps have been for a while – you aren’t going to feel any fondness or admiration, but it still might be there!

Caleb had a couple come in for counselling, very upset with each other, and quite distressed. In the second session, he asked, “So, what is the glue that keeps you together?” They both melted – the harshness was gone, and they both responded, “We still love each other.” They were having a really hard time trying to figure out how to do life together but that system was back in there with fondness in it and they were able to recover their marriage.

So, we see Dr. Gottman’s point, but don’t think that is a rule of life. A statement like his fails to take into account the power of the Spirit of God to redeem, to create healing, to reconcile and to rebuild even a very, very broken marriage. What I hope his comment does do is incite you (and me!) to be very intentional about making sure we invest in fondness and admiration in our marriage.

Recovery is Still Possible

You may be freaking out a little at this stage. You have that horrible sinking feeling in your gut. Well, just hang tight. Thankfully there is a wide range of research that shows that recovery is possible even for marriages on the brink of divorce. The other part I keep coming back to in my mind is that God is a God of reconciliation. That’s His specialty!

So, here are four things for you to hold onto.

The Importance of Commitment

The first thing to do is to stay committed. A national survey completed by the National Fatherhood Initiative, cited that the most common reason given for divorce was “lack of commitment.” (73%) Other significant reasons included too much arguing, infidelity, unrealistic expectations, abuse, etc.[v]

The #1 reason though is lack of commitment. This tells me that if you make commitment a priority you can undermine the risk of the #1 reason for divorce.

Commitment is a powerful force in a marriage. If you want some tips on increasing your commitment, check out these five ways to increase commitment in your marriage.

The Potential for Reconciliation

The second thing is to hold onto hope for the possibility of reconciliation.

Many couples who seriously consider divorce do not end up getting divorced.[vi]

For example, “in Utah it appears that about 10-15% of couples who file for divorce decide not to go through with it, at least at that time.”[vii] Also, “research in Minnesota found that about 10% of couples there were interested in a reconciliation service, even at the last stages of the divorce process.”[viii] One statement that I thought was good, yet sad at the same time,  said that “about one in three couples who actually divorce later try to reconcile, but only about one-third of those who try actually succeed.”[ix]

I believe that if you both want to reconcile, and you’re willing to do the hard work that reconciliation demands of each of you, you can recover your marriage. Hold onto the hope for reconciliation. Oftentimes it’s just a matter of timing: where you both want reconciliation at the same time.

The problem is that often one spouse wants it but the other’s not there yet – the timing is off.

If I could wake you up and shake you and be in your face, I would tell you this. If your spouse wants to fix things, DO IT! DO IT NOW! Don’t wait until some later day when you think it’s important because by then your spouse may have moved on without you…

The Hope That Marriage Can Get Better

Thirdly, many couples in unhappy marriages, who hang on, do not remain miserable forever.

“Only about 10% of individuals say at any particular time that they are unhappy in their marriages, and only about 2% say they are very unhappy.”[x] As this study followed these couples over the next five years they found that about 15% of these unhappy individuals did divorce, but 85% hung on.

The even better news is that those who hung on weren’t miserable. About two out of three unhappily married adults who avoided divorce ended up happily married to the same spouse five years later. The unhappiest individuals improved the most; more than three-quarters of the unhappiest individuals who avoided divorce said they were now happy.[xi]

How’s that for good news? Hold onto hope! Be committed! Be open to reconciliation!

At this point, you might be wondering how you can move forward. How can you start fixing your marriage?

Other Couples Have Moved Forward

Our fourth and final hope for recovery is to consider how you might begin to repair.

A smaller study looked at 25 couples in a qualitative approach. All of these couples had considered divorce at some time in their marriage. They were asked to consider their thought process in deciding NOT to divorce and asked what they did to move forward.[xii]

Here’s what they said:

  1. Some couples worked on their communication skills, which allowed them to resolve conflict.
  2. Other couples found that they were able to turn towards each other and rely on one another, instead of continuing to turn inward or to other sources of help.
  3. Many couples stated that seeking professional help was the turning point that helped them move forward.
  4. Other couples stated that their religious beliefs helped them find common ground for moving forward.

So there you have it. If you’re wondering if your marriage is beyond recovery, we hope this gives you hope!

Hold onto hope. Be committed. Be open to reconciliation.

A Marriage Checkup

If you want an objective evaluation of your marriage, download this assessment tool. Even if you feel your marriage is doing great, this might highlight some blind spots you weren’t aware of, so that you can work on them. Remember it’s only a measurement tool: what you do with the information is what really matters!

[i] Lisa S. Matthews, K. A. S. Wickrama, and Rand D. Conger, “Predicting Marital Instability from Spouse and Observer Reports of Marital Interaction,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 58, no. 3 (August 1996): 641–55.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Lawrence A. Kurdek, “Predicting the Timing of Separation and Marital Satisfaction: An Eight-Year Prospective Longitudinal Study,” Journal of Marriage and Family 64, no. 1 (February 2002): 163–79.

[v] Hawkins, A. J. & Fackrell, T. A., “Should I Keep Trying to Work It out? A Guidebook for Individuals and Couples at the Crossroads of Divorce (and Before).,” 2009.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Sarah Tulane, Linda Skogrand, and John DeFrain, “Couples in Great Marriages Who Considered Divorcing,” Marriage & Family Review 47, no. 5 (2011): 289.