When is Enough, Enough in Marriage?

  • “Should I give her one more chance?”
  • “Is he ever going to change?” 
  • “Is she going to just continue to hurt me?” 
  • “Can I ever learn to trust him again?”
  • “When is Enough, Enough?”

These are a few of the hardest, most heart-breaking and soul-wrenching questions I hear in my therapy office.  They’re difficult because of the intense emotion they’re asked with and are compounded by the fact that I don’t have an answer for them!  The only person who can answer these questions is the one who is asking them.

In most cases, I am admittedly biased toward preserving and repairing relationships.  That being said, here are a few guidelines to help you decide if “enough is enough.”

Is There a Desire to Change?

This is an important question, but it can be difficult to decipher.  Motivation for change can be hard to gauge.  Is there a desire to change?  If so, where does that desire come from?  “Are they changing for me or do they want to change for themselves?”  There seems to be a consistent hope that the individual desires to change for themselves, not just for their partner.  Resentment and anger seem to accompany changing “just because someone tells us to.”  An internal desire to better one’s self lends to more peace and hope regardless of the future of the relationship. 

Regarding the desire to change, paying attention to actions over words can be a decent barometer for truthful feedback.  However, someone may need some initial support to build their own momentum, so to speak.  Sometimes people want to change, but don’t know how—they just don’t know how to get there on their own.  Furthermore, they may resist help even though they have explicitly stated that they want it!  You undoubtedly understand the difficulty of this paradox.  Seek out opinions of those you trust (preferably less biased in some way) to help you decipher the motives and capabilities of your loved one.

Is There a Hope for Change?

Even if there’s currently little to no desire for change in attitudes or behavior, do you foresee a change in the future?  We have no certainty of the future.  This vagueness is part of what keeps us stuck in repetitive patterns in the first place.  Clinging to a glimmer of hope can preserve the relationship, but it can also keep you trapped in the same cycle.  Can you foresee your relationship and life getting to how you want it to be?  If not, what does that mean?  If so, what does that mean?  The road of reconciliation and repair can be just as challenging as the path of separation and divorce.  Hope and support are helpful and needed for both.

Is the Pattern Staying the Same, Worsening, or Getting Better?

Again, another pattern that is difficult to concretely answer.  There are often ebbs and flows to relationships and destructive patterns of behavior.  I have had a few clients benefit from keeping a personal journal throughout their lives, which allowed them to notice patterns and situations more clearly.  This insight has provided for clarity and perspective, seeing that they have been involved in a similar pattern for decades.  Sometimes they notice a worsening of behavior.  Or, they recognize the positives of the relationship and see that there is more to preserve and repair than they initially thought.  If you don’t have the luxury of your own thoughts and wisdom throughout time preserved in writing, ask yourself honestly, are things staying the same, getting worse, or do you see them improving?

Are You Holding One Another Back?

As a marriage and family therapist, openly biased to preserving and repairing relationships, I never thought I would come to this (for me) initially shocking and startling truth:  Sometimes it is better for both of you to move on.  Separation, in some instances, is a process of releasing one conflicted shadow coupleanother to pursue the life that you are both so desperately wanting.  In that sense, it may even be an act of compassion and love.  Even with this
thought in mind, it will still likely be excruciatingly difficult in every way imaginable.  I don’t recommend this without seeking additional individual counseling, couple’s therapy, and when applicable, parenting courses.  If you can’t establish trust in your relationship (and that is wanted and needed)…it may only be found in another relationship or circumstance.  If you and your spouse don’t and can’t have freedom to be your authentic and happy selves, maybe it is an uncertain but needed sanction in the relationship to move on.  Again, I don’t recommend this without serious reflection, introspection, communication, option-weighing, and trusted support.

Personal Dignity and Worth

Forgivenesemotions shapes can be a very powerful and healing experience.  It’s up to each individual to know how many times they can and want to forgive.  However, it’s important to remember that your own worth is just as important as the worth of the other.  You don’t need to put yourself through needless suffering if the situation isn’t showing any signs of improvement and there is a blatant lack of respect and/or desire for change.  Your dignity and worth are not less than your partner’s (and vice-versa).

Health Concerns

If your overall health is a concern due to a partner’s risky behavior, it’s probably time to at least critically evaluate your current circumstance and explore what your options are.  If health concerns are in the back of your mind, find a trusted physician, ask all of your questions, and ask for the necessary health examinations as applicable.  It probably goes without saying, but your health and safety (and as I will discuss shortly, your children’s when applicable) are not only important, but paramount.  This leads to the next point of reference…

Safety Concerns for Self

You are reaching the point that it is, in my opinion, a “have to change” situation.  If you don’t believe this for yourself, please understand that your self-concept of your own worth and value may not be correct!  You do not deserve to be abused.  Nobody does.  Call the police, call a hotline, seek out a trusted friend—just get out of that situation somehow.  I would suggest therapy to allow you to see your individual value and worth as a vitally important and loved individual.  I don’t know too many truths, but you are entirely valuable—that is a fact.  If your children are at risk, this HAS to be reported and change IS needed.

Safety Concerns for Your Children

This is the situation where the answer is an absolute: “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.”  I am not authoritative and definitive in most circumstances, but on the issue of children’s safety and well-being, there is a fixed line drawn in the sand.  There is no budging on this issue.  If your children are not safe, things need to be changed and you have a moral and legal responsibility to take action.  If you don’t, you are held responsible.  Again, I am not one to make definitive statements, but I have to be crystal clear on this issue.

This has been a somewhat difficult article to write, recognizing and honoring the reality of these entirely difficult situations.  My heart goes out to you.  As I mentioned, I am pro-marriage and family counseling—attempting to mend.  That is why I was initially drawn to this field and is a guiding sense of satisfaction I get from my work.  My first goal is to repair the relationship and establish or re-establish a connection.  However, there are some situations where this may not be possible or beneficial.  If repair isn’t possible, the hope is that the bitter feelings of the past relationship don’t affect and dampen all of the future ones (including with one another).

There is mourning and sadness when we realize that a relationship cannot be salvaged.  It’s like losing a limb.  Sadly, it is common to send forth vitriol, verbal poison, criticism, and blame toward the other partner for the remainder of someone’s life.

Gratefully, one of the most common goals clients have when they get the sense that “enough is enough,” is that there can still be an amicable, respectful relationship, particularly for the children involved.  That is a goal I can get fully behind if the goal of repairing the relationship is no longer a viable and helpful option.

The decision of when “enough is enough” is extremely personal and is a difficult question to answer.  There is both fear and comfort, realizing that you are the only one who has the ability to answer that question.

I hope this can be helpful in some way.

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