When Should You Give Up On A Marriage?

The only time I believe in giving up on a marriage is when one of them dies, or if after their divorce one of them marries someone else, or if one of them continues involvement in an activity that makes the marriage impossible. Otherwise, I believe there is a chance to reconcile.

The first two – death or one of them marrying someone else – are obvious. Allow me to briefly explain the third. When someone asks me if they should make the effort to save their marriage when their spouse has done some bad thing I always ask, “Is your spouse a good person doing a bad thing, or a bad person doing a bad thing?” The intention of the question is whether beneath the current bad behavior there exists a good heart or if the person is so intent on his or her selfish behavior there is no chance to rescue them. Judging a person by what he or she is doing now can sometimes lead to the wrong conclusion.

That said, there are actions that make it impossible for a marriage to continue. Here are a few examples:

If one continues in an affair, even after confrontation, it is impossible for the other spouse to continue to live in that marriage. (Though I use the word “impossible,” I know of some who have. I don’t recommend it.)

If a person is abusing his or her spouse or children, remaining in that marriage is unwise. Abuse may be physical, sexual, emotional, or a combination thereof. I have seen marriages reconcile after the abuser got proper help, but even then strict boundaries were put in place to ensure that no more abuse could occur. If the abuser does not seek or accept the help he or she needs so that their bad behavior is corrected, living with them is not a viable option.

The example list could go on. Sometimes the unhealthy, bad behavior of a spouse makes it treacherous for spouse or children to remain in the same home. If a person refuses to stop the devastating behavior, that person eventually becomes unbearable to live with.

However, allow me to point out that there should be patience in concluding that a person will not stop the action destroying the marriage. Often a planned intervention works and can help to rescue a straying spouse.

Before giving up on a person, have the grace and mercy to try all that can be done to rescue them. That’s why I always encourage a spouse about to end a marriage to seek wise counsel to determine if the spouse is truly hopelessly involved in his or her actions. Hurt and angry spouses sometimes make judgments about their spouses that may be incorrect.

If a person can be rescued, they should be. If a marriage has any chance of reconciliation, that chance should be explored to the deepest level.

So What Can Be Done To Save A Marriage In Trouble (Or Already Divorced)?

I don’t give up on marriages easily.


Because any marriage can be saved if just two things happen. The first is that both have to stop doing the things destroying their relationship. The second is that each must start doing the things to make love grow. Yes, yes, I know. Sounds Pollyannaish, doesn’t it? However, it’s true. Somewhere in the vicinity of 150,000 people have been through courses, seminars, and workshops I developed. Therefore, when I make a statement like that, there is a great deal of experience backing it.

Last weekend another twenty couples or so spent three intense days in our Marriage Helper 911 workshop. Nearly every couple there was in the process of divorce. Quite a few came only to get a better deal in the divorce, and told us quite boldly that they had no interest in saving their marriages. We thanked them for their honesty and did the workshop anyway.

We may actually witness a greater than 75% success rate from that group.

It’s amazing what happens when in the right context and environment people begin to learn more about themselves, their spouses, and their situation. Their view of marriage alters. Their perspective of their future changes. They begin to remember why they fell in love with each other, and to their amazement begin to feel the stirring of that long-lost love.

What Should I Do To Save Or Reconcile My Marriage?

In my conversation with a gentleman last night, I asked him if he would be willing to try to save his marriage. He said he was but he doubted if his wife would be willing. Then, after a pause, he asked how he could find out if that were even a possibility with her. I suggested that if he truly wanted to reconcile his marriage, he not fall for the “buy this book or these tapes and everything will work out” ads he will see. It takes work to put a marriage back together and usually that requires other people to help.

One thing is for sure; his marriage will be over unless he does something to try to change that. He has nothing to lose in attempting reconciliation. A third party who has experience with troubled marriages can help prepare you both for difficult conversations with each other and can be a neutral source to help curb selfish actions that are suffocating the relationship. That third party, if they’re gifted and experienced, will understand the need to provide you with the environment to express frustrations and issues so that healing can be achieved without hurt feelings, silent treatments and further damage.

Just as with other issues in life such as our health, automobiles, raising children and managing our finances, seeking a professional third party can be very helpful. Be intentional about saving your marriage. As with other areas in life, hard work and perseverance usually pay off.

If your marriage is in danger of separation or divorce, call us at (866) 903-0990 to speak with someone or use the form here to request more information about our Marriage Helper workshop for troubled marriages. Our success rate over the last decade is saving three out of four marriages, even when adultery, porn, anger, or other things have deeply hurt the relationship! (If you’re thinking your spouse would never come, contact us by phone or the form below and we’ll tell you what others who felt the same way did to get their spouses there.) We will keep everything you tell us completely confidential. Our motivation is to help you determine if this workshop is right for your particular situation. We also offer solutions for couples who can’t attend the workshop.