How Do You Know When It’s Time to Give Up?

Lately, I’ve received a slew of messages from disgruntled marrieds ready to throw in the towel.  Some are still struggling; others have separated or divorced. All of which makes me wonder: how do you know when it’s time to give up?

First of all, let me say that this is an incredibly personal decision, and I don’t think any of us can answer this question for anyone else. Everyone has their own tipping point, and that point’s going to look different for different people.

That said, I’d like to share a few things that have helped me these past few years:

Therapy. Finding a good therapist can be life-changing. Emphasis on good, because you might need to test-drive a few before you find the right fit. One of the things I most appreciate about therapy is that it’s helped me identify old, outdated beliefs (as well as understand old family patterns) that were impacting my present life.

Know yourself. It’s my personal belief that we’re running so fast and hard these days that we’ve become disconnected from who we really are, not to mention what we really want (hint: it’s not that new shiny/expensive thing you’re aching to buy). Finding a way to slow down and reconnect with who you are underneath can do wonders. It can also rock your world—in a good or bad way, depending on how far you’ve drifted off course.

Move it or lose it. Run, walk, play, get outside. Whatever it is, get moving—it’ll help you get out of your mind and back into your body. Plus it’ll get your endorphins moving again, which helps everything. Personally, I’m a giant fan of dance, because it’s helped me access parts of myself that have been buried for years. It also helped me reclaim my body after two pregnancies and nursing two babies.

Take quiet time. One of my favorite books this past year has been Trevor Blake’s Three Simple Steps. It’s a simple, straightforward book about how to get what you want out of life and it’s helped me immensely. One of the book’s basic premises is this: take 20 minutes of quiet time every day, first thing in the morning, and it’ll change your life. Not only will it put you back in touch with who you are and what’s important to you, but it’ll help you solve those problems you can’t seem to get at any other way.

Seriously. By letting your brain’s neurons out to play for 20 minutes every day, you begin to create new pathways in your brain. Over time, those pathways pay off in all sorts of ways, big and small, including helping you come up with answers that have been evading you. 

By the way, I’m not the only one who believes this works. All sorts of successful, happy, creative folks (from Martha Beck to Pharrell Williams) use this technique.

Examine your expectations. This is another big one—especially for those of you who are really stuck in the muck. If you believe your marriage sucks and there’s nothing to be done about it, then you’re going to approach every little thing that happens from that perspective, and things are going to become even messier than they already are. But if you can come from a place of compassion, say, and realize that your spouse might really be suffering, you might just be able to open up your heart enough to start shifting things.

(For further reading on this one, check out Blake’s Three Simple Steps or Howard Glasser’All Children Flourishing–Igniting the Greatness of Our Children. I first tried this technique with my kids a couple of years ago, when I realized that yelling at them just made everything worse. Blake’s book can give you the larger picture on this one, especially if you’re also trying to change other parts of your life.)

Get outside. This is another one of Blake’s major tenets, and I can’t recommend it enough. As many of you know, my mother passed away last December, and there have been many times this past year when I’ve been sidelined by grief.  During the worst of those times, one of the only things that helped was getting out into nature. It helped me clear my mind and begin to breathe again. It also helped me find a bit of peace.

Which leads me to my last point:

Take a Break.When life’s got you down (and even when it doesn’t), take a break. Read for 15 minutes, meet a friend, go for a walk, see a movie, or hell, crawl into bed for a few minutes. Do something just for you and ignore your to-do list for a few minutes if not a few hours.

My personal belief is that a lot of our problems in life (work, marriage, whatever) come from some kind of disconnect with our true self. Reconnecting with who you are can turn your life around. It has mine. 

Well, that’s all I’ve got for today, friend.

As always, I’d love to hear what’s worked for you. Remember that you can comment below with a fake name if you like (your email address won’t be published.) You can also send me a personal message through the contact page. If I get enough feedback on this topic, I’ll run a follow-up post summarizing what folks have shared (without including names, of course). Thanks!

Much love,

Tanja

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14 Responses to How Do You Know When It’s Time to Give Up?

  1. Kathleen December 7, 2013 at 5:42 am #

    Hey T~ We’ve only had a few friends divorce, thankfully, but several of my parents’ friends are getting divorced, after 30 and 40 years of marriage! It just blows my mind. They’re retired, in their late 60s and 70s and calling it quits. So sad.

    Anyways, I think gratitude is incredibly important to maintain a loving, pleasant relationship. Remembering daily one little thing one loves about one’s spouse, and letting them know. Or a simple, daily act of kindness. Beyond the normal, “I always do the dishes” sort of thing. We’ve also found a night or two away to be incredibly helpful to our relationship. The quiet, the solitude, the lack of pressure or kid-noise is so important for us to connect.

    Whenever bitterness creeps in, it’s easy for it to take over unless there’s major intervention. I’m all for major intervention as needed, though. I would fight really, really hard for my marriage. I know he would, too, but therein lies why we probably have a really good thing.

    Sorry for your community. That’s really rough stuff. :(
    Kathleen recently posted..Wrong turnsMy Profile

    • tpajevic December 9, 2013 at 7:43 pm #

      Kathleen, wow–to have so many folks you know divorcing after 30 or 40 years of marriage! I would love to talk with them and see what made me split at this point in life, after having been through so much together.

      As always, I think you’re right on and gratitude is huge, no doubt. As if being committed to working things out! Without both spouses willing to roll up and their sleeves and do some dirty work, there’s just not much of a chance. Ugh. I find this whole topic seriously depressing, and yet I can’t help but wonder if we were able to just be more honest about the whole marriage thing in the beginning–if folks (and media) were more honest, say, about how hard it is and how much work is involved–then maybe we wouldn’t have so many couples splitting up when marriage doesn’t meet their expectations. Yet another idea to implement once I run the world :)

      • Kathleen December 22, 2013 at 3:38 am #

        Yes- one more area that stigma needs to be erased. And much earlier. Like from childhood. I think we just might start talking with our boys about what we do to make our marriage work. Sounds silly, but so did talking about sex and now I think it’s probably the best thing we can do to set them up well.

        Run the world, girl! I’d vote T for President :)
        Kathleen recently posted..BucketsMy Profile

  2. Tash Olivers December 8, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    I’m not claiming to be in a perfect relationship by any means, but I’ve definitely found that I’m happier with my relationship (not to mention a whole lot less stressed about it) since I’ve been discovering some of these tips for myself. I started off at an advantage really, as I got into yoga in my late teens, and it led to an appreciation for some of the things you mention above (nature, taking time for yourself, the quiet time every day, adjusting your expectations to help you accept reality – seriously, a lot of people don’t seem to understand that yoga teaches you sound psychological health as well as physical!).

    I have the tendency to become very intense, and it comes from bringing my history with me, mainly rooted in my parents’ bad relationship. It’s very hard to stop myself doing it, but at least I’m aware of my tendency, which helps me to question myself: “Is this your past speaking, or you?” Who you are now is what matters, and you need to leave your baggage where it belongs: way back in the past.
    fixthemarriage.net
    Tash Olivers recently posted..Know The Top 6 Predictors of a Long-Lasting Marriage.My Profile

    • tpajevic December 9, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

      Thanks for writing, Tash–I think you’re right on, especially when it comes to realizing what’s past stuff and then trying to get back into the present. I love that yoga helped you get to where you are–it sounds like you’ve done an awesome job of figuring out who you are and are working hard to make sure your stuff doesn’t mess up your marriage. It makes me wonder how many divorces come from folks who are sleep-walking through life…or maybe folks who slept-walked through the earlier parts of their lives, and then are finally waking up and realizing that who they are now doesn’t really match where they are in life (or where they want to be). Anyway, just thinking out loud here. Good luck with your site.

  3. Gee Deezy December 21, 2013 at 11:27 pm #

    I find myself at what I suspect is the end of a 28 year marriage. I think we got off to a bad start – we both had weak self esteem, and kind of “settled’ for someone what that was decent, even if we weren’t a perfect match. It wasn’t always terrible, but the last years have been painful. And, no, I don’t just blame her.

    Now we are at a stage of “She doesn’t seem to be trying much, so why should I?” Its all very exhausting and very sad.

    I’ve suggested therapy several times over the last decade; she says no. We had a neighbor couple that went to therapy and within a year were divorced. The therapist evaluated them and said “you two are just frankly not compatible” and encouraged them to end it. (They are both very happily remarried, btw).

    We have two wonderful grown kids, and I know that any changes in my marital relationship will hurt my chances of quality time with those kids, and right now they are the most important thing in my life.

    I just feel like I want to love someone, and have someone return that love. I want someone I wake up every morning and think, “I respect who she is and like spending time with her.” I can’t honestly say those two important things to my wife. Again, I suspect she is thinking the exact things of me, and I don’t put the blame on her.

    I am 53. I feel like if I don’t look for that now, I will never have a chance to find it, and will live the balance of my life out with deep regret.

    Thoughts? Comments? Ideas?

    • tpajevic December 22, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

      Wow. I so appreciate your honesty, as well as how openly you’re looking at your situation. You know, I’m not a therapist, but the thing that jumps out at me from your letter is how clearly you seem to have your head on. I wonder if you just need some more time/support/space to figure out what’s right for you (or if you already have, and are looking for permission to end your marriage). And this might be a crazy suggestion, but have you ever tried to sit down with your wife and have an honest heart-to-heart with her to see what she wants?

      While I think therapy could still help if you decided to go alone, I would try going in with the intention of figuring out where you’re at and what you need and clarifying the bigger picture. Hearing your story about your neighbor’s therapist makes me nervous–I don’t know that it’s a therapist’s job to tell anyone what to do. As I understand it, they’re supposed to help us illuminate what’s going on in our lives so that we can make whatever decision’s right for us.

      The last thing I’ll toss out is this: are you sure that a potential divorce would mean you’d grow more distant from your children? I understand how this would be the case if they were young, especially if you were splitting custody, but if they’re adults, that shouldn’t be the case.

      Sorry, friend, for not having a better answer. If you want to try one more last-ditch effort at saving your marriage, try reading Sue Johnson’s book, Hold Me Tight, and doing the exercises together. If your wife’s not willing to do that, ask her why not–her answer could be illuminating too.

      Good luck with whatever you decide!

    • Carol123 January 14, 2014 at 4:43 am #

      I was reading what Gee Deezy wrote and it sounds to me that he feels lonely in his marriage and I feel exactly the same. I am turning 38 in few days and I know I have to face the reality of my failing marriage but I just can’t and it’s tearing me apart. I know nothing will ever change it hasn’t change for the last 15years and I feel that my thoughts, my feelings, just in general me as a human being don’t count in this marriage at all. My husband says he loves me all the time however he will decide about everything and even though I try to talk to him very nicely he always takes it as I am attacking him personally and we always fight. We have never talked about one single issue in a civilized way. He always creates a huge show and goes in the backyard and calls me names so that he can manipulate the conversation because he knows that I will get embarrassed and that I don’t want the kids or anybody else to know that we are fighting. I feel that I have given so much and yet when I need something i don’t even get heard. I think I had enough but I can’t make a decision. I just can’t because I have a son and he is 12 and I have two stepchildren 20 & 22, both boys. And I knew my step kids when they were 12 and there’s a huge difference – I just feel I can’t do that to my son. So for the last 12 years I am faced with this problem literally every day- I know I’m not going anywhere in this marriage but I just can’t do that to my son. So I have gained weight, I feel I might be depressed, and I donts see any positivity or lookout in the near future….. I know this decision is on me, but I don’t want to be alone, all my life I supported my husband and know I want him to be the man that I can turn too, because now I need somebody, but as it turned out, I don’t have anybody…..

      • tpajevic January 14, 2014 at 11:46 pm #

        Carol, It sounds like things have been really rough in your marriage for a long time, but I’d still like to challenge you: you ALWAYS have a choice. There are so many other scenarios that could possibly happen than the ones you mention…for example, your kids probably know exactly what’s been going on/that you’re fighting, and who knows, they might actually be on your side more than you realize. I’m sure they realize that their dad has been verbally abusive and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s been that way with them as well. Getting divorced doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to have a good relationship with your kids–it might actually strengthen your relationship.
        But first, it sounds like you’ve got to get clear in yourself and what you need. I’m also concerned that if you’re depressed, you’re going to need some professional help. Have you looked into/contacted a counselor? That’s what jumps out at me as your first step here–getting some support. The rest will work itself out, I promise. But trust me, girl, you’ve always, always got options. You just can’t see them yet!
        Hang in there and take care of yourself! It’s always the first, best answer. Everything else will work itself out, eventually. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the future looks much rosier than you ever imagined–
        much love,
        Tanja

  4. MaryMerry December 23, 2013 at 3:31 am #

    I left a marraige after almost a decade, got custody of the kids, and did not remarry. The kids were small and their dad bailed. They are both in college now and haven’t heard from him for years. I knew it was time to get out of the marraige when getting out seemed easier than staying in. That is saying a lot, because getting out was the hardest thing I ever did.i also did it because I believed that it was detrimental for my children, seeing their parents in such a broken relationship. After he left for good, I knew that I would never let another person do that to them. I raised two smart, strong kids. Not easy, but it’s my life’s work.

    • tpajevic December 23, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

      Thanks for sharing that, MaryMerry. I’ve heard a few people now say that leaving was something the hardest thing they’d ever done, but necessary. You sound like one hell of a strong lady, and your kids are lucky to have you.

  5. David April 11, 2014 at 1:39 am #

    Getting to re-know yourself is important during a marriage. Some people can so wrapped up in the demands of a marriage, that they lose sight of themselves.
    David recently posted..Is There Really Life After Divorce for Men?My Profile

  6. Jason October 6, 2014 at 7:08 am #

    I married my best friend 7 years ago. We had a child before and had another child after we got married. About 2 years after we got married I had an affair with her best friend. It lasted about 6 months and though we only had sex about 5 or 6 times we talked all the time. The main reason for the affair was I really felt like my wife didn’t like me anymore we didn’t have sex, she paid no attention to me and she cared more about the kids then me. After the affair was over I felt so guilty and ashamed of what I had done. She suspected something had happened but didn’t know the whole truth. For anyone in a similar situation I would highly recommend telling your spouse what’s going on because even though I never would have had to tell her it still ate at me all the time. I really had a hard time connecting with her knowing what I had done like my whole life was a complete lie.

    A little over a year ago she told me she wanted to seperate which I initially thought was a good idea but after a couple months or so I started thinking about “now what?” “I married my best friend and that didn’t work out how could it ever work with anybody else?” “If either of us are ever gonna be in a decent relationship were gonna have to make some changes so why not make them for the parent of your children instead of someone you may not have met?” My son especially hated the living arrangement we had, she moved in with her dad and he hated it there which made things really tough on me. I then did a lot of researching on our marriage and found there is a lot of people in our situation.

    I told her I would like to try to work things out and why. She wanted to know why I wanted to work things out now and I told her what I was thinking. A few months later she told me she knew it would never work between us and nothing was gonna change. I later found out she was seeing someone else at the time. Then after a little more soul searching I decided that I would really try to make this work and fight for her. I then told her everything about the affair which she took very hard and said she hated me for it but as strange as it sounds I felt much better because I had nothing to hide anymore. About a month later she came to me and said that she had been seeing someone else but had ended it and that she would like to work on our marriage too. She didn’t move back in but I thought things were going in the right direction and we even went on a family vacation together. Then all of the sudden it was like a switch was flipped again she said she didn’t know what she wanted and told me she wanted a divorce. I finally came to that same conclusion after we took the kids to the beach one day and she wouldn’t talk to me and I’m trying to make small talk and she would bite my head off at anything I’d say. I decided to walk home which was a few miles away and on that walk it finally sank in and I thought “what the hell am I doing? she can’t even be nice to me, I am so stupid to even try” In the months before some things happened to where I could return to school and I thought “my life and my kids life will get better if she doesn’t want to be a part of that, that’s her problem not mine”. I was done with the marriage.

    Then 2 days later she calls me and says she’s ready to work on our marriage now. I was dumbfounded. I didn’t tell her yes right away but she said she wanted to talk to me in person. She then told me that when she started treating me bad again she had met the guy she was seeing and they had sex. I told her what needed to change if she wanted this marriage to work and reminded her that it takes 2 to make it work. She agreed to everything and asked if I wanted her to move back in and I told her that if she wasn’t going to the marriage would be over because I was going back to school and if she wasn’t going to suffer through some hard times for that then I would always wonder if she only wanted to be with me because I was financially stable.

    She moved back in and everything went great for about a month. The kids were happy, we were happy and it seemed like we both appreciated eachother a whole bunch. Then things started to change and I asked her what was up. She said that she was still not very happy but she didn’t want to tell me or get into it because I was in school and she didn’t want to stress me out. We then had a few more talks like this and I finally told her that it really pisses me off because I asked her when she came to talk to me about working things out what if she changes her mind in 3 months and she said she would never do that because she realizes now that she really loves me.

    Last night we went out and when we got home I don’t even know how it started but we got into a fight and she told me that the only reason she came back was for the kids and she really doesn’t like me and that we would be better off as friends. I then told her that if we got divorced there was no way we would be friends at all and then she asked why and I told her #1 you lied to me, you talked me into working on this and said that you wouldn’t change your mind and #2 you say you don’t like me so you should be happy to have me out of your life as much as possible. She then said she wanted to try counseling but I haven’t put forth any effort into it and I told her I had lined something up but you said you didn’t like it because I picked the counselor out and I had control of it.

    To be completely honest counseling scares me to death. I have read so many horror stories of people who go through counseling (I assume bad counselors) and are divorced within a year. What do you think I should do? I guess if were gonna end up divorced there’s no point in delaying it. But I don’t think it’s right that the only reason she’s here is because of the kids.

    • tpajevic October 6, 2014 at 7:15 pm #

      Jason, I think the benefit of counseling is that it can help you get clear on who you are and what you want. Right now, it seems like you and your wife have spent a lot of time unclear about what you both wanted, and that sounds like it’s really hurting you both. Counseling can also help show you larger family patterns that are playing into your relationship now (and making things more complicated). It sounds like you and your wife have been through so much back and forth, with a lot of resentment built up along the way, that I can’t help but think you might need a third party (counselor) to help you untangle this whole mess.

      Of course you have to do what’s right for you, but from where I stand, it seems to me that you and your wife have a lot of issues communicating clearly. Even if you do end up divorced down the line, you’re still going to need to learn how to communicate with each other around the kids, and you’re still going to be connected through them forever, which is why seeing a counselor might be worthwhile for you guys regardless of what happens. I hope you’re able to work things out in a way that’s good for both of you–whether that’s staying married or getting divorced. Right now, you’re in a kind of limbo and nobody’s happy. Going to see a therapist will force you both to face what’s really going on (rather than keep sweeping it under the rug, which it sounds like you’ve both been doing for a while), which is why things sometimes change once you start seeing a therapist. I think a lot of us are scared around such things b/c change is hard, and it’s often easier to just stay where you’re at, even if you are stuck–it’s still somewhat comfortable b/c it’s familiar. A therapist will help you get to the bottom of what’s going on. I think that might be good for all of you (including your kids) in the long run. Good luck with whatever you decide, friend!

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