When to Give Up on A Marriage

What are the signs? How can we tell when to give up on a marriage?

There is a formula relationship scientists use to measure the “ideal time” to break-up.

Let’s first look at the the interdepency theory by John Thibaut and Harold Kelley, where we compare the rewards and costs. If the costs are too high with few rewards it leads to a negative outcome and vice versa.

But let’s take this further with what we expect from our relationship to determine how happy we are in the relationship right now.


CL is the abbreviation for comparison level. This is based on our past experiences and is how we measure our own happiness. If the outcomes exceed our comparison level (what we’ve experienced) then we’re happy because we’re getting more than what we expect at a minimum.

On the flip side, if the outcomes are below our CL, then we are not too happy. We are getting lower than the bare minimum to meet our specific needs.

Ask yourself.

Do you feel more joy or pain?

What are the current outcomes of your relationship and your comparison level? Does this formula ring true for you? Does it accurately represent how satisfied you are?

Is the level of happiness enough to know when it is time to leave? Is that the compass we need to make this decision?

Are we asking the wrong questions?

Let’s add to this formula, to answer the question: When to give up on a marriage?


Here is a new abbreviation, CLalt. Meaning, comparison level for alternatives, to know if there is a better option elsewhere. It’s comparing other options…noticing and acknowledging our alternative options.

What would our happiness be like if we weren’t in this relationship?

Would we be happier in a relationship with that person over there? Or is being alone sound much more appealing and desirable than staying with this person?

We all may ask ourselves these questions, almost like a right of passage, then we either answer them with a yes or a no.


To complete the formula we must consider one more thing: Investments.

Like, will the kids be more screwed up if we stay together?

Social psychologist Caryl Rusbult discovered these are the things one would lose if we left. It can be relationships, spending less time with our children, property and tangibles, or respect from friends and family. This reduces CLalt, the desire of alternative options.

So the formula scientists use is:


The bottom line is that people don’t divorce when they get unhappy; they divorce when, one way or the other, their prospects finally seem brighter elsewhere.

When the current outcomes has slipped below the appealing alternatives.

Now, don’t let the common myths fool you.

  1. “We don’t have enough in common.”
    • We will wander and waste our life pursuing an idealistic match that we hope will agree with us and understand our each and every need. The hard reality is we are all beautifully different, and we hold our own differences to complement each other.
  2. “We fight about the same thing over and over again.”
    • Perpetual problems are part of a relationship as much as your lungs are part of your body. In fact, 69% of our problems are irresolvable. We will argue about the same things over and over. We will disagree on the same subjects until death do us part. You just get better at managing it.

Ending this relationship to seek another where these things won’t happen will only lead to an even greater disappointment.


There is only one BIG question to ask to eliminate guessing and know if there is truly any hope.

It can only work when you answer it to somebody that doens’t already know the answer.

“How did you two meet?” OR “Why did you two get married?”

Either one will do. And when you both answer it, pay attention to the perception, not the facts. Who cares how you remember it versus to how they remember it. You want to see if the implications are negative or positive.

Couples that rewrote their stories of how they met (or why they got married) into a negative perspective, were among the ones that did not find reasons to fight for their relationship. Meaning, there was little hope if any to help these couples, no matter how much therapy or coaching given.

Allow to me more blunt.

It’s just NOT WORTH IT…

…when enduring some form of abuse. Not all abuse is physical and even physical abuse starts in subtle ways. There is no need to put yourself through that. I urge you to learn more.

I don’t want you to worry about the statistics.

People stay in unfulfilling relationships because they don’t want to be another statistic. We do fall into some kind of statistic, it’s the one you choose to fall into that matters. Either the one with ending a relationship or marriage, or the one with unhappily married.

Be a happily married statistic! Don’t settle for less. Many of my dear friends got out of unhappy and unhealthy relationships and are now remarried. There is nothing wrong in learning from a mistake, and starting over. You become your own hero when you rescue yourself and give yourself another chance to be happy.

Before you move on to the next relationship, there are life-or-death matters to keep in mind.

How can you avoid falling for the same person or same patterns of an unhealthy relationship?

If you return to the same patterns with a different person, it will be the death of your happiness and life (life is shortened when our bonds and connection are minimized and are unhealthy).

Allow yourself time to regroup and invest in yourself, stabilize yourself and prepare yourself to embrace a brighter future.


All relationships go through the usual wear-and-tear.

There have been massive studies to see how long your happiness lasts after you move in together, start a relationship, or get married. A big one was conducted in Germany that followed over 30,000 people for 18 years and found we get a boost of happiness when we get married, then it declines. The norm is 2 years after the wedding day, happiness declines.

Conflict and struggle is part of our relationships. We will irritate each other, annoy each other, and possibly even betray each other.

How do we manage this teeter-totter?

We rely on math, of course. Good ol’ stats.

John Gottman and Robert Levenson found the ideal ratio of positive to negative interactions to keep us satisfied in a close relationship, and that is 5:1. Five positives for every negative.

Why isn’t it 1:1? Just cancel out the negative with a positive?

It turns out that although we love rewards, we really detest losses. We easily remember the negative without any effort, so we need a good amount of positive to balance out the heavy weight of negativity.

To uplift our relationship, we must do more than simply avoid any unpleasantness, but focus on increasing the positive growth in creative ways. (Tweet that!)