Marriages worth saving

I believe in good marriages. If you have what is fundamentally a good marriage, don’t give up on it until you’ve tried everything, and I mean everything, to enhance what’s best about it and minimize the flaws.

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  • Over the course of my career as a divorce lawyer and mediator, I am convinced that far too many people seek divorces over issues that — with some help — they should be able to work out. People rarely file for divorce because they want to, but because they see no alternative. They’re often too frustrated or angry to realize that there are other ways of communicating, other ways of resolving disputes, other ways of functioning as a couple while still maintaining their individual identities. I’d estimate that 80 percent of divorces are unnecessary.

  • What about the other 20 percent? Are there marriages that are so truly awful, so hopeless, that no amount of education, imagination, or counseling can save them? Sadly, the answer is yes: not every marriage can be saved. In fact, not every marriage is worth saving.

  • Hopeless marriages tend to fall into four main categories

  • 1. Abuse

  • Marriages characterized by relentless physical or verbal abuse. No one should put up with that for one day, much less a lifetime. And in extreme cases of physical abuse, it can be a very short lifetime, indeed.

  • 2. Addiction

  • Marriages in which one spouse is an alcoholic or drug addict and refuses to get help. If you’re married to such a person, you’re not so much a spouse as a substance-abuse counselor — an untrained and unpaid one, at that.

  • 3. Infidelity

  • Marriages characterized by repeated infidelities. I’ve seen marriages recover from infidelity, provided that it was a one-time thing. But if it’s just one affair after the other, there will never be true remorse — only regret at getting caught. If you’re married to a serial adulterer, cut your losses now.

  • 4. Major incompatibilities

  • Marriages with core incompatibilities that cannot be compromised. If she wants desperately to have a child, and he’s not at all enthusiastic about the idea, they’ve got a problem. Getting pregnant and hoping he’ll come to enjoy fatherhood is not my idea of a good compromise; in fact, it’s almost guaranteed to lead to a much more unhappy and complicated divorce a few years down the road. It would be best to part ways and find someone with the same needs and desires.

  • If you’re in a hopeless marriage, recognize reality and get out. Otherwise, you’re destined to serve a life sentence without parole, with your spouse as your cellmate and sometimes your guard. Divorce is never a happy event, but when it’s necessary it can be the key to unlock the jailhouse door, and open up the life you were meant to live.

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  • There are other situations that can be tough to overcome — differences in needs, for example, or in spending and saving habits — but which are not necessarily fatal to a relationship. I believe in good marriages. If you have what is fundamentally, a good marriage, don’t give up on it until you’ve tried everything — and I mean everything, to enhance what’s best about it and minimize the flaws.

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Jim is an experienced family law attorney. He is also an advice columnist, relationship writer and personal coach. Jim puts on workshops dealing with marriage, divorce and relationships. Jim writes for and


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