A Psychologist Says This Is When to Call It Quits on an Unhappy Marriage

When any couple walks down the aisle and says “I do” the intention is forever. But as time goes on, sometimes, the person you promised to stay with has changed or external factors have created so much tension, and a relationship that was once functional and satisfying can feel irreparable. This month, MyDomaine Australia is focusing on the theme: Real talk. We’re taking it as an opportunity to have the much needed (though sometimes difficult) conversations that help our readers make more informed decisions. So, to navigate this tricky terrain we asked for the help of psychologist Noosha Mehmanli Anzab. 

Meet the Expert

Noosha Mehmanli Anzab and is the Principal Psychologist at Psychfirst. She is a member of the Australian Association of Psychologists (AAPi) and the Association for Contextual Behavioural Science (ABS).

When it comes to deciding if it's time to call quits on the marriage Anzab some signs to be aware of: "If you have made all attempts to salvage your relationship yet continue to feel indifferent, have emotionally checked out, if staying in the relationship is toxic to your emotional and physical well-being, if you or your partner are no longer committed to the marriage, or if there is a significant presence of the 'four horsemen' (contempt, criticism, defensiveness and stonewalling) which can’t be helped through therapy, mediation or communication, it's time to call it." Below she explains some other key indicators and what to do about them. 

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Small irritations start affecting you in a bigger way

"Small irritations in all aspects of life can start to impact you in a huge way. I’m sure at times we’ve all experienced this feeling—for example, something that you may have once found endearing in your partner is now the source of all of your frustration. Slowly, these small annoying traits begin to become rather large elephants in the room. Any relationship, particularly marriage, can be heavily impacted by this. Opening up lines of communication and spotting these behaviors as soon as possible will help in changing them for the better and to stop escalation to bigger things such as hatred and disconnect."

A differing of non-negotiable needs

"We all know the saying, 'opposites attract' but unfortunately, that’s not necessarily true. At the beginning of a relationship, points of difference may be exciting, refreshing, and motivate us to accommodate another person. Usually, there is a limit to just how much we tolerate, negotiate and compromise on. Non-negotiable needs such as deciding a place to call home, deciding if you want children or severely compromising morals, values, principles, and traditions can be a source of resentment or detachment. As humans, we are flexible, especially in accommodating for our partner’s needs, but let’s face it: There are just some things that are unchangeable and some rules that can’t be bent. If you are with a person who can’t see eye to eye or has non-negotiable needs that are worlds apart from yours, you can be sure to encounter some problems." 

External stressors that begin to erode the relationship

"It takes two to tango, but external stressors can act as the beat of the music to which we dance. External stressors can definitely contribute to eroding relationships and in marriage, these tend to come in the form of work stress including: Long work hours and lack of work/life balance, financial difficulties, difficulties with the in-laws and major life transitions. External stressors bleed into our personal lives and when we feel unsupported with these, we feel rejected, isolated, ignored, unworthy, or even unloved. These are big feelings and equally can have big impacts on spoiling our relationships.

Boredom as a result of not pursuing independent growth

"Along the way, at some point in a relationship, it is common for individuals to stop pursuing independent growth. We become so focused on helping the relationship or unit grow that we often forget to grow as individuals. Our sense of self can be skewed or become lost, we may forget to look after our personal wants and needs. This can result in boredom and a loss of the sense of self. So, what to do to overcome the boredom and find your independence? Work towards reigniting your passions, discover yourself and develop your individual identity and encourage your partner to do the same. These unique points of difference are just as healthy to a relationship as the commonalities that helped strengthen your relationship in the first place."

Before making any final decisions, Anzab concludes that it's worth taking time to really figure out what could be causing the friction in the marriage. She also suggests looking outside your relationship for other factors that could be causing strain. "When it comes to exploring, it's important to also consider external factors that might be affecting each person in the relationship and in turn the relationship as a whole. Is work stress bleeding into your time together? Has a new life transition such as having a child caused your attention to shift? Is financial pressure causing you both to freak out? 

And finally, Anzab offers some advice for anyone going through this particular situation: Be mindful that it is perfectly normal to end a relationship if it is becoming strenuous or toxic for both parties. If your relationship breaks down, it doesn’t mean that you are unworthy, destined to doom and will never have a successful relationship again. As humans, we are always on the growth continuum. We shift, change and develop over time and so do our needs and wants and it is important to remain true to these boundaries. Whilst it is perfectly normal to have fears around future financial security, restarting life apart, or even co-parenting, counselling and talking about your insecurities can help alleviate stress and provide you strategies to cope with any anxieties and address any concerns you may have." 

For more marriage tips, read Gary Champan's Loving Your Spouse When You Feel Like Walking Away ($21)

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