I sometimes get correspondence from people who confess that their marriage has been "unhappy," "stale," or "unfulfilling" for quite a while. And, most have hung in there because they had hoped things would get better or because they were opposed to a separation or divorce. But after a while of being miserable day in and day out, many begin to wonder for how long they can stand to live this way.

I often hear comments like "My marriage is an unhappy one. I don't believe in divorce but I don't want to live this way forever either. How do you know when it's time to just say you did all that you could but the time has come to just walk away?" Or "how long are you supposed to stay put in an unhappy marriage? Mine has been miserable and unfulfilling for years and it's not getting any better. Part of me wants to leave but part of me wonders if I'd be making a mistake. What should I do?"

I have to tell you that my opinion on this may be a bit biased. I was in this situation also, and how it turned out for me probably influences my answer on this topic. Nonetheless, in the following article, I'll try to answer this question in much more depth.

It's Sometimes Wrong To Assume That The Marriage Will Always Be An Unhappy One: One of the biggest reasons that people want to leave their marriage is because they can't see any potential improvement or any light at the end of the tunnel. They don't have any changes to look forward to and they don't want to continue on in the way that they have.

But, I have to tell you that I've seen many couples change their focus on "surviving" in an unhappy marriage to making that same marriage more fulfilling again and then have wonderful results. You don't just have to accept your marital fate. If your marriage is no longer working for you, then nothing says that you can't or shouldn't change it so that it is.

People who tell me that life is too short to remain in a relationship that no longer makes them happy are absolutely right. No one should have to sell themselves short or not get exactly what they want out of their lives. I would argue though that it's completely possible to have both the marriage and the happiness at the same time. You just have to change the dynamics of the marriage.

Knowing When It's Time (Or Not Time) To Leave Your Miserable Marriage: This is the question to which most people are looking for that very elusive answer. Many tell me that they'd hoped they would "just know" when it's time to end the marriage, but now that they're in their current situation, they don't. They flip flop from one day to the next. Last week, they may have been sure that they were ready to call it a day, but then something happens to make them doubt this.

They are also usually scared of regret or of ending a relationship in haste that has been so vitally important to them. And sometimes, they're feeling negative feelings like guilt and fear. Often this is a tip-off for me that they've not yet reached the natural end. People who "know" that they're at the end of their marriage are generally at peace with the decision. There's no doubt, or turmoil, or indecision. Because usually, it has taken them a very long time to get to this point and they have sincerely tried everything to change their situation but just could not.

Doubt Is A Good Indicator That It's NOT Yet Time To Walk Away: People who are asking someone else if the time to end the marriage has come may be still feeling a good deal of doubt and internal conflict. They are not at all at peace with the decision to leave. And even though they are admittedly unhappy, I think that on some level, they suspect that there are things left on the table and things that are still left unsaid. From experience, I suspect that there's a part of them deep down that still wants the marriage to work. But, often they are afraid of rejection and they don't want to be the only one who is trying to save the marriage or who is fully invested in it.

I often tell people if they are searching for confirmation that they shouldn't stay in the marriage (as unhappy as it might be) then they probably know in their heart that they either haven't tried everything or they could potentially want to stay. Wanting to stay doesn't mean that you like your marriage the way that it is or that you're accepting a life long sentence of misery. It's my experience that with the right tweaks and efforts, most marriages can be turned around. I absolutely believe that it's completely possible to have both the marriage and the happiness.  It took me way too long to learn this and I had to turn my own marriage around to learn. (You can read that entire story by clicking here.)

But it often means making some changes and allowing some vulnerability as you begin to do so. It may feel awkward and it might not be easy, but a short time of awkwardness will generally be worth it if the result is years and years of contentment rather than what you're feeling now. I often don't see this as an equation that gives you only one answer. Many people assume that they have to choose staying in the marriage and being unhappy or leaving it and regaining their happiness. I would argue that there's a third option -- staying in the marriage but turning it around so that it's a happy one once again.

I suppose my answer to "how long should I stay in an unhappy marriage" is until you know that you've done everything possible to save it and no longer question or doubt your decision.

There was a time that I thought my marriage was truly at its end. My husband had become extremely unhappy, had totally checked out, and would not lift a finger to help me reconcile our marriage. I knew that, at least from my end, it was not yet time to call it quits. Thankfully, even though I had doubts, I decided to try one last thing and this eventually worked. You can read that story on my blog at http://isavedmymarriage.com/

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