12/10/2011 04:13 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2012

Knowing If You Should Stay In Your Marriage

Not knowing if you should stay or go can keep you stuck in the marital indecision cycle for many years. This can be damaging to myriad parts of your life including self-esteem, relationships with others and productivity.

When trying to decide whether or not to end a marriage, most people have at least some ambivalence. This ambivalence can be confusing and I often hear the contemplator say that he or she is waiting for a sign or waiting until the "knowledge" that it's time to leave is present.

But people can stay in limbo for years -- sometimes decades -- waiting for a clear indication and a 100% feeling that divorce is the right thing to do.

There are, however, some indicators that can act as guidelines to make the way clearer.

The first indicator is really a question. That is, in your heart of hearts, is your decision to stay (or go) based on faith or fear?

Examples of staying for faith-based reasons might include: "Our marriage is tolerable and I want to raise my kids in one house with two parents," or, "I know that I have a part to play in the negative dynamic I have with my spouse and I want to stay, work on myself, and get on the other side of this issue."

Whereas reasons that include trying to avoid pain tend to be fear based, such as, "I'm afraid of not seeing my kids every day," or "I don't know how I'd make ends meet without my spouse."

There are some situations where staying for fear can be valid, but these are few and far between and they tend to be extreme. A good example is when one spouse has a mental illness or there is some kind of abuse taking place and one parent is afraid to leave the kids with the other parent.

John Gottman developed seven principles for making a marriage work (from his book of the same title). These include understanding whether your problems are solvable or perpetual, whether each spouse has fondness and admiration for the other and works to foster these feelings and whether the couple has shared meaning.

In 2008, I developed what I call, "Workability Factors," which are a bit more specific than Gottman's principles but there is some overlap. They are aspects of the relationship that are either workable, not workable or workable with intervention. They include:

Workable if Present: Mutual trust, good communication, fidelity, & mutual respect.

Unworkable If Present:Lack of trust, no communication, infidelity, no respect at all.

Workable w/Intervention if both are willing to work: Broken but reparable trust*, some communication, infidelity with willingness to end extramarital affair(s), a foundation of respect.

*whether the trust is reparable or not has to do with the nature and extent of the betrayal as well as the willingness of the one betrayed to forgive and move past the incident(s).

I also developed a "Workability Quiz" that can be found at the bottom of the page here.

This instrument is meant to be a preliminary guide -- not a determining factor -- in whether or not your marriage should be salvaged.

If, after reading books on the subject and waiting things out to see if they get better, you still can't decipher what's what in making your decision, you may want to seek the guidance of a trusted friend or a therapist who specializes in divorce to help you get the clarity you need to make the right decision.

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