An Unhappy Marriage: Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

Before the end of any marriage there is a long moment of reflection. Reflecting on our current situation and how our relationship reached this state. We get countless thoughts running through our heads. Our minds get overwhelmed with too many internal dialogues and conversations. Our time gets consumed with thinking, overthinking, and rethinking. We lose time in confusion and disorientation. And we sometimes find ourselves arguing with, and against, our own thoughts and ideas.

Some of us seek advice from those close to us, sometimes it’s good advice, but most of the time it seems irrelevant to our specific situation. No one is more aware of your state than you. Be conscious of your true beliefs. Learn to organize your thoughts by asking yourself the right questions. Be truthful with yourself. Take some time to reflect, but with a structured and clear mindset. In an attempt to help you guide your thoughts, I’ve compiled a list of questions to give you a strong jump start on your journey towards making one the most life-changing decisions.

Where do I see this relationship going?

The institution of marriage is usually associated with the concept of forever. When we make the decision to get married we seldom think that this relationship might end one day. When our partnerships face obstacles divorce is, in most cases, the last resort or sometimes not even an option. Yet, when the idea of the possibility of divorce starts to make its way into our minds we begin to question the notion of, ‘till death do us part’.  Ask yourself, “Is this my forever?”

Given the current nature of your marriage, find the truthful –and honest– answers to questions about the realistic chances of the continuity and durability of your relationship. How much longer will your relationship survive? How long will you be able to make the most out of something you’re already considering running away from? Do you see yourself with your spouse forever? Will this end sooner or later?

You’ve now established the fact that you see a different future than the one you’re heading towards. How is your image of the person you aspire to become different from the person you are now? And why are you not working on becoming the future version of yourself? What is limiting you from achieving your goals and dreams?

How is this marriage limiting me?

Anyone who has considered divorce has thought about what they would be doing with this newfound freedom. So, what is it exactly that you want to pursue? A career? A neglected passion? An artistic quest? Self-discovery and exploration? Travel? Finding your purpose on this earth? And how, specifically, would being free of this matrimonial bond help you in achieving all of your ambitions?

We each have our own belief systems that are a manifestation and accumulation of our learnings and experiences in life. In our culture, we grow up with a set of defined roles for a husband and a wife within the marriage. Explore your own definition of marriage. Are your limitations due to your own or your spouse’s beliefs and values? Is it your own negative emotional state that is holding you back? If you discover that you are not the hindering factor, start to honestly examine your situation. Is your spouse controlling? Are you financially incapable of supporting your dreams? Learn the difference between your own self-inflicted limitation, and an external limitation that is holding you back. We, sometimes, throw the blame on our current situation when we find that we are not where we thought we would be in life. Yet, in reality, we are the only ones stopping ourselves from moving forward.

If you discover that you are the person responsible for your current state, then I suggest you follow your excitement and find your motivation. But, if your stagnation is due to your spouse or the nature of your marriage, then ask yourself, “What’s making me stay?”

What’s making me stay?

If you’ve thought of divorce and have not yet made the decision, then you have reasons making you reconsider the route of separation. There are many motives that make us stay in a relationship, and they are all relative to each one’s specific situation. We can group them in two categories: practical reasons and emotional reasons. Firstly, we need to address the practical side of the equation. Is it financial dependence that’s making it difficult to leave? Is it convenience? Is it any form of support that you would not find elsewhere except with your spouse? List your tangible needs from this situation. Work on finding alternative solutions for them. Think of ways you can possibly free yourself from this dependence. Once you’ve examined the practicality section, move on to the emotional one, which is the more difficult part.

This second category requires a lot of honesty, because we tend to mask our true reasons for staying by focusing on the practical. So, dig deep.  Be aware of your emotions and recognize the difference between them. Do you feel afraid of the unknown future you’re about to head towards? Is it fear of judgment from society or those close to you? Do you feel guilty about the children or any other family members?  When making a decision out of fear or guilt, we have to be extremely conscious of our own beliefs and values to avoid being influenced by the belief systems of others, or the expected “norms of society”. Both fear and guilt limit us from creating the changes needed to improve our lives. Dealing with either, or both, when making such an important, life-changing decision requires a lot of self-exploration and questioning.

Now that you’ve listed your reasons to stay, it’s only fair to explore your reasons to leave.

Why do I want to leave?

There are reasons for leaving that clearly are in conflict with our own different beliefs and values; the most common being infidelity, financial control, lack of responsibility from your spouse towards the family and home, and physical or emotional abuse. Another strong motive that we, more often than not, don’t pay much attention to is resentful feelings towards our spouse.

The most common feeling associated with the thought of divorce is unhappiness. In most cases, unhappiness is inexplicable due to the relativity of the definition of happiness to each one of us.  So, be clear with yourself about what happiness really means to you. Then ask yourself, what is it specifically that’s making you feel unhappy? What would make you happy? What needs to happen for you to feel happy? And how will you know when you finally are happy? Again, these questions are to help you find your own definition of happiness. Delve deeper by exploring what it is specifically that’s making you feel unhappy. Do you feel that the person you’re sharing your life with isn’t living up to your expectations? Are you expecting too much? Are your expectations realistic? Are you placing the responsibility of your happiness on others?

Is it that this is not the life you had imagined for yourself? How is it different from how you had believed it would be?

Bring to the surface all the issues you feel you are facing in this relationship, and ask yourself if they can be resolved. Also, are you willing to do the work?

Am I willing to work on it?

After thoroughly, and truthfully, assessing your reasons for staying and for leaving, it would be more clear to you if you want to work on improving the current state of the relationship.  Go over the lists we discussed above, and make yet another list of the changes you need to create. Start with yourself; what can you change about yourself that would positively impact this marriage?  Then, what changes would you like to see in your spouse?

Recognize the difference between the things you can change, and those you only need to accept. Talk to your partner honestly, openly, with good intentions, and without expectations. Seek therapy, or mediation from a trusted person.

Yet, if you decide that you have no will or energy to make this work and you have still not made the decision to divorce, then it is time to question if you truly love yourself.

Do I deserve this?

We’ve all heard of self-love, and recently it’s mentioned everywhere to the point that it has become a sort of cliché. Yet, it really does hold true. With self-love comes positive change. Since this is an extremely vast topic, we’ll narrow it down to one question in relation to figuring out if we don’t love ourselves enough to leave an unhealthy, unhappy, and unresolvable marriage (if that’s the conclusion you’ve reached through all of the previous questions).

Would I accept my current situation for someone I love?

Sometimes we are not aware of how much we don’t love ourselves and our vision of what we deserve gets blurred. The easiest way to clear your vision is to imagine the kind of advice you would give to someone you love who is, hypothetically, living your exact circumstances; then give yourself the same advice. Loving yourself is knowing your own worth; knowing all you have to offer and give, and making sure you get what you truly deserve in return.

Once your decision to end the marriage has been made, there are some important points on the practical side of things that you should consider. Check your conviction, for you will face those who are against your decision (family and friends; maybe your spouse!). If children are in the picture, think about how your relationship with your ex-spouse could stay civil. You will forever have them in your life, and on so many occasions you will have to get along or even seem like a united front. Assess all tangible changes and if there are any risks you’re taking. Be pragmatic and set feelings aside, for there will be time to heal and deal with any suppressed negative emotions.

The decision to end a marriage is never an easy one. We all go through moments of doubt and hesitation. We all falter between determination and second thoughts. We even sometimes compare our situations to those of others around us. Just always remember that we are all different people with different values, morals, and belief systems. We all react differently to events that happen in our lives. Focus on what is true to you and who you are. In organizing your thoughts, asking yourself questions, and being honest with your answers you will find the confusion subsiding as you will get to know yourself better. Your decision to stay or leave will be coming from within you; from a place of strength and conviction.


Alia Nasr is a practicing Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), Hypnosis, and Time-Line Therapy Practitioner, certified by the American Board of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (ABNLP), the American Board of Hypnotherapy (ABH), and the Time-Line Therapy Association (TLTA). Through the tools of NLP, Alia works on coaching individuals in adapting to and creating change during and post the divorce process, by overcoming suppressed negative emotions, confidence and self-esteem issues, limiting beliefs, fears, and communication barriers. 

For appointments and further information e-mail Alia at:


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