Yesterday’s New York Times‘ “Room for Debate” was the issue “knowing when a marriage is over.” They asked six experts, who frankly, I all thought rather dodged the question with versions of “it’s complicated” and “it depends.” Or “let’s redefine marriage!” Only one expert, a lawyer who’d been divorced twice (and happily remarried for 25 years now) gave a solid answer:
For most people who I have known in broken relationships, the definitive breaking point is when one person has done or said something for which there can be no forgiveness. Because the ability to “forgive” (notice I didn’t say “forget”) is the key to deciding whether you should stay in the relationship.
I don’t entirely agree, but at least it is an answer. I think you can “forgive” (however you define that) from a distance, with time. But I think what he’s trying to say is that when there is a deal breaker, the marriage is over.
The New York Times didn’t ask me, but here’s my answer to Knowing When a Marriage Is Over list:
1.) When there are more than two of you. Unless you’re hip to an open marriage or really enjoy round after round of the Pick Me Dance, your marriage is over when your partner keeps inviting other people into your relationship. Secretly. And at great personal risk to your health, home life, and finances.
2.) When you are the only person invested in saving the marriage. If a Bad Thing happens (and bad things are inevitable in any relationship, I’m not just talking infidelity), and you are the only person booking those shrink appointments, and buying the self help books, and trying to engage in honest conversations? Hello! You are the ONLY person in your marriage! Just like marriages do not work in multiples of three, they don’t work singular either.
You can’t save a relationship by yourself, or improve one, if one person is checked out. (Despite therapy sales pitches to the contrary — Reconciliation Industrial Complex, I’m talking to you.)
3.) When your partner is not available for a relationship. And having the good sense to figure that out. Many people act like they want a relationship, but the rest of their lives indicate otherwise. If someone has a deep, personal commitment to booze over you? They’re not available for a relationship. If someone is super charming and sparkly, but resolves conflicts by slamming you head first through a window? They’re not available for a relationship. If someone has an untreated mental illness and life with them is utter chaos and unending crisis? They’re not available for a relationship.
They may show up at your dinner table, they may pledge their undying love to you, they may mouth the words: “You are my Special Love Muffin!” but people? THEY ARE NOT AVAILABLE FOR A RELATIONSHIP.
And it is up to you to have the good sense to realize, that wow, this person’s actions do not align with what you consider to be “relationship material.”
Oh, that’s the other point — you have to have a notion of what a relationship or marriage IS. And not accept any old arrangement because someone says it is a “relationship.” Have deal breakers.
(Hey, New York Times? I’m available for parties and bar mitzvahs.)