Recently I’ve had a lot of new clients, both individuals and couples, who want my help on deciding whether or not they should leave their marriage. While the initial reason they contacted a sex and intimacy coach was because they are having problems in their sexual life, problems with sex are often a symptom of underlying relationship issues.
Whether or not to separate is a very challenging and emotional decision, usually rife with fear and anger, and each situation is so unique. The baggage that each party brings, the existence of children, family obligations, financial concerns..the list can go on and on for pages.
But in my opinion, there are some pretty clear signs that separation is likely the healthiest choice:
- Physical violence or fear for one’s personal safety
- Lack of intimacy for an extended period of time (5+ years). This includes not only not having any sexual relationship, but not having any touching, cuddling, or holding.
- Sleeping in separate beds for an extended period of time(2+ years), unless there’s a rationale reason (loud snoring, restless leg) and there is still some level of intimacy in the marriage.
- Feeling repulsed by each other’s smell, touch, or sight.
- Experiencing ongoing emotional or verbal abuse that makes one feel unworthy, shamed, and powerless.
As I write this, I am noticing my own resistance to being so black and white. Clearly under some of these situations separation might not be the best alternative.
For example, a long term married couple decides together, after extensive honest communication, that they are both no longer interested in sexual intimacy, but want to enjoy each other’s companionship as they grow older. Also I have had success with couples who have not been intimate for a period of time, but they really like, trust, and respect each other.
A key factor in whether or not a relationship can be repaired and avoid separation is the underlying connection between a couple. If a couple walks in my office with problems, but it’s really clear that underneath the anger or resentment, there is still friendship, respect and maybe even love, the likelihood of the marriage surviving and thriving is much higher.
If on the other hand all that I am seeing is disdain, disgust, and distrust, the road to repairing the relationship is much longer and bumpier and fraught with many potholes and even craters, that can swallow them and the relationship up.
If these warning signs are resonating with you, seek out help from a couples therapist, a marriage counselor or a sex and intimacy coach. The longer these problems fester, the harder and longer the road to repair becomes.