When To Call It Quits

When to Call It Quits (Part 1)  Click here for Part 2

By Willard F. Harley, Jr., Ph.D.

The concept of unconditional love in marriage usually refers to a spouse’s lifelong commitment to care for the other spouse regardless of what the other spouse does. I’m in favor of a lifelong commitment to care regardless of unfavorable circumstances (health problems, financial setbacks, and other factors outside a couple’s control that can negatively impact a marriage). But I’m opposed to a lifelong commitment to care for a spouse when that spouse makes marriage-wrecking choices. It tends to give such people unrealistic expectations of entitlement — that they should be cared for, regardless of their willingness to care in return. Neglect and abuse characterize many marriages based on unconditional love.

In this Q&A column, I’ll feature a letter I received from a spouse who was told to love unconditionally. Her husband has failed to meet her emotional needs, and is unwilling to do anything about it. Next week, I’ll feature a letter from a wife whose husband has been physically and emotionally abusive. Both of these women want to know when enough is enough. When should they call it quits?

On the subject of neglect, I’ve chosen to feature a marriage that isn’t all that bad from most people’s perspective, but isn’t good either. L.R.’s husband hasn’t abandoned her physically, leaving her to fend for herself. Instead, he’s only abandoned her emotionally. They probably even have a friendship of sorts. It’s cases like these that leave a wife struggling to know what to do.

As it turns out, most of these women divorce their husbands. In fact, research I’ve personally conducted in the archives of government statistics on the causes of divorce lead me to believe that as many as 80% of all divorces are caused by neglect. Women like L.R. suddenly call it quits with little warning, leaving her husband, family and friends scratching their heads wondering what’s wrong with her.

In this Q&A column, I describe what spouses usually do when faced with neglect, and then I explain what spouses should do. My approach is radical, and very controversial. But keep in mind the point I’ve just made-80% of divorces are caused by neglect. There’s a much higher risk of divorce in marriages where spouses are not meeting each other’s emotional needs than there is in all the marriages that suffer from physical and verbal abuse, chemical dependency, unemployment, and all other causes combined.