Should I stay in an unhealthy marriage – a serious question

Growing up, I had what I now call ‘fairy tale’ ideas about marriage – love would mean that everything would conspire to allow us to live happily ever after. Recently, someone asked me, “should I stay in an unhealthy marriage?”

I didn’t answer immediately, because there are so many factors that has to be – or should be – considered before giving an answer to that question. I am no expert on marriage – the fact that I am on my second should make that clear. But I have had experience with married life and other married people besides myself.

So I do have an opinion based on that. And on my understanding of what God intended when He united Adam and Eve on that sixth evening of the first week of the world.

Therefore, to the one who asked and to all those who have the same or a similar question, this is my answer, in long form.

What is an unhealthy marriage

Here too, I will have to give my own definition and hope that it agrees with yours. If not, you can feel free to share yours and to even disagree silently.

Marriages were meant to be happy, life long experiences between one man and one woman. In commenting on marriage, one author had this to say:

Eve was created from a rib taken from the side of Adam, signifying that she was not to control him as the head, nor to be trampled under his feet as an inferior, but to stand by his side as an equal, to be loved and protected by him. A part of man, bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh, she was his second self, showing the close union and the affectionate attachment that should exist in this relation. “For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it.” Ephesians 5:29. “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one.” Patriarchs and Prophets pg 46 p2

But I think that we are all aware that in the majority of cases, this is not so. In fact, if and where happy marriages exist, they are the exception, not the rule.

Am I saying that your marriage is unhealthy? You decide.

In my estimation, an unhealthy marriage is one where abuse exists in various forms and there is precious little being done to rectify the situation. Most if not all of the basics are missing, with the partners staying together for reasons such as: what would people say, the children and religion.

Persons going through such a situation have little desire to spend time with each other and most times toxic, even to other people. Their stress levels go up and they lash out at others when triggered by something that the person does because their spouse does it too.

They think their situation hopeless, and live with a deep longing to escape it but have other strong reasons to stay.

Some things that makes it unhealthy

What are the basics? In no order of priority;

  • Communication – this is one of the essentials to a good and thriving marriage. And it should not be superficial, dealing with the mundane things of life. If there is one place where persons should be comfortable to delve into the depths of their emotions in comfort, it should be within the marriage relationship. Each partner should give the other the assurance that they can be vulnerable with them and not have to have it thrown in their faces later on.
  • Love – opens the door for all the other good things. Where it exists and is practical, any situation can be faced in confidence and together. The apparently impossible can be made possible when love is the foundation of the marriage.
  • Forgiveness – springs from love and is a component of it. So you cannot love and refuse to forgive. And your forgiveness must be communicated to your partner both in word and action. It also removes anger, spite and the desire for revenge, all of which can be found in an unhealthy marriage
  • Spirituality – must be present in each partner. I define this as a working relationship with God, where His directives for each person is paramount. Under such circumstances, even if one person falls short, the other does not necessarily follow because above all, is his allegiance to God.

The absence of these – and this is not exhaustive, you may be able to add to the list – would contribute to the onset of other problems in the marriage.

This can be compared to the immune system of the body. If it is compromised, any disease can infect the body. Then the person has to decide to continue to live with the disease, while perhaps controlling it, or to seek to completely remove it.

So in an effort to supply what is missing from the relationship, they turn to others.

There’s nothing wrong with having someone upon whom you can lean in a trying time, the danger however, is that you may most likely end up doing much more than leaning.

So there is poor communication at home, but you know someone with whom you can speak endlessly, and you begin to talk. Things are innocent at first, you just enjoy each other’s company and the healthy, meaningful, deep conversations that you can carry on. As a matter of fact, you both can talk for hours on end without tiring or running out of things to discuss.

This progresses to personal that gets deeper and more private as the friendship blossoms. Intimate sentiments are shared and the situation at home is discussed.

Before you realize it, you and your friend are behaving in the way that you and your spouse should have been behaving. You don’t pull back however, because you tell yourself that this is what you have been looking for all along. It is what you deserve, why end it?

The marriage’s immune system has been compromised and now it is infected with a life threatening disease.

Like the body’s defense system, your spouse tries to defend the relationship, but the methods used, instead of killing off the infection, strengthens it. The marriage is now even more unhealthy than at the start. Choices have to be made.

Healthy marriage

There is no marriage that is 100% healthy. As long as we live in this sin filled world, all relationships will have issues. Some however, will have fewer issues than some.

If you are single and reading this, you may be wondering if it makes any sense to get married. I know of people who look at other people’s marriage and because it is unhealthy or dead, decide that they are not going to get married.

Let me assure you that you can have a healthy marriage. It all depends on the preparation you make before marriage and the care with which you choose your spouse. While marriage is desirable, it is not something to rush into quickly.

I recall admonishing one of my brothers when he was contemplating marriage to treat it like purchasing a piece of cloth with which he wanted to make a suit. In the same way that you would carefully examine that cloth for any defects in manufacture or stains and so forth, the person you would like to unite yourself with should be examined. Look at her character and determine if you can live with her for the rest of your life.

Just as you would reject the piece of cloth if there were defects in it, just so you should turn away from someone in whom you find traits that you cannot live with. Some people love boisterous, bubbly people, while others like those who will sit quietly and give them a lot of attention. You need to know you. That way you can choose wisely.

Even after that, a happy marriage is a work of a lifetime. An error that is often made in marriage, is to relax after the wedding ceremony. We conclude that we have gotten the object of our desire, so we can just lie back and all will be well. Wrong.

Every day, effort must be put in to sustain your marriage, just as you would feed your body the right foods to maintain its health and keep the immune system working at its peak.

But you know what, when you truly love your spouse, it’s easy. You find a joy in doing it and you relish the pleasure that you see on your spouse’s face when they express delight over what you said or did.

It also challenges them to reciprocate. Before you know it, reciprocity is flying back and forth and you are having a grand time in your marriage.

Can you make it healthy

So if in your estimation, your marriage is unhealthy, is it possible to turn it around and make it healthy? If this is what you desire, what can be done to bring about that change?

To make and keep it healthy, effort must be put in. If the relationship has become unhealthy and you desire to restore it, serious, intense work must be done.

For the married, both persons should be willing to face each other and communicate clearly and honestly. The cause of the breakdown should be freely examined with each person being able to freely express themselves without seeking to offend the other. The partner should also not easily take offense.

If you think that you cannot handle it on your own, then here is a great source of help.

Here’s my answer then

So, should you stay in an unhealthy marriage. I say no. Why should you? No one wants to be unhappy and walking on egg shells all day long or for the rest of your life.

Should you leave then? Well that’s up to you? It would be foolish of me to sit here, not know your situation and prescribe a marriage treatment for you.

But I would ask you this; have you tried all that you can to preserve and restore your marriage to health? Is there anything else that you can do? Do you want to heal your marriage? What is your spouse’s position?

I’ll also ask, what is the disease that is destroying your marriage? Can it be cured? Is invasive surgery needed and are you willing to have that surgery done? Are you alone in wanting to save your marriage or are you both committed?

There is a marriage coach that says that he can help you save your marriage even if you are the only one that wants to do so. Maybe you should reach out to him.

God allows you to dissolve your marriage for one unhealthy condition only, adultery. He says that any other disease condition does not give you the grounds for divorce. So you have to examine your situation and make your decision.

If however, you find that the state of your marriage is such that even though adultery is absent, there are other issues that seem incurable, you are allowed to separate. This separation however, does not free you, in His sight, to marry again. If you do, then the person to whom you get married and you are both committing adultery.

You therefore have to decide for yourself. Is it worth it to stay? If I stay, will I work on improving the health of my marriage or will I just go through the rest of my life in pain?

If you are a praying soul, I suggest that you make this a subject of intense prayer. God will work it out with you. I pray that your decision would be the right one.

What do you think about what was shared here? I would be happy to hear your thoughts. Please share them with me in the space provided. All the best to you.


  1. Justin - Reply

    Hello Russell, you have brought to a real serious topic and should be saved with all sincerity. Marriages are a very beautiful thing and knowing its a lifetime commitment you’ll have to be very careful about the decisions you make. Staying in an unhealthy marriage is a bad idea and I wouldn’t advise anyone to do it. Your happiness matters 

  2. Bruce - Reply

    Thanks for taking time to put together this interesting article, it very important that one take caution when it comes to marriage, I mean choosing a life partner or dealing in a marriage you’re already into. It is not healthy to stay in such marriage that I not giving you peace of mind. 

  3. Suz - Reply

    This is a question on the lips of many ladies out there and the truth is that many people do not know that their relationship is going to be an unhealthy one until they are already in the marriage. I believe that it is nothing but a bad facade and one should know to get out of it. The earlier one is able to get out of it, the better.

    • Russiossi - Reply

      Except that that may lead to the breakup of almost every marriage cotracted. In my view, each case should be decided individually, and not hastily or without seeking to find a solution to what is causing the problem.

  4. Beesean - Reply

    I think it’s very hard to find ourselves distant from people that we’ve loved for a long time and opened up a part of yourself to, but when it comes to marriage, this makes it even harder. Nevertheless it is always important to know when it is time to go and do what’s best for yourself as being in an unhealthy marriage won’t make you happy. 

  5. Grace Paul - Reply

    I believe that if two people love each other they can with God’s help get through anything. There marriage can become stronger if both wants the marriage.
    A woman that loves her husband would forgive anything. In spite of wrong doing a woman likes to feel loved, cared for, a hug, squeeze, a kiss, knowing that in spite of you are loved makes all the difference in the world. Actions speaks louder than words.
    Make God the center of your life and miracles will happen.

  6. Ann - Reply

    This has been a meaningful post to me. I thank you so much for writing it. There are so many aspects inside a marriage that I completely agree with you, no marriage is perfect. But there are certainly lines that are indicators of where things are heading. It’s good to have those constantly checked.

  7. John - Reply

    Hi Russell,
    I have experienced SEVERAL marriages myself where I rushed in and made a poor decision to get Married to another for various reasons, i.e. too young, needy, etc…
    Staying in an unhappy Marriage of course is bad, and the Bible actually has scripture that tells you WHEN it is OK to leave. I believe other than that reason, couples CAN work it out and be just as happy as the use to be if they are spiritually right, as God does not give you ore than you can handle and seek ye first the kingdom of God and ALL these things will be added unto you! Love and blessings to you!

    • Russell - Reply

      Thank you John, and yes, the Bible does guide us as to when it would be ok to leave an unhealthy marriage. It would be so much better though, if at the first sign of malady in the marriage, the couple seek help – either by taking the time to sit and discuss openly and without judgement, what the problem is.

  8. Bogadi - Reply

    Hey Russel

    Thank you for raising this important question , marriage can be beautiful and it can also be a pain. i guess marriage by itself is precious, it then depends on the parties involved, what they want out of it. It should not only be about what they want but there should be a commitment to that I wouldnt advise anyone to stay in a toxic marriage but all possible options should be explored because divorce can be more costly 

  9. ccav66 - Reply

    This was a great article. Would I stay in an unhealthy marriage my answer would be no. I did try to at one point in my life but I realized after a while that I was staying for all the wrong resaons. It is unfair to both parties involved. We went from being the best of friends to strangers almost overnight because of no communication. Communication is one of the most important aspects to any relationship and when it is gone both parties have to decide.

    • Russiossi - Reply

      You have stated it so correctly. Lack of communication can irrepairably destroy the best of relationships. Yet many refuse to communicate because the fear being known and at times judged.

      • Russell - Reply

        And yet it is only through good communication that we would be able to work out the differences between us and have a better marriage. So it is important to, even before taking that step, that we develop real trust with eachvother.

  10. sally meheilal - Reply

    All of us expect our marriage to be the most wonderful and amazing union between two people who are in love thats why we get married in the first place but somewhere somehow along the way its not what we expected it to be. Sometimes feelings change,there is lack of communication or even the simply fact of growing apart etc.But the question is what do we do? throw it all away or try hard to make it work because remember we were once in love so much that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together forever…

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