Fight or Flight? How to Know if Your Relationship is Worth Saving

Posted on December 30, 2013 by VITAL WorkLife

Updated May 13, 2021

For many years "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" has been a signature feature of The Ladies Home Journal magazine. In each column, you read about the problems facing a couple from both the husband's and wife's perspectives and then a description of how counseling saved the relationship. In 2010, the magazine noted that, in the then-57 year history, only five couples had decided to "throw in the towel."

In the real world, the statistics aren't so good. According to the American Psychological Association, more than 90% of people in Western cultures marry by age 50—about 40 to 50% of married couples in the United States divorce. The divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher. (Statistics aren't as readily available for long-term relationships where no formal marriage contract was signed or divorce decree entered.)

While those statistics may seem alarming, it could also be that people are less willing to stay in unhappy relationships. Increasingly the question isn't so much "Can this relationship be saved?" as "Are we willing to do the work necessary to make this relationship work?"

Relationship Risk Factors

How do you know whether a relationship is worth saving? All couples have disagreements and arguments but when conflict is chronic or goes unresolved, marital problems can escalate—particularly when accompanied by other risk factors, including:

  • Financial problems
  • New baby in the home or disagreements about child discipline
  • Differences in the level of commitment
  • Sexual incompatibility
  • Different or unrealistic expectations about marriage
  • Poor communication and problem-solving skills
  • Chronic unresolved life stressors, such as dual career demands

In recent years, technology has added to many couples' problems according to Jody Bertram, senior EAP consultant for VITAL WorkLife. "A couple may stay at home together every night but if they're engaging in an emotional affair on Facebook, surfing the web or playing computer games, they're not really present for each other."

Relationship Success Factors

According to research published by the American Psychological Association, people in good relationships tend to:

  1. Have their own identities—separate from their spouses or partners, as well as parents and siblings
  2. Establish and enjoy a rich and pleasurable sexual relationship and protect it from the intrusions of the workplace and family obligations
  3. Use humor and laughter to keep things in perspective and to avoid boredom and isolation
  4. Nurture and comfort each other, satisfying each partner's needs for dependency and offering continuing encouragement and support
  5. Keep alive the early romantic, idealized images of falling in love while facing the sober realities of the changes wrought by time

"All couples have conflicts," notes Bertram. "Happy couples do a better job of managing conflict and respectfully communicating their needs."

Addressing Relationship Problems: How Your EAP Benefit Can Help

"Counseling has helped many couples to improve their relationships," notes Bertram. "It's unfortunate that many couples don't seek help until one or both partners already has one foot out the door."

Your EAP benefit includes free and confidential professional support services—24 hours a day, 365 days per year—by calling 800.383.1908. Your benefit also includes free, face-to-face counseling with master's- and doctorate-level professionals, including specialists in marriage and relationship counseling, at a time and place convenient for you.

"We're here not only when you want to address problems and conflicts—but also to help you enhance your relationship with your significant other," says Bertram.

Web-Based Work & Life Resources: Free, Unlimited Access

Your EAP benefit also includes unlimited access to a wealth of web-based Work & Life Resources at the VITAL WorkLife website. You'll find helpful articles on relationships, dating, marriage and divorce, including:

  • How to Find Lasting Love: Dating Tips for Finding the Right Person
  • Jealousy in Romantic Relationships
  • The Premarital Toilet Test
  • Building Successful Marriages
  • Dealing with Anger in a Marriage
  • Marital Counseling
  • Check the Pulse Before Pulling the Plug
  • Separated Parents in Dispute
  1. To find these articles, go to, click on member login and enter your user name and password.
  2. On the page that comes up, in the left hand column, click on the "Your Work & Life Resources" button.
  3. In the shaded area at the top of the screen, click on the pull down menu that says "Balancing" and go to "Relationships"

In addition, you have unlimited access to our Legal & Financial website, with good information that can help you with marriage and relationship issues. After you've logged in to, click on the "Legal and Financial Benefits" button. Then, click on "The Law in Your Life" tab on the right, then click the "Family" option to read about divorce vs. legal separation.

Pathways to Well Being Call VITAL WorkLife at 800.383.1908 or access resources through your VITAL WorkLife App

Interested in learning more?

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