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This may seem like an odd question, but have you ever thought about how long you should stay married? The traditional idea, and what you often hear in wedding vows, is “til death do us part.” My parents certainly came from that school of thought. They fought until the bitter end, and then death did indeed separate them into their respective corners (the boxing analogy says it all).

Is this the path you would choose for your own marriage? Would you recommend it to your children? I wouldn’t. Why would you?

When Relationships Go Wrong

Some people in a relationship are like oil and water; they never quite mix. In some cases, they may even be as explosive as gasoline and fire. Regardless, they have their reasons for staying together.

According to Huffington Post, finances are one of the top ten reasons people stay in an unhealthy marriage. (1) It can be daunting to consider not only paying for a divorce, but also dividing all the shared financial interests. Others stay together due to insecurity and fear of succeeding on their own. Then, there are those who have unhealthy mindsets of guilt, over-dependence or manipulation that lock them into bad relationships.

But despite the reason, is it worth it to stay in such a relationship? In my conversations with my parents, elder relatives, and personal and business contacts through the years, I have heard some heart-wrenching stories about people blowing up their marriages when they arrive at the golden years of their life. You would be shocked to know that I have come across situations of murder, suicide, rampant cheating, and plenty of psychological, emotional, and physical abuse.

Sadly, I have no answers or keen insight as to why people stay married and torture each other in this way. But I can identify several principles for living that can prevent your marriage from going down a tragic road. Since I am passionate about martial arts, consider these my tips for marriage self-defense:

1. Never Accept Second-Rate Treatment

No one person is better than another. We all deserve to be treated with respect and kindness as human beings. While there are hierarchies and power dynamics in every relationship, such as inequalities in income and social position, none of these factors makes somebody a lesser person. If somebody starts treating you in this way, correct the situation immediately. Don’t let it become a habit.

2. Commit To Self-Improvement

You won’t become a master at assertiveness or communication overnight. It takes work, sacrifice, and commitment. And it’s not just a question of protecting yourself from bullying; you need to make sure you don’t become a bully yourself and add fuel to the fire. You must find a way to embrace peaceful coexistence in your heart and try to steer your partner to do the same. Any act of self-defense on your part has to be focused on putting an end to the fighting.

3. Be Self-Sufficient

Hopefully, your relationship will work out. But sometimes that doesn’t happen. If you find yourself in that situation, then you need to be prepared to leave and start over. You can do this by having your own money, opening your own accounts, and coming up with a Plan B.  Even if you are in a season of not working or staying home taking care of family responsibilities, you can take steps to put yourself in a position to succeed. Brainstorm ideas of what you could do if you had to end the relationship and start out on your own. Even if you never make the move, having that kind of leverage and confidence could cause your bad apple spouse to back off.

No one wants to think about their relationship imploding, but it does happen. Before things go too far down an unhealthy path, look at ways you could defend yourself and turn the situation around. Examine your life and your future and be excited, not depressed or anxious. Have you been through this? Do you have questions about ways you can protect yourself or set yourself up for a favorable future?

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