Living in an unhappy marriage can be miserable. But what if it doesn’t have to be?
Marriage is an enormous commitment, one that occupies a huge part of your life. A happy marriage can mean you have a partner to share your life with and experience together all the joys and hardships that come with it.
If your married life isn’t happy, however, it’s a whole different story. Living in an unhappy marriage and finding happiness and fulfillment in your day-to-day can be challenging.
So, just what can you do if you choose to stay in your marriage even though it’s not the bliss you’d hoped for?
Being unhappy in your marriage is different from being dissatisfied with your life. Unfortunately, many people confuse the two.
Some clear hallmarks of an unhappy marriage include:
- absence of loving behavior
- lack of respect between partners
- devaluing of one another
- chronic communication problems
- unaddressed and unhealed wounds from infidelity, trauma, or loss
- clear divide in family values and priorities
- any level of verbal, emotional, or physical abuse
Unhappy marriages aren’t uncommon — just look at the most recent divorce rates. Yet for each couple that decides to divorce, several others decide not to and stick it out despite the unhappiness.
And some even make improvements to their marriage.
Things to do to stay in an unhappy marriage
Just like holding your breath allows you to swim underwater while keeping in oxygen, going into a “mode” while staying in an unhappy marriage can help you keep swimming.
You can make a practice of these three approaches to persevere:
Staying in an unhappy marriage is a very personal decision. And as long as the marriage isn’t abusive and partners are reasonably respectful of one another, it can actually work for some couples.
If abuse is involved, survival may mean separation
There are several types of abuse. If you’re surviving one of them right now, it may be helpful to know that you have support and that separation may be your wisest option, no matter what you’ve been told. Here are resources you can reach out to right now:
- The United Nations Critical Incident Stress Management Unit provides help across the globe through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- In the United States, you can get anonymous and confidential support from the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or 800-787-3224 (TTY).
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline also features an online chat as well as text option, by typing “START” to 88788.
If your marriage is unhappy but you’re not ready to leave, you’re not alone. People often feel like staying together is the best choice for a variety of reasons. The top three tend to be:
Here are a few ways to stay positive, stay strong, and cope in an unhappy marriage.
One of the most painful things about an unhappy marriage is holding onto the expectation that things will change. Detachment means to emotionally withdraw from your partner. Think of it as moving into the roommate zone.
When you practice detachment, you let go of that expectation and the effect all the frustrations and annoyances have on you.
You engage in all the routine family, household, and financial issues, but no longer allow yourself to get drawn into the emotional turmoil of disagreements or heartache of unmet expectations.
One woman I counseled gave an example of detachment by saying she was no longer allowing her husband to make her cry.
“You just exist together and kind of ignore each other,” she said. The truth is, this is the state many marriages end up in without even trying.
Although this certainly isn’t the future you’d hoped for on your wedding day, detachment could protect you from distress, anxiety, and emotional overwhelm.
Get your groove back
The state of your marriage affects everything.
By detaching from feelings of unhappiness, you can start to shift your focus to things that actually do make you happy and start developing areas of your life you may have neglected.
You can rediscover and possibly redefine yourself. This could mean:
- becoming the best parent possible
- performing well at work
- developing closer friendships
- taking better care of yourself
These are just a few ways reconnect with yourself while staying in an unhappy marriage. You may try to refocus on all the things that make you feel better about the person you are.
One of the things that can happen in any long-term relationship is the morphing from two autonomous individuals into a single-minded unit. In other words, you lose yourself as a whole person and become half of this other entity.
If the entity becomes dysfunctional, one or both halves share in this dysfunction.
The great thing about seeking couples therapy is that the professional looks at the unit and each individual part with objectivity and provides practical tools based on evidence-based research.
If your partner is unwilling to go, no problem. Seeking therapy on your own could help you restore your perspective, your peace, and a healthy version of your former autonomous self.
It’s very easy to blame the relationship — or more precisely your spouse — when you’re feeling unhappy.
But sometimes the unhappiness attributed to the marriage actually comes from other areas of life, such as:
- perceived failures
- feeling overburdened
- financial distress
- unrealized dreams
- life transition
In order to give your marriage a fair shake, you might consider how other things may factor in and whether the marriage itself is really the sole issue.
If upon reflection you’re certain that you really are living in an unhappy marriage, it may be time to determine the next best steps for your personal happiness and the health of your family.
Finding your way through the pain of an unhappy marriage rather than divorcing, seeking professional help, and relearning how to create your own happiness may even help you and your partner find your way back to each other.
There’s not much more attractive and intriguing than a person who’s centered, self-confident, and able to stand alone when needed.
So, if you have chosen to look for ways to stay together and live within your unhappy marriage, take heart. If you work at it, what you find on the other side of the pain could be a stronger you and possibly a renewed relationship.