7 Strategies For Saving An Unhappy Marriage

Couple realizing the benefits of the work they put into saving an unhappy marriage.

Saving an unhappy marriage takes tremendous commit & a willingness to work hard on your own issues.

The bliss of “dating/engagement/wedding” is hardly a trustworthy predictor of a marriage’s success post-Honeymoon Phase. Saving an unhappy marriage may not be on a wedding-day radar, but it sometimes becomes the unexpected goal not too far into the marriage.

Anyone who has ever aspired to grow-old-together love has witnessed at least one iconic couple so interwoven at a soul level that the partners are veritably “one.” They speak and move in unison, respond with impeccable timing, and somehow, inexplicably, look alike.

The deeply-entrenched love of elderly couples who have been together almost their entire lives can be so inextricable that the spouses can’t live without one another. Literally. The stories of spouses dying within months, weeks, even hours of one another are so poignantly common that they have their own name: the widowhood effect.

Whether these beacons of hope are grandparents, friends or movie characters, their mastery of commitment gives witnesses pause to consider their “tricks.”

Were they always this happy? Did they ever fall on tough times? Did they ever get bored or angry with one another? And did they ever have to worry about saving an unhappy marriage?

Relationships are organic in the sense that they are always in motion. Even stagnancy bears an undertow of change. Love relationships course through different forms of love. Many are to be expected – the giddy stage of romance, the power-struggle stage, the sunset years.

Most couples, however, commit during the romantic stage of love when they are marinating in matchmaking brain chemicals and hormones. They see all that is perfect and possible, and brush off the negatives like dandruff off a shoulder.

Give them a couple years, however, and that chemistry starts to wane. Suddenly reality sets in, and, even if the spouses aren’t incompatible, they don’t “recognize” their relationship. It doesn’t look or feel as it did early in their relationship.

They have power struggles, and the discomfort is often mistaken for unhappiness and/or boredom. They fight to “get back to where they once were” instead of embracing the course of love and working together to keep it vital.

Suddenly they are second-guessing their decision to marry and wondering if it is worth saving an unhappy marriage. Because they don’t recognize where they are in their relationship, they may be convinced there is nothing to do to save the marriage. And not having the “feeling of being in love” can cast a dread on the prospect of working on their commitment.

Some couples, of course, allow years to go by while negative emotions fester and morph into contempt, criticism and defensiveness. According to marriage expert Dr. John Gottman, couples wait an average of six years before seeking help for their issues. Perhaps one or both partners believes they shouldn’t (or don’t) need help at all.

So the big question is: Is saving an unhappy marriage possible? And if so, how?

The answer is a cautious “yes.” The caution is because the success of saving a marriage is contingent on the commitment of the partners to…well…save their commitment. Surprisingly, if even one person in the relationship is committed to growth, change and working together, there can be great hope for the marriage.

Here are 7 strategies for saving an unhappy marriage:

  1. Seek help early.

    Don’t wait for those negative emotions and behaviors to take root. It is far easier to guide couples in developing compassionate communication skills than it is to untangle resentment that has had plenty of time to deepen.
  2. Learn to listen.
    This is so important no matter how silly it sounds. It is so easy when falling in love to hear what you want to hear, and to move forward in the spirit of everything being rosy.

    But too often people don’t know how to truly listen – to themselves or to their spouses. They get lost in blame and a need to be right, and fail to hear with their hearts.

    Everyone has triggers, fears, and painful memories. By learning to communicate those deeper realities with responsible expression and compassionate reception, intimacy and love grow. Too many relationships are lost simply because people don’t feel heard.

  3. Prioritize your marriage.Saving an unhappy marriage takes work. And making that investment can seem like a contradiction in terms if one or both of you is really. 

    But if you are committed to making your marriage work, you will need to infuse it with dedicated time and energy. Even ten minutes a day that are completely devoted to emotionally connecting with your spouse can work wonders. Remember the power of listening discussed above.

  4. Replace the “divorce” mindset with a “marriage” mindset.
    This is a decision that you are going to choose your thoughts.

    Remember that you didn’t get to this place overnight, and you’re not going to get out of it overnight, either. Take the time to rediscover the reasons you got married in the first place. And repeat them and expand on them…over and over. As you work from this commitment mindset, you will likely discover new reasons to add to the list.

  5. Work on yourself with no expectations of your spouse.
    Yes, the objective here is for both spouses to be committed to the recovery of the marriage. But your work can’t be contingent on your spouse’s. That may seem like a big risk – and it is. “What if I do xyz, and s/he doesn’t do her/his part?” Yep. Could happen. Or maybe you won’t both evolve or “get it” at the same time.

    But if the character and behavior traits you are working on are all positive traits, how can you lose? And if you start growing and demonstrating the results, your spouse may take notice and begin to change, as well. Either way…do your own work.

  6. Take responsibility.
    This can be so difficult, especially if your spouse has done something that you believe is more egregious than anything you have done. But relationships are always a common ground where two people come to work out their lives by learning, struggling and growing.

    There is always responsibility on both sides. Owning up to yours will help to diffuse defensiveness on the other side while sharpening your self-awareness and -accountability. That goes for the little things as well as the big things.

  7. Be transparent and accountable.
    Leave your pride at the door. Transparency and accountability require self-reflection and an examination of your thoughts, behaviors and intentions. There is no room for convenient omissions of details and information.

    Your goal needs to be bringing you and your spouse onto the same page. Your intentions, therefore, need to be pure and for the good of the relationship. Your personal commitment to this – especially if you have violated your spouse’s trust – will speak volumes about your commitment to the good of your relationship going forward.

Saving an unhappy marriage is a commitment to a lot of hard work. But assuming that the marriage is not abusive and you can still see through the clouds of misery to the memory of loving light coming through, there is hope.

Seeking help for saving an unhappy marriage can help define areas that need work, while giving you tools for working on them. It’s amazing how the “impossible” becomes “possible” when problems are identified and a plan of action is made to overcome them.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a life and divorce coach helping people just like you who are looking for advice and support about how best to handle an unhappy marriage. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. And, if you’re ready, you can take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach by scheduling a private consultation.

Looking for more ideas for what to do about your unhappy marriage? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Unhappy Marriage.

How To Get Over A Divorce After A Long Marriage

Man sitting alone and wondering how to get over a divorce after a long marriage.

These 8 suggestions will help you discover how to get over a divorce after a long marriage.

After being married for a while, it’s natural to begin identifying yourself in the context of marriage and family. So, knowing how to get over a divorce after a long marriage would therefore be as unnatural as forgetting your role as wife, mother, husband, father.

If you have been married long enough to start celebrating your precious-metal anniversaries, you may be part of the “gray divorce revolution.” Even if you are still on the road to 25, being married long enough to raise children to adulthood will make a divorce feel much the same as a gray divorce.

According to Pew Research Center, divorce rates from 1990-2015 showed a surprising age-dependent trend. While the divorce rates declined among those 25-39 (-21%), and slightly increased (+14%) for those 40-49, it more than doubled (109%) for those over 50, and tripled for those over 65.

Even though the rate of divorce is still almost twice as high for those under 50 as for those 50 and over, the trend is alarming, if not interestingly revealing.

Sometimes gray divorce is the result of empty nest syndrome. Sometimes it falls to indiscretion by one or both partners. Sometimes it is just a reflection of the easy access to and social acceptance of divorce.

Whatever impetus pulls the plug, knowing how to get over a divorce after a long marriage is rarely as easy as signing away the union.

Especially for those who are shell-shocked by a partner’s decision to divorce late in the marriage, the loss can feel like a death. And the depth of pain, anger and bitterness can both come as a surprise and stunt the healing process.

If you find yourself in this growing population of those divorcing later in life, you may feel empty, confused, and even needy. It’s only natural to hunger to feel loved and wanted again.

It’s also natural to feel overwhelmed by the new pragmatics of your life — financial, professional, custodial, residential.

If you are wondering how to get over a divorce after a long marriage, consider the following practical and emotionally-targeted suggestions:

  • Don’t spend your energy on blame.
    Not toward yourself, and not even toward your ex. There can be a fine line between “responsibility” and “blame,” but only one of them carries the potential for growth. Think about what led to the divorce, including your role in it. But don’t allow blame to consume you.
  • Remember that you are not alone.
    Boy, at times you’ll be convinced you’re nothing but alone! The better part of your life has been spent melding into a oneness with someone who is no longer there. You may wonder if your friends and acquaintances love you as “you,” or you as “married you.”

    But pause and consider that your ex is not the only one who has claimed love for you. And some of those people carry the unconditional, “forever” kind of love.

    Some may also even cherish the opportunity to reconnect with you on terms not dependent on your ex’s limitations. Seek them out. Let them in. “Alone time” doesn’t have to equal “being alone.”

  • Build a loving circle around your heart.
    If your social life doesn’t embrace and support your new life with compassion and sensitivity, step away from it.

    Facebook and other social media can be more damning than kind, so don’t be afraid to hit “delete” or at least “pause.” The last thing you need is to have your face rubbed in all the anniversary and Valentine’s Day wish-wash of your seemingly no-problems Facebook friends.

  • Let the real you shine through.
    Remember who you are. You, not “you-+-one.”

    You may be long past being the kid you were in college or when you first married, but there are indelible treasures that have always defined you. Reconnecting with that constancy can be a great emotional security. It can also help teach you how to get over a divorce after a long marriage.

    Knowing that the best of who you have always been is still there is like having an automatic best friend in your corner.

  • Minimize.While divorce is, by its very nature, a sort of minimizing, clinging to everything you can may work against you. One of the bravest actions you can take is to let go of things that keep you steeped in painful memories and old habits.

    Leaving a home that you bought or built together can feel like leaving your heart on the curb. But remaining in it will likely prevent you from fully moving on.

    Physically downsizing is one of the best tangible exercises in clearing room for your life and heart to be filled again…in ways you choose to fill them. Dare to go small for a while. More “stuff” just means more clutter. More space just means more cleaning. Your focus needs to be on healing. You’ll thank yourself, trust me.

  • Get real about your finances.
    Even before the divorce, it is imperative that you have a thorough and detailed grip on your assets and debts. What used to fund one household now has to fund two, and that may mean a return to the workforce. If you and your ex are already retired, you may be on a fixed income or living off investments.

    Frighteningly, gray-divorced women are disproportionately at risk of living in poverty. A financial advisor is a worthwhile investment prior to finalizing your divorce. A clear perspective, even with a tough swallow, will take one more potential surprise out of the picture and help you to move forward with clarity and direction.

  • Consider a bold, new living arrangement.
    An increasing percentage of baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) are living as singles. Many chose not to marry, and many have divorced and chosen not to remarry. That means an evolving approach to living arrangements for the aging population.

    We all remember The Golden Girls, and women across their viewing audience have long held their progressive arrangement close to heart for future reference. And now there is a company that will actually help you create your own house-of-friendship. No surprise here, it is aptly called Golden Girls Network.


  • Find your peeps.Join a group or two that draws you into your interests and out of your shell. It’s an ideal, invigorating way to feel loved and wanted without needing to re-enter the dating arena sooner than you are ready to.

Just as with grief, there is no two-point way to get over a divorce after a long marriage. You will likely feel “unidentified” for a while, and wonder how you ended up here and what is left to look forward to.

Adverse situations always call upon our choice of perspective to be our compass. Stepping out of a long marriage into a life of singlehood, a young workforce and an underfunded retirement account can sound terrifying. But it can also open countless doors to new adventures and a happier sense of self.

Step forward with faith and hope, and embrace the grace of the present. Today always holds more promise than yesterday.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. If you would like additional help in getting over your divorce, I can help. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. And, if you’re ready, you can take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach by scheduling a private consultation.

Looking for more information about getting over your divorce after a long marriage? Check out the other articles in Healing After Divorce.

The 6 Challenges Of Co-Parenting vs Parallel Parenting

This girl doesn’t care about co-parenting vs parallel parenting, she just wants her parents’ love.

How you parent after divorce has a lot to do with how well you’ve healed from your divorce.

Even divorce can’t excise an unwanted ex from your life if there are children left to be raised. Sole custody vs co-parenting vs parallel parenting — the child-rearing component can be the most harrowing aspect of a marital split.

Ideally the parting adults would be just that: adults. They would recognize that their personal inability to co-exist in a marriage should not preclude their ability to be good parents. And they would be up for the task of behaving and communicating accordingly.

They would be unequivocally committed to the welfare and happiness of their children, even at the cost of their own comfort and convenience. They would never fight in front of, let alone through their children. And their children would have strong, healthy relationships with both parents

But alas, we know that is far from the norm. Children of divorce grow up steeped in the influences and effects of their parents’ actions. And their parents often don’t recognize their own influence until the damage has been done.

While sole custody is relatively rare, there are reasons that it is in the best interest of a child. More often than not, some form of joint custody is established, with a variety of possible physical and decision-making arrangements.

The decision of the court when establishing a joint custody arrangement is based, in large part, on the expressed willingness and ability of the divorcing parents to co-parent. And therein lies the motivation for co-parenting vs parallel parenting.

There is no question that children of divorce do better — as both youths and adults — when they have positive and mutually respected relationships with both parents. That is perhaps the greatest reason that sole custody isn’t the first choice of custodial arrangements.

Co-parenting, however, relies on healthy communication between parents. It also relies on respect from each parent for the child’s relationship with the other parent. Those who co-parent well are able to rise above their personal anger and bitterness that may be left unresolved from the marriage. Their focus is on their children, and that focus dictates their communication and behavior.

Co-parenting vs parallel parenting comes down to the ability of divorced or estranged parents to put the kids first.

Parallel parenting is a means of co-parenting for parents who don’t have what it takes to co-parent well. Quite a mouthful! But the gist of it is that divorced parents co-parent by disengaging. Call it a version of “agree to disagree.” They both want a relationship with their children, and they agree to let those relationships play out without interference from one another.

In parallel parenting, the parents remain fully connected to the children, though disengaged from one another. They usually agree on major decisions regarding the upbringing of the children (religion, education, medical), but separately decide the day-to-day logistics. The overriding reason for this arrangement is to decrease conflict and move forward.

Below are the 6 primary challenges of co-parenting vs parallel parenting:

  1. The role of conflict.
    Obviously an everybody-happy co-parenting arrangement is ideal. Even Mrs. Doubtfire prevailed in the long run, to the benefit and happiness of everyone involved.

    But some exes simply can’t get past their animosity, their hurt, and even their stark differences in parenting styles. They couldn’t communicate while married, and they can’t communicate now.

    The danger to their children isn’t that they don’t get along; it’s the children’s exposure to the fighting that is so damaging. Conflict is the greatest source of post-divorce anguish for children, and witnessing it has lasting effects.

  2. Making a plan.
    Because the underlying premise of parallel parenting is that parents will not be communicating directly, the initial plan needs to be tediously laid out. Both parties need to know exactly how they are going to “communicate without communicating,” and what the rules are going to be.

    The higher the level of conflict, the greater the degree of structure and specificity required.

  3. Mutual respect.
    Co-parenting works only when both parents support the other and respect the other’s relationship with the children. In this arrangement, children have the right to maintain a stable relationship with both parents.
  4. Communication
    Because co-parenting relies on parents putting the children first, communication needs to be plentiful and cooperative.

    In parallel parenting, however, communication is kept very impersonal and business-like, with all information relating only to the children. Schedules may be shared via calendars or emails, but not directly.

  5. Giving up control.
    In parallel parenting, both parents have to give up trying to control the other side. This can be both challenging and liberating, as each parent is left to parent as s/he sees fit, with collaboration only on major issues.
  6. Kids change.
    Schedules that are firmly structured can pose challenges for kids of different ages. Frequent shifts between homes can be tough on small kids, while older kids seek more flexibility and independence.

The challenges of co-parenting vs parallel parenting are not without their pay-off. Both arrangements, despite their differences in execution, have the same purpose at heart. Their goal is to protect a child’s relationship with both parents, while shielding him/her from the parents’ conflict.

And, in the case of parallel parenting, there is often an unexpected upside: Sometimes the passage of time, with separation and non-interference, leads to restored trust and cooperative interaction between once-sworn enemies. And that lays the groundwork for healthy co-parenting.

No matter what custodial arrangement is implemented, the ultimate indication of its success is the sense of security and psychological adjustment of the kids. When they witness their parents “behaving” and cooperating, kids grow up to have better communication and conflict-resolution skills. And that means healthier relationships long after the dust of their parents’ divorce has settled.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people navigate parenting post-divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.

Looking for more information about dealing with parenting after divorce? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Coparenting.

10 Tips For Co-Parenting Without Power Struggles

Father and son who have learned the benefits of co-parenting without power struggles.

Co-parenting without power struggles is more than a nice idea. It’s a must for your kid’s happiness.

Power struggles are often one of the reasons people divorce. But when children are involved, that push-and-pull has to stop.

Co-parenting without power struggles is more than just a nice idea. It’s something that has to happen if your children are going to survive the family break-up with any sort of normalcy and healthy development.

Ideally, co-parents approach the arrangement as an equal partnership in raising their children. Both adults contribute financially, emotionally, and with physical presence. They abide by their divorce and custody decree, communicate openly and civilly, and leave onlookers wondering why they ever divorced in the first place.

But the picture is rarely painted in such bright, unicorns-and-rainbows colors. More often than not, divorced co-parents are hanging onto unresolved marital issues. And insofar as they have to stay connected because of the kids, they battle the remaining issues out on the parenting field.

Common experiences of single co-parents include:

  • lack of consistency
  • fighting
  • resentment
  • power struggles and power plays
  • disrespecting boundaries
  • jealousy over an ex’s new love interest
  • time mismanagement
  • conditional support
  • financial irresponsibility and/or one-sidedness
  • differences in parenting values
  • disparagement of one parent by the other to the children

Co-parenting without power struggles may seem like a tall order after looking at that list. And in reality, it is — if only in the sense that it calls upon adults to…well…act as adults. No matter what their “adult” issues are, their children have to come first. Unequivocally. Non-negotiably.

And in that regard — assuming that both parents are wholeheartedly committed to the highest good of their children — divorce can actually evoke the best in two people who couldn’t be the best of themselves in their marriage.

But what if only one parent is committed to co-parenting without power struggles? How is it possible to achieve a two-sided effort when only one parent is onboard?

No matter what, children learn from and emulate the behavior of adults, and especially their parents. Even if only one parent is aware and willing to behave as a responsible co-parent, the children can still benefit in their formative and longitudinal development.

The ability to co-parent without power struggles assumes that the situation is not impaired by an unfit parent, parental alienation, or an uncooperative/unreliable/controlling parent.

Even if there are acrimonious feelings left over from your marriage, as parents you can still rise above yourselves and focus on being good parents who cooperate for the welfare of your kids.

Below are 10 tips for co-parenting without power struggles:

  1. You can’t change your ex.

    If you could, you probably wouldn’t have divorced. The only person you can control and/or change is yourself. So keep your side of the street clean, be an example of responsible behavior to your ex and kids, and keep your focus where you actually have control.

  2. Keep the marriage out of parenting.

    You’re not married to one another anymore, so don’t drag your unresolved issues into what remains: parenting your children.

    Find a counselor, talk with friends, do what you have to do to get to a tolerable acceptance of your marital issues. But keep it away from your kids, and commit to providing a united front for their good.

  3. Focus on your kids’ needs, not your own.

    Obviously, you have to honor yourself and practice self-care in order to be a healthy parent. But in terms of co-parenting, the litmus test of all decisions, both individual and collective, ultimately comes down to the needs of the children. Not their wants, necessarily, but their needs and highest good.

  4. Never fight in front of the kids.

    Period.

  5. Never speak negatively about the other parent in front of the kids.

    Period.

  6. Document.

    Instead of risking a he-said-she-said fallout when your ex shows up late for the umpteenth time, or skips a child support payment, or conveniently forgets an agreement, keep a record.

    This doesn’t have to be something that is spiteful or intended to be held against your ex. It’s just a lot easier to prove your case or resolve an issue with receipts, timestamps of phone calls, etc. If everyone is holding up his/her end of the deal, all that proof can collect dust somewhere. But at least it’s available.

  7. Choose your battles.

    Remember that good parenting, like anything else, exists on a continuum. Just because two people do things differently doesn’t mean one is “right” and one is “wrong,” or that one is “good” and one is “bad.”

    Embrace those differences that broaden your child’s perspectives and life experiences, and learn to let little things go if they aren’t detrimental and habitual. And most importantly, be aware of whether or not you are involved in a power struggle, and do your part to bring the focus back to the kids.

  8. Have back-up.

    It takes a village — it really does — so always be building one. Don’t rely solely on the other parent. Both of you should have a support system that cares about you and your children, and on whom you can rely.

  9. Establish fair boundaries.

    It’s only natural that single parents are going to miss their children when they go with the other parent — especially early in the divorce. But remember that a break-up is devastating to children on countless levels, and their closest sense of “family” is having a healthy relationship with both parents.

    Both parents need their children, and children need both their parents. Be kind to your ex (and generous with visitation) and you will inevitably be kind to your children.

  10. Be an example.

    It can be so difficult to be responsible and reliable when you feel alone as a do-gooder. But co-parenting without power struggles depends on each and both co-parents being self-aware and self-accountable, even when the task seems more one-sided than fair.

    In those moments when you want to scream, “Why should I…when you don’t…?” remember who is watching…and learning. That’s who needs to witness the example you set.

Divorce is hard enough, especially when two people part with stewing, unresolved bitterness. Having to co-parent children can feel like a test of your already stomped-on spirit. You may not want to share the same planet with your ex, let alone what you love most — your children.

But by shifting your perspective, you can actually embrace co-parenting — without power struggles — as an opportunity to ensure that your children grow up happy and healthy, reflecting the best qualities of both their parents.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people navigate co-parenting without power struggles. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.

Looking for more information about dealing with parenting after divorce? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Coparenting.