How To Fix A Miserable Marriage

Man sitting with his head in his hands wondering how to fix his miserable marriage.

You take your vows anticipating the good, the hopeful, the uncomfortable-but-not-insurmountable conflicts. What you don’t anticipate is struggling to figure out how to fix a miserable marriage. 

And yet, sometimes it’s a slippery slope from happy to just-a-shift-in-priorities to growing apart to unhappy…to miserable.

Would you even know the 12 signs of a bad marriage without reading about them or learning about them in therapy?

Granted, there is an infinite spectrum of subjectively interpreted happiness and unhappiness. And what’s happy/unhappy for one person/couple may not be so for another.

But, if you’re going to learn how to fix a miserable marriage, you need to first recognize the signs of issues you want to “fix.”

Do you know what’s making you miserable? 

Have you and your spouse stopped talking? Do you fight all the time? Or have you stopped fighting altogether?

Has sex become a thing of the past or even something withheld as retribution or an expression of contempt?

Has one of you had sexual indiscretion or begun to push the limits of an emotional affair?

Is there verbal, emotional, or even physical abuse? 

(As always, if you or someone in your home is a victim of domestic violence, please seek help and safety immediately. Here is the link to The National Domestic Violence Hotline.)

If you’re asking how to fix a miserable marriage, you may already have taken the first critical step: deciding that you want to fix your marriage.

Why is that such a big deal? 

Because, by the time you think of your marriage as “miserable,” the thought of getting out of it may seem like the easier option. It may even seem like the better option.

So ask yourself: 

Are you unhappy in part because you’re at a loss for how to repair something you love that is broken?

Or are you unhappy because your marriage has reached the stage of criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling?

Being able to admit that you and your spouse have let your marriage erode is a noble admission. 

And reaching out for help to bring it back to life is actually a humble, hopeful, courageous beginning.

Here, then, are the most important things to know about how to fix a miserable marriage:

  • Stop doing damage.

    There is absolutely no way you can heal a life-threatening wound if you’re busy creating more wounds.

    Stop. Doing. Damage.

    You should both feel the nudge of the “angel on your shoulder” telling you to pull back, stop, bite your tongue.

    There will be times when this kind of surrender will feel sacrificial and one-sided.

    There will be times when you will fail because you won’t even recognize that you’re doing more harm. (But remember, that’s largely how you got here in the first place.)

    Start focusing your energy on looking for your spouse’s responses. Pay attention to the facial expressions, body language, disconnect, even tears in response to your words and actions.

    The information you need to heal the wounds in your relationship, believe it or not, is always right in front of you.

  • Abandon the need to always be right.

    Always having to be right is exhausting. It’s exhausting for the other person, and it’s even exhausting for The Perfect One.

    Very little of what makes relationships work is based on “right or wrong.”

    You can definitely make right or wrong choices in the moment. But sometimes, if the need of the moment calls for you to agree that the sky is green and grass is blue, so be it.

    If you use social media apps like Facebook, you’re probably familiar with the ability to “pin” a post on your page. The purpose is to keep an important post always at the top, regardless of what you may post after it.

    Use this analogy as a visual for your marriage.

    Pretend the value of your marriage and spouse is an important Facebook post. Pin it at the top of your page so it’s always the first thing you consider before you “post” anything else.

    And give yourself a break from needing to be right. Chances are you’re not always right.

    And, unless a life hinges on being right, giving someone else the honors is such a refreshing grace.

  • Get professional help now.

    Don’t wait to bring in the experts.

    There are knowledgeable, experienced, compassionate therapists who spend their lives teaching couples how to fix a miserable marriage.

    They can help you develop healthy communication skills while helping you diffuse the accumulated anger and hurt in a safe way.

    And if your spouse won’t go to couples counseling with you, you can still get the help you need to make sure your side of the street is clean by working with a therapist or coach individually. The beautiful thing about this is that once your behavior changes it becomes easier for your spouse’s behavior to change.

  • Do a personal inventory of your discontent/misery.

    Each of you should do a personal inventory of what your discontent looks like.

    Does one of you feel unloved because of the infrequency of sex?

    Does the other feel unloved because of the lack of help that would build the desire for sex?

    Is there too much stress in your lives?

    Do you suffer from any medical condition that contributes to your marital dissatisfaction?

    Do you feel unheard, unappreciated, unacknowledged, disrespected, unloved?

  • Do a collective inventory of your discontent/misery.

    Besides your personal inventories, there will be the inventory of how you relate as a couple.

    What are you doing to support your marriage? What are you not doing that would help to make it better?

    Did date nights go by the wayside when children came onboard?

    Did you stop talking about the little things because they stopped seeming important?

    Have you lost respect for one another?

    Have you stopped spending time together?

    Have you stopped dreaming about your future as a couple/family?

  • Do an honest inventory of how your unhappy marriage is affecting your children.

    Remember that you aren’t the only ones affected by a miserable marriage.

    If you have children, you have built-in barometers of the discontent.

    Be mindful of the ways your children express their unhappiness and fears.

    Are their grades slipping in school?

    Are they acting out?

    Are they retreating and closing off communication?

    Are they asking unusual questions that imply insecurities about your family?

    Listen to your children with full engagement. And let the love that leads you when listening to them inspire you to listen to your spouse with love too.

  • Spend time remembering and talking about the good parts of your history.

    If you’re wanting to know how to improve a miserable marriage, you must be holding onto the good memories of your relationship.

    This is wonderful!

    Acknowledging what was and is good about your relationship isn’t a denial of what needs to be fixed.

    It’s simply a way to nurture a languishing entity back to life with memories of how you once took great care of it.

    If you can do that, then you’re telling yourselves you have something worth fighting for.

  • Find reasons, times, and ways to infuse kindness, compassion, respect, and love into your communication.

    When you’re miserable, affection is usually the farthest thing from your mind.

    While it’s unrealistic to expect a full resurgence of a happy sex life anytime soon, affection doesn’t have to remain absent.

    You would be amazed what a gentle touch – on your wife’s back, on your husband’s hand – can instill in both of you.

    To come full circle from the first point of “doing no more harm,” finding moments to infuse goodness comes in those “pauses.”

    When you bite your tongue on being snippy or sarcastic, you create a moment, however fleeting, to change course.

    If the Magic Ratio in a healthy relationship is five positive actions for every negative action, how much work do you have to do?

  • Be willing and prepared to forgive…

    yourself, your spouse, the little things, the big things, the harm done, the missed opportunities. Forgive. And don’t forget what it took to get here.

Learning how to fix a miserable marriage when you want to save it is a lot like taking an intensive course in Relationships 101. It’s a return to fundamentals, but with murky water under the bridge.

As long as you still have respect and the memory of love coursing through your relationship, there is hope.

Just remember to pin your marriage at the top of your page.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a life and divorce coach. I help people, just like you, who are struggling with an unhappy or even miserable marriage. For immediate help, you can download your FREE copy of “Contemplating Divorce? Here’s What You Need To Know.” And if you’re interested in working with me personally, you can book an introductory 30-minute private coaching session with me.

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

10 Benefits Of Self-Awareness When Navigating Divorce

Woman giving herself a hug in gratitude for her self-awareness as she navigates divorce.

The benefits of self-awareness may seem out of reach by the time you’re navigating a divorce. But there may be no better time to do some soul-searching and work in the self-awareness department.

“Self-awareness,” “self-help,” “self-esteem,” “self-just-about-anything” – it’s all about self-focus, self-evolution, self-accountability, self-fulfillment.

And they are all convenient, if not self-righteous, buzzwords for our times.

But one of those trendy words blankets all the others and bridges one’s internal standards to one’s thoughts, words, and actions. 

Self-awareness, as the key component of emotional intelligence, is foundational to everything involving the self, its expression, and its role in relationships.

It asks the fundamental questions:

  • How do I see myself? 
  • How do others see me?
  • What do I feel — physically, emotionally — in “x” circumstance? How do I respond or react?
  • Am I in alignment with my own values?
  • What do I need to change in order to be in alignment with my own standards?
  • Can I emotionally detach from myself in order to see and evaluate myself objectively?

It may be a no-brainer to see how self-awareness can improve any relationship (even with yourself) or experience. 

But what about now as you’re going through a divorce? How can the benefits of self-awareness help you through this painful, challenging, life-altering time?

Believe it or not, the same benefits that make leaders and relationships more successful are the same benefits that can make your divorce go more smoothly.

Here are 10 benefits of self-awareness you’ll want in your briefcase when you’re navigating divorce.

  1. Self-awareness keeps you connected to your values and standards of conduct.

    So much is on the line when you’re going through a divorce. YOu have far more to think about than “getting even” or “getting everything.”

    You have to think beyond today and into the future, not just for yourself, but for you children.

    And you have to choose at every step whether to stay in integrity or lead with your negative emotions toward your soon-to-be-ex.

    Self-awareness is what will keep you in alignment when you’re confused or tempted to step even a little out of bounds.

  2. Self-awareness keeps you in the present.

    One of the greatest benefits of self-awareness is its focus on the “perfect present.” And focusing on the present — this moment, this space, this breath — is the heart of mindfulness.

    Why is that important when you’re trying to negotiate for your future?

    For one thing, self-awareness in the form of mindfulness can keep you from launching into the past.

    Trial lawyers, of course, love nothing more than a drawn-out, he-said-she-said, win-lose battle. But is that what you want? (BTW, the divorce attorneys I know would much prefer to settle divorce cases through mediation.)

    Knowing that the tone of your divorce can set the tone for your (and your children’s) future, wouldn’t it be better to focus on the here-and-now?

  3. Self-awareness helps you communicate more clearly.

    By staying in touch with your personal standards, you are better able to articulate your thoughts, wishes, proposals, and expectations.

    Because you have clarity on the inside, you can present yourself with clarity on the outside.

    And that makes you more convincing and more likely to influence final decisions.

  4. Self-awareness helps you make better decisions.

    Simply put, conviction and clarity combine to streamline your decision-making.

    When you know yourself and stay true to your values, you inevitably make decisions that reflect your integrity.

    And you are willing and able to accept any consequences related to them.

  5. Self-awareness helps you control your emotions.

    Self-awareness isn’t about not having emotions or expressing them. It’s about the ability to recognize them and choose to put them aside while you observe yourself objectively.

    One way self-awareness does this is to take you out of the “why?” and into the “what?”

    Instead of “Why are they trying to hurt me?” you shift to “What did I feel when they said that? What did I notice in the way of my tone and body language and in theirs? What choices do I have in how I respond? What is the bigger picture in terms of outcome? And what can I do to help create that?

  6. Self-awareness helps you read others’ emotions.

    Self-awareness is a key component of empathy. And it’s empathy that allows you to read others’ emotions and respond in an appropriate – and compassionate – way.

    Keep in mind that, while divorce severs your legal ties to your spouse, it doesn’t make your history together disappear. Both of you (and your children) will have feelings to wrestle with.

    The ability to recognize emotions, even in their subtlety, can give you the disarming ability to respond in the interest of a mutual benefit.

    It can also help you understand and protect your children during a very confusing and unsettling time.

  7. Self-awareness makes you a better listener.

    Ironically, if you and your spouse had worked on your listening skills while married, you might not be where you are today. This is the painful truth for most couples going through divorce.

    So why does listening matter now? And how does self-awareness help?

    The list of benefits of good listening skills is endless. But some are especially relevant to navigating divorce.

    First, if you have children, listening will go beyond beneficial to essential.

    Your ability to tap into their emotions by “reading” them intuitively will help you listen…and hear…with accuracy, empathy, and prudence.

    Second, if you and your spouse are doing your best to stay out of court by using mediation, listening will be crucial to your cooperative effort. You will be working to create the best, interest-based outcome for all involved.

    As odd as it sounds, having a good divorce means you will need to tap into one of the most important skills for having a good marriage.

  8. Self-awareness takes you out of victim mode.

    One of the most important benefits of self-awareness is its offspring of self-accountability.

    Only a person who is willing to look within and self-examine, at the risk of discovering their own dark side, can be responsible.

    It’s this zenith of self-awareness that allows you to own your life – past, present, and future.

    Once you are fully willing to own your contribution to your marriage, including its failure, you step out of victim mode.

    Suddenly everyone and everything loses power over you. You now control you. You can learn from your mistakes.

    And you can make the changes necessary to be and have what you want going forward.

  9. Self-awareness reduces stress.

    Staying grounded in your values and integrity is remarkably empowering. And feeling empowered is an amazing stress-reducer!

  10. Self-awareness makes you happier.

    When you’re contemplating all the ways that self-awareness can help you, you may be surprised when it dawns on you that self-awareness just flat-out makes you happier.

    And don’t you think that going through a divorce as a happy person bears a lot more promise than the alternative?

There is no endpoint for working on yourself to better your life. And sometimes that means recognizing the need when you’re in the middle of a difficult, self-exposing experience.

Whether you’re on the threshold of marriage or the threshold of divorce, the benefits of self-awareness will be gifts you give to yourself.

Take the time to work on improving your self-awareness now. And watch it benefit every aspect of your life going forward.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn and I’m a life coach. Schedule a 30-minute private consultation for support in increasing your self-awareness so you can become more you in every facet of your life.

You can learn more about gaining and benefitting from self-awareness in How To Be More Self-Aware.