You don’t have to accept the status quo.
How could your life have changed so dramatically? It wasn’t that long ago you were enjoying dreams of happily ever after. And somehow now, after such a beautiful beginning, you’re wondering about simply surviving an unhappy marriage.
Somewhere between then and now you’ve lost the shared dreams along with the ones that were just yours.
The love that once kept both of you bathed in feel-good hormones that made everything OK and helped you work together to find solutions to every challenge has disappeared. And now you’re unhappy – really, dreadfully unhappy.
What Makes A Marriage Unhappy?
There are so many things that can make marriages unhappy. And just like no two people are exactly alike, the reasons why your marriage is unhappy will be unique to you. Some of the common reasons people say they’re unhappy in their marriage include one or more of the following:
It doesn’t matter if the infidelity is physical or emotional, it hurts. And it hurts everyone involved – not just the betrayed and the betrayer. It’s the unhealed pain of infidelity that causes unhappiness.
Abuse in a marriage isn’t only physical. It can be mental, emotional and/or sexual too. And when someone is the victim of abuse by their spouse, it’s impossible to be happily married. (I consider this to be a marriage deal breaker.)
- Anger issues
When a spouse has an anger issue or disorder no one is happy. The spouse with the anger issue struggles to deal with their fury and its side-effects. The other spouse and the rest of the family walk on eggshells in an effort to avoid triggering an anger event.
When one or both spouses feel as if they are unimportant to the one person who committed to love them no matter what, hurt is the natural result. Living with this pain saps the joy from each and every day.
- Substance abuse
When a spouse struggles with active addiction, their behavior is erratic at best and completely destructive at worst. Relationships require a dependability and security to work long-term. Active substance abuse prevents marriages from being fulfilling for either spouse.
- Lying and gaslighting
Good marriages are based in trust. Without trust there’s a zero percent chance for a happy marriage.
- Lost intimacy
Can a marriage survive without intimacy? Maybe. There are some who practice a spiritual or Josephite marriage in which both spouses choose to abstain from sexual activity. But for most people, physical and emotional intimacy are vital parts of a meaningful and happy marriage.
When one spouse consistently tries to control or dominate the other, there’s a feeling of one spouse being superior to the other. At minimum, the spouse being controlled is miserable. But the one doing the dominating is usually just as unhappy.
- Growing apart
When spouses don’t make the effort and take the time to talk about their hopes, dreams, and experiences, they take a chance that they will grow in different directions. And when they have little if anything in common, it’s natural for them to feel unhappy together.
Parenting is tough. And when spouses disagree on how to parent, they are in constant conflict.
Should an unhappy couple stay together because of a child or children? Maybe. Researchers found that most couples who are unhappy when their first child is born feel fulfilled a decade later. (Notice that only says the first child.)
- Fantasizing about life without their spouse
If a spouse persistently dreams about life without their mate, then there’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed.
- Not fighting anymore
If spouses don’t even care enough to argue, then they’ve disengaged. And they’re just going through the motions of being married.
- Unmet needs
When spouses refuse to meet each other’s needs, the teamwork, compassion and care necessary for a happy marriage aren’t present.
- Unwillingness to get help or work on the marriage
It happens to virtually every marriage, things go awry at some point. Happily married couples choose to work to fix things when they recognize their marriage feels a bit off. Unhappily married couples don’t.
- Criticism, contempt, defensiveness and/or stonewalling
John Gottman, Ph.D. calls these behaviors The Four Horsemen. Just as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse depict the end of times in the New Testament, Dr. Gottman has found that these four communication styles can predict divorce.
This is a long list of what makes an unhappy marriage, but it’s not completely. Maybe you see what’s making you wonder about surviving an unhappy marriage in this list. Maybe you don’t. The point here is for you to gain more clarity about why you’re unhappily married.
Now it’s time to look at what it’s costing you to stay.
What’s The Personal Cost Of Staying In A Difficult Marriage?
Living in an unhappy marriage is a big deal. It impacts your entire life because being unhappily married affects you physically, mentally and emotionally.
Some of the ways it impacts your physical wellness include:
- Weakens your immune system
- Wounds take longer to heal
- Increases your blood pressure
- Increases your cholesterol
- You’re more prone to gain weight
- Puts you at increased risk for heart disease, cancer, arthritis, type-2 diabetes, osteoporosis and arterial calcification
- Causes digestive disorders
- Causes hormone imbalance
- Causes poor sleep
- Shrinks your brain
- Kills brain cells and halts new brain cell growth
Some of the ways an unhappy marriage impacts you mentally include:
- Decreases your attention span
- Causes memory problems
- Puts you at greater risk for mental illnesses of all kinds
- Makes it hard for you to think and make decisions
- Increases your risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s
And some of the ways it can affect you emotionally:
- Increases your risk for depression
- Causes you to experience more anger
- Increases general feelings of anxiety
- Increases mood swings
- Increases impatience with yourself and others
Is Surviving An Unhappy Marriage Possible?
It is absolutely possible to survive an unhappy marriage. But is this really how you want to live? Can you see yourself as anything but miserable if your relationship goal is simply surviving an unhappy marriage?
In order to thrive and be happy, something must change. There are three options here for change:
- Your spouse could change
- Your marriage could change
- You could change
The truth is you can only control one of these. And that’s you.
So, if you’re going to thrive and be happy, then you must change. But how should you change?
There’s no quick fix to turning an unhappy marriage around. Just as your marriage didn’t become unhappy in the blink of an eye, fixing it won’t happen quickly either.
However, here are four tips to help you begin to make the necessary changes to turn your marriage around:
- Practice compassion.
Being compassionate means you accept that you and your spouse have both been doing the best you can given the circumstances and the knowledge you each possess. Neither of you are perfect, so practicing forgiveness goes along with being compassionate.
- Practice self-care.
When you’re struggling with an unhappy marriage, feeling depressed is a pretty natural response. One way to pull yourself out of the inertia of the situational depression of being unhappily married is to take care of your health and your appearance. It also means doing things that make you happy.
- Invest in honest conversations with your spouse.
Taking the time to honestly, compassionately and responsibly talk about how you’re each feeling can create opportunities for healing, planning for your future together and even falling in love again.
- Ask for help.
Most people try to solve their problems on their own. But the behaviors and thoughts that led to being unhappily married won’t be the ones that will help you turn it around. For that, you’ll need new ideas. Granted you can get tips from Googling and reading articles like this one, but there’s no substitute for talking with a trustworthy person to help you gain a new perspective.
These are just high-level ideas to help you create more happiness and begin to thrive instead of just survive your unhappy marriage. But choosing to stay and put in the hard work to change yourself isn’t your only option.
Maybe. Maybe not. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question.
Do people who divorce eventually find happiness again? Yes, the majority of them do. But, the happiness they find is often after letting go of everything they thought they knew about happiness in the first place.
Simply surviving divorce takes a lot of hard work. It takes even more work to actually thrive on the other side of it. Is it do-able? Absolutely.
What Should You Do?
Surviving an unhappy marriage is possible, but it will only lead to misery. Accepting that your marriage is unhappy, and you need to just deal with it won’t work for you long-term.
You deserve to be happy. You have options. You just need to muster the courage to make the necessary changes and know that you can pursue your dreams again. You don’t have to settle for living in an unhappy marriage.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a life and divorce coach helping people just like you who are looking for advice and support in choosing more than simply surviving an unhappy marriage. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in working with me personally, you can book an introductory 30-minute private coaching session with me.