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

How To Fix A 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.

Dr. Karen Finn

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