These Two Common Mistakes Will Give You An Unhappy Marriage

Couple arguing about their unhappy marriage as they walk toward the sunset.

Stop making these two mistakes and you’ll have a happier marriage.

It’s absolutely exhausting trying to make your marriage work and keep up with all of your other responsibilities. You feel like you’re in it all alone with no hope of things ever getting better. When you took those vows of for better or worse, you really didn’t think that it would be for worse or you’d probably never have gotten married in the first place.

The good news is not all unhappy marriages need to stay that way. It doesn’t always require your spouse to join in with you from the beginning of your plan to make the marriage better. Sometimes you hold the key to turning everything around if you just stop making two basic mistakes.

But before talking about the two biggest mistakes people make in marriages, it’s important to know what a good marriage is.

A good marriage consists of two whole, happy people who choose marriage. You can think of these two happy people as each existing in a separate circle. These separate circles are inside of another circle which represents their marriage. Together these individuals focus on building their marriage.

Most married couples have children. By becoming parents, the couple is choosing to work together (ideally) to provide and care for their children.

Going back to the circles, the children are in a circle outside of the marriage circle. They’re outside because both parents and children need a solid base to build the family on and that’s two whole, happy adults who have a vibrant marriage.

That’s the ideal situation. But obviously that’s not your situation. You’ve got anything but an ideal marriage because you’re so unhappy in it.

There are two really common mistakes people make that result in an unhappy marriage.

The first is to abdicate responsibility for yourself being a whole, happy person. Instead of each spouse being in their own circle as in the ideal marriage situation, in this case at least one spouse is without their own circle. They’re looking outside of themselves for what makes them whole and happy.

Looking outside of themselves doesn’t necessarily mean having an affair. It could also mean that they’re seeking experiences that at least used to bring them joy (or maybe just a sense of peace): drinking, gambling, shopping, eating excessively, pornography, drugs, even only living life through or for their spouse or children.

The second common mistake people make that’s at the root of an unhappy marriage is mixing up the order of the circles and putting the children before the marriage. It can also happen when couples eliminate the marriage circle and put their focus on raising their children.

Your children are precious and deserve your best efforts to allow them to grow into happy, healthy adults, but not at the expense of your marriage (or your individual sense of being a whole, happy person).

One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is an example of a healthy happy marriage. So it’s important that the order of the circles remain you first, marriage second, and children third. This doesn’t mean that you ignore your children’s needs. It means that you each spend the time taking care of you and taking care of your marriage so that you both have the energy required to care for your children.

Recognizing that you are making either one or both of these common mistakes and contributing to your unhappy marriage is a bitter pill to swallow. It’s so much easier to simply point your finger at your spouse and say it’s their fault.

But the truth is there’s always culpability on both sides of an unhappy marriage. Carefully examining what your contribution is and discovering ways to correct it may not ultimately make your marriage happy, but it will allow you to know that you’ve done everything in your power to make your miserable marriage better.

And knowing that may not make getting through the day any easier, but it will remove the endless exhaustion of struggling with an unhappy marriage.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and personal life coach helping people just like you who are struggling with how to turn their marriage around. 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 about how to turn your marriage around? You’ll find lots more tips in Unhappy Marriage.

 

Are You A Prisoner Of Your Unhappy Marriage?

Woman stuck in the prison of an unhappy marriage.

Here’s the key to free yourself.

Living in an unhappy marriage is horrible. You wonder what’s the point of continuing to live with the person or ogre or idiot or baggage or whatever name you currently use for the one you used to happily call spouse.

Yet, despite your obvious misery, you choose to stay. You choose to remain in the prison your marriage has become.

WHY?! You don’t deserve to settle for a miserable marriage (or life).

Look, I’m really not judging you or beating you up. I get it because I’ve been there. I lived as a prisoner of an unhappy marriage for more than a decade before I found the courage to change things.

I don’t want you to waste another minute stuck in an unhappy marriage.

The challenge is I don’t know why you are doing it. But what I do know are the top 10 reasons people stay in a miserable marriage. So I’ll address each of these reasons and hope that one of them speaks to you.

  1. You have too much to lose. If you are staying married because you have too much to lose, then you need to get busy figuring out how to make your marriage better right now.Don’t squander another precious second being unhappily married. Talk with a couple who is happily married and ask them their secrets. Read everything you can get your hands on about making marriage work and then do what the authors suggest. Go to couple’s therapy. And if your spouse won’t go, get therapy for yourself. Go on a marriage retreat. Talk with a coach.

    I don’t care exactly what you choose to do. I do care that you get your butt in gear today and start doing everything you can to make your marriage (and life) better.

  2. You’re worried about the impact divorce could have on your children. If your marriage is miserable because you or your children are the victim of abuse, your spouse has untreated addictions or your marriage is so volatile that you’d never want your children to have a similar marriage, then let me tell you that staying married is having a much more negative impact on your children than divorce ever could.If you’re in an unhappy marriage for other reasons and you’re only staying because of the impact divorce could have on your children, then you need to get educated. Become a researcher and investigator.

    Scour the internet for everything you can find on how divorce impacts children. But don’t just look at the headlines, look deeper than that. Who exactly were the people studied? Who exactly did the studies? Do they have an obvious bias?

    Ask other people about their experiences. Talk with all the single parents you know and ask them how divorce has impacted their children.

    Talk with experts. Notice that this is plural. Talk with more than one expert and get their opinions about how divorce could affect your children.

    Then, after you’ve collected all of your information, revisit your reason for remaining in your unhappy marriage. If you’re convinced that remaining is in the best interest of you and your children, then do everything you can to make your marriage better. (If you need help to know what you can do, see 1.  You have too much to lose above.)

  3. You can’t afford to move out or live on your own. The first thing you need to do is figure out what it would take for you to afford to live on your own. Once you understand what it would take from a money standpoint, ask yourself how you could earn or create that kind of money. If it would require you going back to school or reentering a career you’ve been out of for a while, then get busy researching institutions or start networking and letting people know you’re looking for employment.If after doing your research, you don’t have any options at all for how to afford to live on your own, then you don’t have to remain in an unhappy marriage. You can throw your all into making it better again.

  4. You can’t afford to go through a divorce. The first thing you need to do is figure out what it would take for you to afford the divorce. Brainstorm ideas for how you could save the money you need. Maybe you need to get a second job. Maybe you need to improve your employability. Maybe you need to get a little cash back every time you go to the grocery and put that money someplace safe. Maybe you need to ask your family for a loan.Chances are that you have options to explore for gathering the cash you need over time. Then once you have the money you need you can proceed with leaving your unhappy marriage and get a divorce.
  5. You want to give it some more time before making a final decision. What are you hoping will happen by giving it more time?This sounds to me that you have hope for your marriage getting better. If that’s the case, please refer to 1. You have too much to lose above.You deserve to know that you’ve done everything possible to save your unhappy marriage before calling it quits.
  6. You want to avoid the stigma of divorce. For some cultures the stigma of divorce is unbearable. For other cultures the stigma is much less than it was.If your culture is one where the stigma of divorce is greater than the toll living in an unhappy marriage is taking on you, then do everything within your power to make your marriage better or at least more bearable for you.

    If your culture is more accepting of divorce, then I wonder if this is just an excuse to not take action because you’re afraid of how divorce could change your life. If this is you, then do some research and find out how divorce impacts people like you.

    After you have this knowledge, you might uncover another reason why you’re willing to stay in an unhappy marriage. If you do, then you can refer to this list again and see what might be your next course of action.

    And maybe, after you have the knowledge, you might decide that divorce is preferable to remaining in an unsatisfying marriage.

  7. You stay only for your partner’s money. Seriously?! You’re complaining about being in an unhappy marriage when you’re only in it for the money?
    I find that incredibly sad for your spouse. If you’re using your spouse for the lifestyle they can provide for you, then you need to figure out how to get happy and, even better, how to make your spouse happy too.
  8. You’re worried about how you will manage contact with the children. Parenting plans help divorcing couples figure out how to manage contact with their children. If you have minor children, your attorney should help you put together a parenting plan.If your children aren’t minors, then you’ve got a few things to do. First, build a personal relationship with each of your children that’s independent of their other parent. Second, realize that there will be special occasions in your children’s lives that they’ll want to have both of their parents attend; so build a workable relationship with your soon-to-be-ex that will allow you each to put your children’s best interest ahead of any squabbles you may have with each other.
  9. You’re worried you won’t meet anyone else. This is a natural worry when you’re contemplating the end of an unhappy marriage. The question you need to ask yourself is if you’re willing to stay with the person you’re miserable with or are you willing to take a chance (maybe even visit an online dating site) on finding someone new or even being happy by yourself.Look, if this is your only reason for staying, then you could use a boost to your self-esteem. Make a list of 10 things you like about yourself and remind yourself of these qualities on a daily basis. Update your look with a new haircut and outfit. Lose weight and get fit.

    Do something that makes you feel good about you. Then, once you feel better about yourself, see if your worry about whether or not you’d meet anyone else is still your reason for wanting to stay in an unhappy marriage.

  10. You and your spouse have too many shared financial interests. If money and finances are so important to you, then you need to figure out how to make your marriage (and life) better. Refer to 1. You have too much to lose above and get into action to improve your miserable marriage.

Look, I know it’s very, very difficult to decide whether to stay in or leave an unhappy marriage. But the one thing you can’t do is what I did – just hope that things will get better by sticking it out. You’ll just feel more wretched and depressed if you do.

I want you to notice something about each of the suggestions I gave for the top 10 reasons people stay in an unhappy marriage. They each involve you taking action. And this is on purpose.

You can’t change a situation unless you take action. No one else is going to change it for you. Even if your spouse changes, you’re going to have to adapt to their new behaviors which obviously means you’re changing.

So roll up your sleeves and stop being willing to settle for the status quo. You don’t have to remain a prisoner of your unhappy marriage. You can do something about it so you can feel happier whether you choose to stay or go. You have the key to freedom from your unhappy marriage. You just have to choose to use it.

Looking for more help with your marriage? Read more advice in Unhappy Marriage?

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and personal life coach helping people just like you who are wondering if staying married is the right answer for them. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly adviceAnd, if you’re ready, you can take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach by scheduling a private consultation.

13 Ways You Can Improve Your Unhappy Marriage

Change an unhappy marriage to a happy one.

Don’t settle for an unhappy marriage!

I read a lot of articles and books on self-help and leadership. I’m regularly amazed at how pertinent the advice given in these materials is to marriages.

I recently read an article attributed to the late Jim Rohn that has wonderful advice for an individual to improve their life. But what I think is even more interesting is how this same advice is helpful for improving a miserable marriage.

Here are his 13 tips for how to improve your life and how I believe they can improve your unhappy marriage:

  1. Face your fears. If you’re honest with yourself, one of your biggest fears is that you’ll always be unhappy in your marriage and that your dreams of happily ever after were just pipe dreams courtesy of Disney and all the other fairy tales you heard as a child.This fear, like any other, doesn’t disappear just because you try to ignore it. You need to face your fear and conquer it. Either you put your all into making your unhappy union better or you continue to live with the disquiet of knowing you are settling for what is because you’re too afraid (lazy?) to do differently.
  2. Exercise your willpower to change direction. If you know that your marriage is heading in the wrong direction you must take action and choose to change things.Will it be easy? Probably not because there’s some inertia to overcome, but the alternative is to accept mediocrity and I know you didn’t marry with the goal of living a mediocre life together.
  3. Admit your mistakes. Yup, you’ve made mistakes along the way and will probably make more. The quickest way to put the mistakes behind you and prevent them from festering in your spouse’s heart and mind is to admit when you’re wrong as soon as you realize it and then apologize to your love.Yeah, it might be difficult to start this one off especially if you believe that your mate has more to apologize for than you do, but be the model on this one. Bravely set the standard for how your marriage will be from this moment forward.
  4. Refine your goals. The dreams you both had for “happily ever after” when you married probably need a bit of upgrading now that you’ve been together for a while. So sit down together and figure out what your new “happily ever after” can and should look like so that you’re both proud to call each other spouse again.Your spouse isn’t ready to do this yet? Well, there’s nothing to stop you from upgrading your own expectations for the marriage and then start working toward them.
  5. Believe in yourself. One of the easiest ways to keep yourself motivated to reaching for your goal of turning an unhappy marriage into a happy one is to have self-confidence. Believing in yourself will enable you to continue doing what you need to do to make your marriage vibrant again (or know there’s nothing else left to try to save your marriage).(Oh, and one of the most attractive things about anyone is self-confidence. Just saying that in case you’re feeling a tad unattractive which is one of the most common complaints of someone in an unhappy marriage.)
  6. Ask for wisdom. You don’t have to have all the answers and neither does your spouse! Get the help you need in the form of books, articles, marriage counselors or even a coach. Use their advice and suggestions as a jumping off point for improving your marriage.
  7. Conserve your time. One of the things that I’ve learned in my (second) marriage is that there’s only so much time in a day. I don’t need to spend any more time than necessary being unhappy or arguing with my husband. We’ve learned how to express ourselves and not fall into the trap of inflaming an argument. Our trick? We’ve adopted the motto “Work the problem.”Keeping this thought in mind when we express what the problem is allows us to stick to what’s at the root of the disagreement. Then, after we’ve each expressed and acknowledged the emotions, we can quickly move on to solving the problem.
  8. Invest your profits. In a marriage, profits mean more than just money. They also include personal wins, happy times with your children and happy times together. Investing all of these profits means saving and building on them.One of the easiest ways to invest the profits of the happy times is to spend time together reviewing each day’s positive events. And if your spouse isn’t up to doing that with you just yet, you can always start a journal and start the practice with your children.
  9. Live with intensity. At its best, life is a vibrant kaleidoscope of love and amazing experiences, but only if that’s how you approach it. Remember how vibrant life was when you first fell in love? Well, you can get at least some of that back if you start investing in living your life again instead of just going through the motions.
  10. Find your place. A marriage is a partnership. Many times an unhappy union is rooted in unmet expectations and an imbalance in contributions to the marriage. Find the best place and way you can contribute to the success and happiness of your partnership.Obviously, your best place isn’t doing it all and your spouse’s best place isn’t doing it all either. Find where you both excel and capitalize on those strengths to improve your partnership and eliminate those nagging hurt feelings about unmet expectations and unfair distribution of work.
  11. Demand integrity from yourself. Integrity is critical to the success of a marriage. The most common marriage vows include something along the lines of “to love, honor and cherish.” It’s impossible to fulfill these vows if you’re not being honest with yourself and your beloved.
  12. Welcome the disciplines. No matter what the fairy tales told us when we were kids, the truth is marriage takes work. It requires discipline. Yet, the reward for having the discipline to work on your marriage Every. Single. Day. is the fairy tale ending of happily ever after.I don’t know about you, but that reward is enough for me (and my hubby) to work on my marriage every day. And yes, that does mean even those days when I’m not feeling my best because an “I love you” said with a stuffy nose still means a lot.
  13. Fight for what’s right. If you’re spearheading the effort to shift your marriage from unhappy to wonderful, you can expect some push back from your spouse. They’ll push back because you’re changing things up and that means they’re going to need to change. And, honestly, they might believe it’s easier being lazy and living the with status quo or even that things really can’t get better.But you and I both know the truth of the matter. If your marriage is right, it’s worth fighting for. So keep moving forward and fight the good fight. Your honey will start adapting to the new when they’re ready (and if they don’t, then you know the better fight is to move on in a different direction).

These 13 tips for improving your marriage are complete. But they’re also high level. They don’t get down and dirty and give you the exact steps to take to turn around your unhappy marriage.

So be willing to experiment with these tips. Look at them regularly and see what new inspiration they spark and then roll up your sleeves and get into action.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and personal life coach and advisor helping people just like you who are wondering “Should I stay or should I go?” You can join my newsletter list for free weekly adviceAnd, if you’re ready, you can take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach by scheduling a private consultation.

Unhappy Marriage? Here’s How to Make It Better (Part 2)

After you know what you want, it’s time to start laying the foundation to make your unhappy marriage happy.

As I mentioned in Part 1, if you’re in an unhappy marriage you’re probably feeling trapped and hopeless.

But you can create some hope that things will get better. All you need to do is create your idea of what “happily ever after” means to you now and everyday find one thing that’s good about your marriage.

(If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, you can read it here.)

Now that you know what you want from your marriage, you can start laying the foundation for your new “happily ever after”. Begin by asking yourself what would you have to do to get it if you really want to change your unhappy marriage to a happy one.

My guess is you’ll discover these 5 areas (connection, caring, congruence, competence, and freedom) are the most critical for you to take action in.

  1. Connection – Of all our relationships, our intimate relationship has the most impact on our happiness. We all have a deep-seated need for connection. It’s one of the things that makes us human. According to Brendon Burchard in The Charge, “Our desire to bond and belong outweighs almost every other desire – often even our desire for survival.”Despite our desire for connection and belonging which often requires conforming to our spouse’s needs and wants, we also want the freedom to do, think and feel as we want without challenge or question. This desire for both belonging and freedom is where conflicts in unhappy marriages come from.And that’s why learning to understand each other and learning to communicate clearly and compassionately with each other fosters the connection you crave from your marriage.

    One of the first things you can do to improve your connection is to ask your mate what their vision for your marriage is and then LISTEN to what they have to say. This conversation is all about understanding their point of view – not using it simply as an opportunity to tell them all about yours. (Unless, of course they ask you.)

    It takes guts to have this conversation. But by being courageous, you begin making your lives together better.

  2. Caring – You can only build a great marriage with love expressed as caring for each other. It implies generosity and mutual respect. And among the fruits of caring for each other are attention, acceptance, affirmation, adoration, affection, empathy and respect. (A relationship like that sounds absolutely blissful, doesn’t it?)Notice that I’m not talking about just one spouse being caring. These qualities must ultimately exist in both spouses to turn your marriage around.Although I’m not saying there’s no hope if your spouse isn’t currently able to treat you in a caring manner. They may just need to learn how to. If they’re willing to display caring and to accept caring there is definitely hope for your marriage to be happy again.

    For that matter, you may need to learn about caring too.

    Caring is easiest to do in a caring environment. It doesn’t matter if the caring environment is internal or external. When you’re caring toward yourself (internal), it’s much easier to care for others. When you’re around others who are caring (external), it is more natural to care for yourself.

    So, helping your spouse to learn to be caring might be as simple as you caring for them. Yes, it may seem weird, but it’s just a matter of you get what you give.

    (Actually, there’s a more brain science-y way of describing this whole thing by talking about mirror neurons, but it boils down to you get what you give and you get what you surround yourself with.)

  3. Congruence – Congruence in marriage is all about living aligned with who you are, your vision for your life with your spouse and being treated by your spouse in a manner consistent with who they are (which is someone who deeply cares for you).Congruence helps us to feel safe because we know what to expect from each other and ourselves. It’s through lack of congruence that things can get sideways or even completely upside down.So how do you start creating more congruence in your relationship?

    You start with your definition of “happily ever after” and boil it down to three words that will remind you of your whole vision. Using the example from Part 1, the three words might be: honor, support and love.

    After you have your three words, you need to put them to use. EVERY time you interact with your spouse think the three words and behave that way. Using our example, that means you would treat yourself and your spouse with honor, support and love.

    By living into the best you and your best marriage, you and your spouse will begin feeling more engaged and happier together.

  4. Competence – It may seem odd to say that competence is an important piece a marriage’s foundation, but it really is! You and your partner both need to know that you’re good at being married and that you each appreciate that about the other.Most couples treat their marriages as just a fact in their lives. They have lost sight of how much more rich and vibrant their marriage could become by gaining competence. (Competence means that you understand what marriage is to both of you and that you each work to successfully create the one you both desire.)A natural question is then, “How to you get competent at marriage?”

    You do it by paying attention to your spouse, doing things that support your marriage, being adaptable and resilient when things don’t go exactly as you wish they would (like when you argue), and putting in the effort to make your marriage great!

  5. Freedom – One of the easiest ways to make sure you’re both miserable in your marriage is by trying to control each other. No one likes to feel caged or stifled. And that is exactly how it feels when your spouse tries to control you, isn’t it? (It’s also how they feel when you try to control them.)That’s why freedom is a critical foundation piece of a happy marriage. And I don’t mean freedom without boundaries. I mean a freedom consistent with your marriage vision – ideally your shared vision that you were able to create during your conversation about connection.This freedom can also be described as a deep trust that you each bring your best to your marriage and each other. No, that doesn’t mean you never have a bad day or argue. It simply means that you make a conscious decision to be the best you that you know how to be.

Obviously, it’s going to take time and effort to change your unhappy marriage to one that’s less strained. And it’s also not a straight shot. You’ll have times when things go great and times when they don’t.

The key is to evaluate (at least once a week, but ideally after each interaction with your spouse) what you can do better next time.

It’s by focusing on your shared goals for your marriage that you’ll make the fastest progress. However, if you’re working solo on this you’ll still be able to make progress which will challenge your spouse to start working with you to make your shared lives so much better.

But the important thing is that you work on it. It’s only by working on making your marriage better that you have any chance of making it happy.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and personal life coach helping people just like you who are contemplating divorce. Should you stay, or should you go is a powerful question and I’m here to help you make a smart decision that will lead to your greatest happiness… whether you stay OR go. 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.

Unhappy Marriage? Here’s How to Make It Better (Part 1)

You have more power to change your marriage than you realize.

Living in an unhappy marriage can feel like you’re living in a trap. You’re stuck in a situation that you wish could be better, but deep down you’re afraid that this is as good as it gets.

Most of us marry with some expectation that we and our spouse will always be as attuned to each other as we are when we take our vows. But very few married couples continue dating, flirting and wanting to learn more about each other on a daily basis as they did before they said “I do”. And it’s perfectly understandable because the reality of married life (and parenthood) are WAY different than the realities of being single and in love.

So, how can you take your unhappy marriage and breathe some happiness into it?

The first step is to get real about what your idea of “happily ever after” is now. It will be different than it was when you got married because now you know what living with your spouse is like, what the daily challenges of running your family and home are, and what trying to live a fulfilling life as an individual within a marriage is like.

So, what does “happily ever after” look like for you today?

  • Do you want to spend more quality time with your spouse?
  • Do you want to have more sex?
  • Do you want to feel respected and appreciated?
  • Do you want more freedom to be you?

Just in case you’re feeling kinda stumped (like I was) about how to articulate what “happily ever after” is to you now, here’s an example:

  • Our marriage is the model to which all other relationships aspire.
  • We honor and respect each other to be uniquely ourselves.
  • We have a shared faith in God.
  • We honor our values and vows.
  • We are united and support each other first before others.
  • We enjoy the intimacy our marriage brings sexually, intellectually and spiritually.
  • We are friends.

Once you have some clarity about what a happy marriage would look like to you, it can be really easy to fall into thinking “yeah, but”. Yeah, this new “happily ever after” is great, but s/he will never go for it. Yeah, this new “happily ever after” is great, but it’s just a pipe dream and could never be real.

All “yeah, but’s” ever get you are more of what you’ve already got. They disempower you and keep you stuck.

Instead of falling prey to the negative thoughts, ask yourself what one thing YOU can do today to make your marriage less unhappy and more like your ideal? (By this I mean that it’s something that’s totally within your control not something that you expect your spouse to do for you when you ask.)

Keep your one thing simple. Some examples are:

  • Remember the first time you realized you loved your spouse.
  • Be on the lookout for just one thing that is good about your marriage today.
  • Think about the values that you and your spouse share and how those shared values make your life easier.

If you can do one simple thing each day to move your marriage toward your ideal, you’ll start shifting your perspective from everything that makes you unhappy and start noticing what is good about your marriage. And as you start noticing more of what’s good, you’ll probably be surprised by how much power you have over the happiness you can crate in your marriage.

But this won’t solve everything. Changing your perspective to one of hope and power is just the first step. Part 2 will share some ideas for creating a foundation for a better marriage based on your new “happily ever after”.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and personal life coach helping people just like you who are contemplating divorce. Should you stay, or should you go is a powerful question and I’m here to help you make a smart decision that will lead to your greatest happiness… whether you stay OR go. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly adviceAnd, if you’re ready, you can take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach by scheduling a private consultation.

If you’re looking for more help answering the question “Should I stay or should I go?”, read more articles in Unhappy Marriage?