Love is wonderful but not easy. Love is challenging because it’s our greatest teacher, the one that teaches us about ourselves. And marriage, it’s something like an intensive self-development course. It can be really painful to watch how things go in an unwanted direction, wondering how that happened and what it is that we could have done differently.
No matter how different every love story is, and how tangled “the rope” of our specific problems is, there are some guidelines that could help us unravel the “knot” of an unhappy marriage.
1. Take responsibility for your own choices and behaviors
Taking responsibility is the first and crucial step towards resolving any of our problems, and this one is no different. Therefore, it is essential to take a look into our actions and see the faults in our actions first.
We don’t attract what we want, but what we are. Before we ask our partner to change, we should ask, “what can I do to become a better partner?” Staying married in a marriage without love is not a necessity; it is a choice. The state of your marriage depends on what you choose to do every day, so decide to take responsibility for your actions and change what you can.
2. Explore and re-define your definitions of love, partnership, and marriage
If we manage to explore and re-design our concepts about love and marriage, it will support us to act more consciously. Being more conscious in a couple helps us in preventing the limiting beliefs and conditioning that we internalized during our upbringing, from intervening in our relationship.
It is our choice of what love, marriage, and partnership mean to us, so it is better to define them in a way that those definitions are serving our current marital reality.
3. Accept that circumstances and people around you are your reflections
The person we are with is there for a reason, and in some sense, he/she represents our beliefs, views, and choices. So, after we define what we consider a good husband/wife, we should analyze how good we fit that same description.
One way to change the reflection in the mirror is to change the face that is staring at it.
4. To get what you want, you must give it first
If you wish to receive love – give love! If you always calculate, keep things to yourself and play games to prevent your ego from getting hurt, you can be sure that you will end up “empty-handed.”
Giving love fully requires some courage, and it’s ok to be scared, just don’t let the fear control you. Love is not a business; it is not a competition, neither a battlefield. Love has the courage to be vulnerable.
5. Do what you did at the beginning of your relationship
Many of us look at infatuation as an unrealistic and temporary state of mind that, in the majority of cases, becomes replaced with an everyday routine that “breaks our pink glasses.”
“Do what you did at the beginning of your relationship, and there won’t be an end.“-Tony Robbins
What were the activities you enjoyed doing together? What was your favorite thing about you two as a couple? If you find yourself unhappily married, try doing more of what made it a happy marriage in the beginning.
6. Focus on the positive at least as much as you focus on problems
Being unhappy in marriage can be altered, if you learn to spend as much time focusing on the positive aspects of your partner and your relationship as do on the negative. When we are in love, we:
Keep our focus on our partner’s virtues
Try hard to be the best version of ourselves
We think that admiration we had for positive aspects of our loved one was an illusion, and then in time, we stop noticing those aspects and even start to neglect them. Our focus goes more and more towards things that bother us. Thus, we stop being inspired to “show up” as the best versions of ourselves, too.
You chose them for a reason. Why did you fall in love with them? When was the last time you shared a compliment about the good things they do? Stop being miserable in marriage and remember the good about you as a couple and individuals.
7. Accept that easier isn’t always better
To avoid the discomfort of facing our problems, we often bring even more problems and complications in our lives. We might say that in a bad marriage, both partners are staying in an unhappy marriage by avoiding to face the truth. If they realized they are in an unhappy marriage but can’t leave, it would make them feel even more trapped. So they take the easy road and not deal with problems. However, this can’t be done forever.
Our challenges bring us important lessons that could not be escaped, cause they’re going to return to us as many times until we learn. Realizing what you don’t like in a miserable marriage, doesn’t mean you will immediately start asking how to get out of a bad marriage. Instead, it allows you to face the truth and consider the options to improve your relationship.
8. Adopt the growth mindset
Every problem is an opportunity to grow, but only if our approach is open, direct, and honest. It’s not easy, but if we choose to play games and to put problems under the carpet, we’re giving priority to our comfort and Ego, not to love.
A quality, constructive relationship is based on:
An honest and relevant conversation about our thoughts and feelings
Being present, holding space for each other and genuinely listening
Being ready to improve and change throughout life
Be open to growing together through whatever you are going through. Manipulation may look like a more natural way to deal with problems, but it actually won’t bring us anywhere.
9. Practice gratitude regularly
Are you a half-empty or half-full glass kind of person? Life is filled with challenges and problems. Also, it is full of joy and hope. How you feel will depend on what you focus most of your time.
The solution to this problem is gratitude. Gratitude is the most effective way to refocus our attention back to the positive aspects of our partner and life with them.
This helps take more notice of the virtues of our partner too. In turn, it reinforces those behaviors that were “sparking up” the relationship in its early beginnings.
10. To catch something you need to release it first
Driven by fear of losing someone, we are usually prone to take actions with counterproductive results. We have to deal with the fact that we own no one, and that we can live without anyone.
Love is not fear, nor control, neither dependency. We’re not able to love what we fear or depend on.
We must be ourselves and let others do the same. There are no guarantees in love, but if we know we did everything that’s in our power and gave the best of ourselves, we will at least have inner peace.
Love can be built, but never forced.
11. Continuously build the connection
If you are googling signs of an unhappy marriage, consider investing more in building an emotional connection with your partner. When you first met you worked spontaneously on enhancing the bond between you.
However, as the relationship progresses this needs to become a focused effort.
If you are not happy in marriage, it might be due to the lack of deep emotional connection. Devote conscious effort into improving this by:
Approaching your partner with curiosity and consideration
Adopt a non-judgemental approach when they share
Show compassion and empathy
Reflect and summarize what they shared
Joke and laugh together
Lead by example to help them reciprocate
12. Stop the blame game
When something goes wrong we tend to look for whom to blame. If we know who did something we can avoid awareness of our flaws and mistakes. Blame is, in fact, an excellent defense mechanism.
However, the blame game is one in which everyone loses. When you play, you miss the opportunity to grow, and you make your partner feel bad.
Own up to your role in the situation and your partner will follow your lead. This will help you achieve a more fulfilling relationship.
13. Laugh together
As if we didn’t know already some studies show that the amount of conversation spent laughing together was positively related to overall evaluations of relationship quality, closeness, and social support.
What makes you laugh the most? When are some prerequisites before you can relax and enjoy the time together? Experience joy through laughter with your partner and your sad marriage will become a happy one.
14. Pick your battles
How to be happy in an unhappy marriage?
Every argument requires energy to deal with and leaves a stain on your relationship. The bigger the argument the bigger the stain.
It takes time to recuperate from a fight even when they end with an action plan and a resolution. Therefore, before you enter into a fight ask yourself:
Is this worth arguing over?
What do I need or want to accomplish through this argument?
Is this argument the way to get it?
Is there a better time to start this conversation?
15. Don’t underestimate the value of routines and traditions
If you are in an unhappy marriage with kids, start creating your rituals and traditions. Research shows that meaningful family rituals are positively related to more marital satisfaction.
Traditions could be reading together before bedtime, having a movie night, weekend picnics, or any other activity you can regularly recreate.
The predictable structure of these activities and the emotional climate that happens during them support the early development of kids and the marital satisfaction of both parents.
16. Fight the problem, not each other
Make it a habit to define the problem you are facing before you begin to resolve it. Otherwise, you might focus on changing and correcting each other, rather than the situation.
If you think about it, what is the first step when working on a business strategy or problem resolution? Identifying the problem!
Apply those practices in your unhappy marriage to avoid fighting each other. You are players in the same, not opposite, teams.
17. Survive difficult days by accepting them
Let’s face it – there are going to be days so difficult when all you can do is simply survive until tomorrow. So if you wonder how to survive in an unhappy marriage, you might have to learn this skill.
Not everything can be solved, and definitely most things can’t be solved when you want it. Accepting what you can’t change is not easy, but will bring you inner peace.
18. Take turns being strong
There will be stressful times when you will be the stronger one. No one can be strong all the time.
Hence, when they have a high-stress time at work, you might want to take more of the chores or responsibilities around kids on you. When the tables turn, you can ask them to do the same.
19. Don’t be afraid of time apart
When you’re away from each other, things become clear. You might stop taking things for granted since in their absence you begin to notice the scope of all they do.
When you recharge you can work more constructively on solving problems, and you gain a new perspective on things and your partner.
20. Choose happiness over being right
Being right feels good and we might even think will help change things. However, things won’t move forward just because you are right.
Admit when you are wrong, shut up when you are right – John Gottman
When someone feels bad about their mistakes it becomes even harder for them to correct their faults. Forcing a confession out of someone about who is right and who is wrong, affects the other person and their self-esteem.
Furthermore, progress is slowed down because no one gets better when made feel worse.
21. Improve mindfulness
When we are present we communicate better, listen more intently, and hear the emotional need hidden behind the words.
This is why mindfulness has been linked to the relationship well-being according to research. Practice mindfulness together or separately to increase your relationship satisfaction.
22. Give priority to positive reinforcement over criticism
Have you ever trained a puppy? We are not saying your partner is in the same category as your puppy, but any pet owner knows the strength of positive reinforcement. We are all prone to it.
When we do something good and are rewarded for it we strive to repeat the action. Reward in this case can be a kind word or recognition.
When we criticize our partner and expect change, they feel bad over a mistake they made, and to change they have to correct their behavior while battling the emotions of inadequacy or guilt.
Positive reinforcement helps your partner change from a place of acceptance and achievement because you are rewarding the behavior they already did.
23. Focus on what you can control
The best way to feel lost and helpless is to try and control what is outside of your control. Instead of trying to impose command over another person or some life situations focus on your actions.
What you can’t control you can negotiate on with your partner or learn to accept.
Perhaps there are things they can’t or won’t change?
This might lead you to wonder how to get out of an unhappy marriage. Before you move on to the exit strategy, consider this quote for inspiration:
“Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.” -Brené Brown
24. Work on physical intimacy
We communicate through verbal and non-verbal channels. When we first get together we explore spontaneously the area of physical intimacy.
As we learn to improve our verbal communication skills, we need to work on improving physical communication too.
How do you like to be comforted or consolidated? What is the best way to hug or kiss you? What makes you most aroused?
Come back to these questions often as the answers then do vary depending on when you ask them.
25. Consider involving a professional
There are rough patches that are harder to overcome. When this happens the social network you have might not suffice.
You might not find the understanding you need or it might feel uncomfortable to share your struggles with them. This is the perfect time to consider involving a licensed professional.
They work on understanding your perspective and help you explore different solutions in a safe, nonjudgmental environment.
An unhappy marriage is not a failure
If you find yourself in an unhappy marriage, consider implementing some of the unhappy marriage advice we shared.
Own up to your mistakes, aim to laugh, and experience happiness rather than aiming to be right, negotiate what love and partnership mean for both of you and when it feels like too much consider involving a professional.
While implementing the tips, remember that not all relationships are meant to last forever. Some teach us valuable lessons about ourselves and life but are not supposed to last a lifetime. We change, and so do our needs.
An unhappy marriage is not a failure, rather a valuable experience with memories and lessons you get to keep.
You can consider taking an online marriage course for dealing with the underlying issues of your unhappy married life.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Rachael Pace is a noted relationship writer associated with Marriage.com. She provides inspiration, support, and empowerment in the form of motivational articles and essays. Rachael enjoys studying the evolution of loving partnerships and is passionate about writing on them. She believes that everyone should make room for love in their lives and encourages couples to work on overcoming their challenges together.