How to Cope With an Unhappy Marriage When You Can’t Leave

Research shows that nearly 20% of Americans indicate feeling unhappy in their marriages. That said, living in an unhappy marriage can feel both depressing and defeating.

For example, you may relate to experiencing immense resentment, sadness, and loneliness. You might also find yourself feeling jealous or bitter when comparing your relationship to other couples.

Sometimes, it’s possible to leave the marriage altogether. Other times, the idea of ending things is far more complicated. Regardless of your specific situation, here are some important considerations that may help you.

What Are the Signs of an Unhappy Marriage?

Marital satisfaction can ebb and flow. Interestingly, research shows that happiness often declines in the first 20 years of marriage. That said, the bliss tends to increase the longer couples stay together.

Of course, this research isn’t indicative of all marriages, and dissatisfaction can happen at any relationship stage. For example, you two might have had a solid foundation, but life became tumultuous, and you now feel disconnected. Or, you may have noticed red flags at the beginning, but you overlooked them because you fell so deeply in love. Despite the specific circumstances, unhappy marriages often share some key commonalities.

Perpetual Conflict (And Conflict With No Resolution)

You two keep arguing, and it just doesn’t seem to stop. It’s like you both no longer care about being on the same page- instead, you’re more interested in proving each other wrong.

All couples experience conflict, but people in an unhappy marriage may:

  • pick fights because they feel chronically apathetic or frustrated.
  • fight inappropriately by using hostility, passive aggression, or threats.
  • engage in stonewalling or silent treatment.
  • continue arguing about the same topics without trying to find a compromise.

Limited or No Intimacy

It’s no secret that intimacy often represents a sacred part of romantic communication. It’s a special way you and your partner can bond and feel close to one another.

Intimacy tends to correlate with marital satisfaction. Of course, it’s important to remember that sex is just one part of the intimacy puzzle. Unhappy couples often don’t spend much time holding hands, kissing, cuddling, or showing any other forms of physical affection.

Feeling Like Strangers or Roommates

Unhappy people often report that they feel like they don’t understand or “know” their partners. The sense of friendship, romance, and excitement just isn’t there- or it has drastically declined.

This reality can feel jarring, especially once you become more aware of it. You may feel increasingly resentful towards your spouse, particularly if you suspect they are to blame. Or, you might stop caring about their well-being altogether. Both of these scenarios often perpetuate more problems.

Intense Fantasizing (Or Escaping)

Do you often find yourself romanticizing about packing your bags and starting a new life? Have you seriously considered (or had) an affair with someone else? Are you trying to cope with your pain by numbing your emotions entirely?

It’s normal to think about alternative realities occasionally, but if this is a constant struggle, it’s a significant red flag. Healthy couples tend to feel a baseline of trust and connection. But in an unhappy marriage, things often feel hopeless.

Weak or Rigid Boundaries

Healthy communication is a sign of secure attachment, and it’s often the cornerstone of relationship satisfaction. But if your marriage lacks appropriate boundaries, things may feel overly tense, confusing, or confusing.

Signs of poor relationship boundaries include:

  • ongoing patterns of dishonesty.
  • repeatedly saying ‘yes’ when you don’t want to do something.
  • people-pleasing behaviors.
  • controlling tendencies.
  • blaming one another instead of owning personal accountability.

What If You Can’t Leave Your Unhappy Marriage?

If you currently feel stuck, it’s a challenging situation. There’s no doubt about that. But before you give up and assume all is pointless, here are some practical solutions worth considering.

Determine If You Can Reconnect

It’s possible that you are mistaking a temporary problem for a permanent disaster. Often, partners fall into unhappy patterns because they lessen the effort they put into the relationship. For example, you may stop prioritizing date nights because they feel like a “waste” of time or money. Or, you might disregard having a conversation about sex because you believe your partner won’t be interested.

That said, it’s often worth embracing a more curious mindset before assuming all has failed. Maybe it is time to really plan that weekend away. Maybe you do need to talk about your needs in the bedroom. And maybe you should think about asking your partner what they think would help bring you two closer together.

Keep in mind that there is nothing lost in trying. You may discover that even small changes make a meaningful difference.

Commit to 6-12 Months of Work

Even if you feel ambivalent about your marriage, it might be helpful to give yourself a hard deadline before making any serious decisions. For example, you might both commit to a certain amount of couple’s therapy. Or, you might decide to “give it your all” in the marriage until reaching a specific date.

Of course, a deadline doesn’t mean you will automatically have the final answer. However, you will likely develop a deeper awareness of your relationship issues and how you want to move forward with them.

Increase Self-Care

If you can’t leave (or aren’t ready to leave), it’s still crucial that you take care of yourself. Adopting a self-care mindset allows you to embrace your physical and emotional well-being. Moreover, it encourages you to prioritize taking care of your needs first.

Self-care comes in many shapes and sizes, but ultimately it often comes down to:

  • creating and maintaining meaningful relationships.
  • engaging in passions that bring you joy and fulfillment.
  • taking care of your physical health.
  • prioritizing your needs for rest and relaxation.

Strengthen Your Individual Sense of Self

Although marriage is a partnership, that doesn’t mean you need to tie your entire identity into your spouse. In fact, doing so may cause you to feel restless and frustrated.

Start thinking about your values. What makes you feel happy? When do you feel most alive? Can you spend some more time focusing your efforts on these priorities?

Stay Respectful

If your spouse is hostile or rude to you, it may feel tempting to treat them with the same angst. But behaving immaturely only triggers more animosity and tension. Even if you don’t see any possibility of reconnection, it isn’t helpful to make your home resemble a warzone.

Instead, try to pause before speaking when you’re upset. Be mindful of jumping to quick conclusions. Avoid deliberate criticism or shouting. And don’t be afraid to apologize if you make mistakes- this kind of action models how you want to conduct yourself in your relationships.

How You Can Leave An Unhappy Marriage (Even When It Seems Impossible)

Sometimes, it isn’t safe or feasible to stay in an unhappy marriage. This is especially true in cases of abuse, but it may also apply in certain situations related to addiction, legal issues, medical concerns, or relationships involving young children.

Even if things feel futile, here are some practical steps that may help.

Consult With a Lawyer

Even if you’re only contemplating divorce, seeking legal advice can be profoundly beneficial at this time. As you probably know, divorces can get messy (and laws can be complicated), and being prepared for this chaos is essential.

A divorce attorney can help you understand your rights. They will also provide you with support and advocacy throughout the divorce process.

If you can’t afford an attorney, consider calling your local aid office. You may be eligible for financial assistance. You can also try to find a lawyer who will work with you on a sliding scale payment plan or pro bono basis. Contact your state bar association for referrals.

Get Support

If you feel set on leaving, it’s time to reach out to your support network. You will need resources, validation, and encouragement, and you should accept as much help as people are willing to give you.

Keep in mind that you may lose some relationships should you proceed with the divorce. This is a normal reality for most couples. Many people feel the pressure to choose one person when the relationship ends.

Organize Your Finances

Money is often the greatest stressor when it comes to navigating divorce. After all, ending a marriage will inherently impact your financial situation, and it’s important to consider these implications ahead of time.

Organizing finances can mean anything from:

  • opening accounts in your name.
  • taking a job or second job to start securing your own savings.
  • looking into how alimony or child support works.
  • speaking with a financial advisor about assets and investments.
  • researching necessary financial assistance options.

Even if you don’t get everything in order, it’s a good idea to have an idea of what you should anticipate in the near future. This can help you feel more confident in making the next move.

Final Thoughts

Seeking professional support at this time can be invaluable in helping you navigate your unhappy marriage. Even if you feel trapped, you may have more options than you realize. Talking it out may help you feel more empowered. It can also give you a roadmap for planning out your next steps. Contact me today to learn more and get started.

4601 Spicewood Springs Road Building 3, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78759
(512) 988-3363

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