Unhappy Marriage Help: What Do I Do?
What Causes an Unhappy Marriage?
The day you and your spouse said, “I do,” was the day you launched into what you believed to be a lifelong journey. You started with a strong commitment; however, as the years have progressed, your life may feel chaotic, and your relationship might be in turmoil, more than ever before. So, how can you be experiencing present pain when you began with such great intentions?
“In general, what you get out of something in life is what you are willing to put into it,” says Michele Weiner Davis, marriage expert and author of “The Divorce Remedy.” “If you think about how fiercely people love their children, part of the reason for this is that they are super cute, but another explanation is how devoted you are to them—waking up at 2 a.m. because they are sick and throwing up, reading bedtime stories when you’re plum out of energy. Your investment results in intense love.”
According to Weiner Davis, the same is true of you and your partner. Early on, you’re obsessed with thinking about them and being flirty, attentive, and kind. These actions, as a result of being enamored with each other, lead to deep connection. Over time, however, you might start taking one another for granted and stop doing the things that lead to connection.
“When this happens, people say to themselves, ‘I’m not getting my needs met, so why should I do anything for you?’” says Weiner Davis. “That’s when most people start living separate lives. When people resent that their needs aren’t being met, they start to keep score—‘If you aren’t kind or attentive, if you don’t initiate date night, I’m not going to have sex with you or invest in quality time.’ That’s when people say they don’t like their spouse anymore.”
Weiner Davis describes a classic example: Women often want to experience an emotional connection before they proceed physically. On the other hand, men want to experience a physical connection before they invest in meaningful conversations or quality time. Therefore, both end up moving to their ‘corners’ and waiting for the other to change.
This slow drip of disconnection leads to you and your spouse questioning your feelings. When this happens, irritability is a by-product, and you’ll start focusing on the little things you don’t like about your spouse or what they do such as how they chew their food, fold the laundry, or load the dishwasher.
How To Improve an Unhappy Marriage
So, if you’re finding yourself unhappy in your marriage, is there a remedy? Weiner Davis believes there is.
1. Consider what was different about your marriage when it was happy, and work to do those things again.
“I encourage people to focus on exceptions,” Weiner Davis says. “I tell them, ‘Ask, what was different about your relationship when you enjoyed your spouse and your relationship more?’ Some reflect on aspects of their lives that are irretrievable such as spontaneity before they had children. Although spontaneity may no longer be possible, people can plan carefree time together. They can get a babysitter or barter with a friend to watch the kids. People often discuss other ‘exceptions’ such as ‘We used to talk more, have more sex, go to the movies more, try new restaurants—most of which is possible to reproduce.”
2. Be the change you want to see in your marriage.
Next, Weiner Davis tells couples, “If your spouse started paying more attention to you, making suggestions about trips you could go on or new hobbies you could do together, how would you be different in return?” Most say, “I would be nicer.” She asks people to describe the ways they would be nicer and start doing that immediately. She encourages people to be the one to tip the first domino.
“Don’t wait for your partner to be more likable—you be more likable,” says Weiner Davis. “Ask yourself in what ways have you pulled back from your relationship. Your partner’s distance might be the result of you pulling away, too.”
3. Diversify how your emotional needs are met.
Another mistake people make is putting all their emotional eggs in one basket—assuming their spouse will satisfy all their emotional needs. As a result, when their spouse falls short, there’s major disappointment.
Find other ways to get your some of your emotional needs met. Be with friends. Take on a new hobby. Once you feel more inner peace and happiness without the expectation that your spouse has to do the heavy lifting, your spouse will start to look better.
4. Practice gratitude.
Finally, consider the areas of your marriage that are working and you have positive feelings about and be grateful for those.
All too often people walk away from perfectly good marriages. If you’re seeing signs that your marriage is unhappy, take time and space to examine the root causes. For example, is your lack of intentionality resulting in disconnection and frustration? Are both of you waiting on the other to ‘make the first move?’ The odds are likely in your favor that if you make some thoughtful changes you could help your marriage move in a positive direction—making your unhappy marriage happy again.
If you are experiencing abuse in your marriage, or someone you know is, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. If someone is monitoring your device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. Learn more about what defines an abusive relationship.