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What to Do If You Find Yourself in an Unhappy Marriage

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What to Do If You Find Yourself in an Unhappy Marriage

Growing up, when we envisioned getting married, we probably thought about it as a fairy tale. You know… the white knight, the Cinderella moments, and then riding off into the sunset living happily ever after.

But with the divorce rate as high as ever, it doesn’t seem like that fantasy is coming true for most people. Even if you are in a relatively happy marriage, it might not be as perfect as you had hoped.

For many people, they find themselves in a downright unhappy marriage. I know how that feels, because I was in one myself once too. I never thought I would be a person who got divorced, but it happened.

That’s not to say I didn’t try. I did. I really, really did. But sometimes, it’s simply not meant to be.

With that said, just because my marriage didn’t work out doesn’t mean that yours won’t.

Before you read through this list, I have to make one VERY important point. BOTH of you need to be 100% invested in rebuilding the marriage. If only one person is, then it won’t work. That’s what happened to me. I feel like I tried everything I could, but he wasn’t really committed to working on things.

And even if both of you are mildly committed to working on things, then that’s not the best scenario either. Because you both have to have your heart completely in it for any kind of positive changes to occur.

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Now let’s take a look at what needs to be done in order to repair your marriage.

1. Both People Need to Put Their Partner’s Needs at Least Equal to – or Before – Their Own

Just as I said that both people need to be 100% committed to rebuilding the relationship, you also need to put your partner’s needs before your own. Or at least equal to yours.

You see, this is what happened in my marriage. I felt like his needs were always his top priority and he didn’t care about mine. Even though I tried to put him as a priority, it never worked in reverse. And that was not okay with me.

2. If You Have Children, Keep Your Problems Away from Them

A lot of couples make the mistake of fighting in front of their children. That is the worst thing you can do! Not only does it make the children feel unsafe, it brings them into adult issues that they should not be involved in.

Keep your problems between the two of you, and whatever you do… do NOT involve your children!

3. Make a List of What Makes You Unhappy

Sometimes we go around with just a general feeling of unhappiness and don’t really know why. You know something is wrong, but you don’t always sit down with yourself and actually figure out the specifics of what it is.

So, if you haven’t done that – do it. What exactly are you unhappy about? What do you want to change that would make you happy?

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Once you look at the list, you might find that some of your reasons are petty or insignificant. Maybe, maybe not. But at least you will know.

4. Make a List of What Is Your Spouse’s Responsibility and What Is Yours

I know you want to place all the blame on your spouse and make everything all their fault. But remember – it takes two to tango.

Relationships are not made or destroyed by only one person (usually). In my case, I know I grew more resentful of his lack of effort in the marriage. And as I grew more resentful, I emotionally withdrew. I’m sure that wasn’t great for him either.

We all have a part in the state of the relationship. But sit down and write it down so you are clear about your thoughts on that.

5. Talk to Your Spouse About Your Concerns

Now that you have everything clear in your head, you are ready to talk to your spouse. It won’t be an easy thing – they might not even want to talk. But it’s absolutely necessary.

You can’t change what you don’t recognize. Bring your lists that you just made above to the table and talk it out. The purpose of that list is not just to get your thoughts down on paper, but to have a clear path to your conversation. And you’ll have “evidence” in front of you, not just relying on your memory in the moment.

6. Try to Come up with Compromises

After you voice your concerns, let your spouse voice theirs. I’m sure they have some complaints just like you do. Maybe they haven’t told you anything about it yet.

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If they can’t come up with any in the moment, give them time to make their own list and then reconvene. You need to talk logically and rationally about these problems. Neither one of you should get defensive or overly emotional/aggressive, because that will not work if you do.

Try to meet in the middle and come up with some compromises.

7. Write a Contract and Make Agreements

It might sound cheesy or even unnecessary, but once you have made some agreements and compromises, write them down. Pretend like it’s a legal, binding contract between the two of you.

For instance, husband agrees to do “x, y, and z” to make necessary changes in the relationship. And wife agrees to do “a, b, and c” to help change the relationship. Then keep checking in on these agreements to keep yourselves on track.

8. Wait to See How Well Both of You Implement the Changes

Change is difficult for most people. Anyone who has ever gone on a diet and tried to go to the gym to lose weight knows this to be true. But the same is true for ALL habits. So, give it some time and see if how well these changes are going to go.

Typically, people are good with change in the beginning, but then they start to slip back into their old ways again. So, wait and see how well both of you are going to implement these changes.

9. If Nothing Changes and Promises Are Broken, Re-Negotiate and Try Again

If, after some time, nothing really changes to your satisfaction, then you should try again. Real change is long-term and so you need to wait it out and keep trying.

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10. If Nothing Changes Again, Then Seek Therapy

At some point, you might need to seek out a marriage therapist to help you. Many people can’t do it by themselves, and so they need a professional to help them. In fact, if you don’t think you can do tips numbers 3-9 on your own, then maybe you should just start with a therapist.

Some people are against therapy (which is sad), and others can’t afford it. So, the first part of my list was for those people. Remember, going to therapy is a sign of strength – not a sign of weakness.

11. Have a Talk with Your Spouse and Make Sure They Agree to Try What the Therapist Suggests

My ex-husband and I tried therapy too. I didn’t really work for us because he didn’t put in the effort. I don’t mean to sound like I’m blaming him – that’s just who he is. He’s a good person, but he didn’t know how to (or want to) make changes in himself that would make our marriage happier.

I followed all the therapist’s suggestions, but noticed he wasn’t. So, if you find this happening to you too, have another conversation with your spouse and try to get them to take it more seriously.

12. If It Doesn’t Work, Then Consider Separating And/Or Other Arrangements

Sadly, sometimes you can try everything to make a marriage work and it still doesn’t. That’s what happened to me. And that’s okay. There is no shame in separation or divorce anymore.

I don’t see it as a “failure.” Instead, it’s a learning opportunity. I learned what doesn’t work for me in a marriage. And I also learned what to do differently next time – namely, finding someone who I am naturally more compatible with.

Final Thoughts

When my marriage ended, it was very sad. And if yours does, it will be for you too. Or it could just be a relief (or both).

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But if you do end up going your separate ways, at least you know in your heart that you did everything you could to save the marriage. And then you can look back and figure out how to move forward and do it better the next time – just like I did.

Featured photo credit: Jelleke Vanooteghem via unsplash.com

More by this author

Carol Morgan

Dr. Carol Morgan is the owner of HerSideHisSide.com, a communication professor, dating & relationship coach, TV personality, speaker, and author.

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