Are you in an unhappy marriage?
You’re enough of a realist to expect some down days and the occasional heated arguments. None of those are on your favorites list, but they wouldn’t qualify your marriage as “unhappy,” either.
Being in an unhappy marriage for several years takes a different toll.
Believe it or not, fighting isn’t necessarily a bad thing in marriage. It’s “why” and “how” you battle things out that matter.
Couples who understand this aren’t afraid of a little heat, because they know it can help bring about positive change.
In a happy and healthy marriage, fighting doesn’t imply a loss of respect or compassion. There are still rules to abide by to protect a relationship.
But this isn’t what an unhappy marriage looks like.
Unhappy marriages are unique in their own way.
In an unhappy marriage, you may not remember the last fight you and your spouse had — or any fight that had any rules of engagement.
Perhaps you’ve been miserable for so long that you’ve finally reached a breaking point. You don’t even recognize the couple that blissfully exchanged “I do’s” a lifetime ago.
But you don’t know what to do or where to start to make the break.
Perhaps your unhappiness is only just announcing itself, even though it’s been hanging around for years.
You’re faced with the reality of your unhappiness — you’ve been living in denial all these years. It’s a tough pill to swallow.
You can no longer pretend you’re not aware. And you’re not the only one in this marriage — there may be other lives to consider, too, like those of your children or in-laws.
Here are 8 things to consider if you’ve been in an unhappy marriage for years.
1. How is your marriage affecting your health?
Your constant upset stomach, lack of appetite, migraines, anxiety, and insomnia aren’t just coincidences. There’s a proven link between an unhappy marriage and health.
If the communication in your marriage has deteriorated to the point where you’re walking on eggshells, your body is going to register the discontent.
You’ll be at an increased risk of depression and stress hormones will start a cascade of health problems.
Will working on the health of your marriage help restore your own health? No matter what, your personal health has to be non-negotiable.
2. Why are you unhappy?
This obvious question isn’t always easy to answer. It requires you to come face-to-face with emotions and recognize them, name them, and feel them.
Sometimes, that process is best facilitated with the help of a professional.
There are proven links between marital dissatisfaction and depression.
But knowing whether the marital conflict is causing the depression, or if depression is causing marital discontent is important for knowing how to go forward.
In the latter case, for example, an undiagnosed mood disorder can put tremendous strain on a marriage and the affected person’s spouse. The situation then feeds upon itself, often masking its origin.
Most importantly, having an understanding of why you are unhappy will give direction and purpose to your remedy.
3. Does your spouse know why you’re unhappy?
Doing your own work to understand your unhappiness is essential if you expect your spouse to understand and be compassionate.
No one gets a free pass on the expectation that their spouse is a mind reader.
The two of you inevitably feed off one another’s energy. So, holding things in will draw either a parallel response or an opposite response. But neither will facilitate the happiness for which you long.
4. Is your spouse unhappy, too?
Chances are if you’ve been unhappy in your marriage for years, your spouse is, too.
Whether one of you is depressed and the other is feeling the effects or maybe your communication is unhealthy, marriage isn’t lived in isolation.
If you want to save your marriage, you have to care about your spouse’s emotions as much as you do your own.
5. Do you have children living at home?
Just as your emotions affect your spouse, they also affect your children. If you’re asking, “Is my marriage worth saving?,” your children are a big consideration.
Whether you stay in your marriage or leave, you have difficult work ahead of you. And, sometimes, children are the sobering factor that makes the decision for you.
6. Have you worked on changing yourself?
Unless you’re content to just throw in the towel on your marriage, your first step needs to be in the direction of a mirror. Nothing in your life is going to change until you change.
That doesn’t mean that you’re the cause of all the unhappiness in your marriage. It simply means that your life and your perception of happiness aren’t going to change until you change.
Even if all you did was change your expectations of your spouse, you’ll have redirected your criteria for happiness.
No matter what direction your marriage takes, you’ll always be responsible for yourself.
By diving deep into your own emotions and issues, you’ll be in a healthier place to embrace those of your spouse.
7. What do you really want?
When you’ve “existed” in an unhappy marriage for years, you may have lost any sense of what you want.
Time loses relevance. Dreams lose their passion. And “happy” doesn’t even have a definition in your dictionary.
If you knew that your marriage could be saved — even if you didn’t know how — would you want to save it? Do you still have a warm place in your heart for that couple that said “I do” once upon a time?
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8. How long are you willing to wait?
You may have felt breathless when you first realized that you’ve been unhappy for many years. The idea that you’ve wasted valuable, irrevocable time can be a deafening blow.
But now you have to consider another investment of time. The difference is that now you’re living with awareness.
The question is, are you willing to put in the time and effort, knowing that your spouse may not be on the same timeline? Only you can answer this.
But, if you both have a genuine yearning to restore your marriage, you can. With help, you can learn to work as a team on behalf of it.
At the heart of intimacy is the ability to heal life’s wounds. But the vulnerability required for healing is shared with the ability to hurt.
Marriage has an equal potential for pain as it does for healing — an equal potential for unhappiness as for happiness.
Living in an unhappy marriage for years on end is an unfortunate misuse of intimacy. But, by its very nature, intimacy can be called into healing action again by the power of intention.
If you can be vulnerable enough with yourself regarding your unhappiness, you can help reawaken the vulnerability — and happiness — in your marriage.
Mary Ellen Goggin offers relationship coaching for individuals and collaborates with her partner Dr. Jerry Duberstein to offer private couples retreats. To learn more about working with Mary Ellen, schedule a ½ hour complimentary consultation.
This article was originally published at The Free & Connected blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.