How to Survive an Unhappy Marriage


Unhappy marriages are more common than you think – but who wants to be common? These tips on surviving when you feel stuck and alone in an unhappy marriage might help you break free. I’m not necessarily talking divorce…I’m talking about learning how to survive an unhappy marriage.

How to Survive an Unhappy MarriageThe Divorce Remedy: The Proven 7-Step Program for Saving Your Marriage by Michele Weiner Davis offers practical ways for marriage partners to avoid the “divorce trap”, move beyond ineffective, hurtful ways of interacting, learn how to survive an unhappy marriage by identifying relationship goals, and overcome infidelity, Internet obsessions, depression, sexual problems, and midlife crises.

I just wrote an article about being happy single, and I suggested readers grab a glass of wine to accompany their reading. Maybe you should do the same! No matter how unhappy your marriage is, you can be happy as an individual…even if that means a solo glass of vino. Surviving an unhappy marriage means doing whatever it takes to feel empowered and strong.


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Are you trapped in a unhappy marriage with a man you don’t love – or with a man you believe doesn’t love you? Do you feel helpless, scared, and alone? These tips will help you stop feeling helpless and start making changes in your life.

Here’s what a reader said on my article about coping with a critical husband:

“I’ve been married for 34 years, my husband does not want me to have friends. When I call the police, he says they think I’m crazy. I don’t work, so I depend on him…I also take care of my brother who is living with me…my husband talks down to him…I feel trapped and don’t know what to do. My husband says he wants to leave, but he doesn’t. He’s always accusing me of something. I feel alone and unhappily married. I just need someone to talk to.”

The last sentence broke my heart. I emailed her, but I can’t offer marriage advice or counselling. That said, however, there are several things you can do to free yourself and survive an unhappy marriage. These tips aren’t about saving your relationship; they’re about saving yourself.

Surviving an Unhappy Marriage

No matter how your husband treats you, you may still love him. Or, you may yearn for the way your relationship was, or the way you wanted your marriage to be. But you can’t force life or love to be the way you want. The sooner you recognize that you have choices and options no matter how trapped and helpless you feel, the sooner you can start taking action and empowering yourself.

Learning how to survive in an unhappy marriage is about deciding what your options are, and learning how to live with the choice you make about your life. Whether you’re learning how to survive an unhappy marriage because there is no intimacy in your relationship or no love in your life, you CAN get through this.

Choose the most difficult path

Maybe you can’t change your mindset and thoughts, and be happy in your marriage. Maybe you need to leave.

I don’t know if this is the right decision for you, but if you’re trapped in a relationship with a man who treats you like dirt, then I encourage you to sit with the possibility that you can leave. When you’re trapped in a relationship, you feel helpless and isolated – because your husband wants you to feel that way. His goal is to make you think you have no options. That’s why he doesn’t want you spending time with your friends or even working outside the home. Don’t underestimate how hard it is to leave even an unhappy marriage. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to leave your husband or learn how to survive an unhappy marriage. It just means you need to accept your reluctance to leave as a normal part of separating.

Connect with women who are surviving unhappy marriages

I found a blog called The Last Straw – Support, Motivation, Tips and Warning Signs of Domestic Violence. Rebecca Burns is the creator; she left a man who abused her. She knows what you’re going through because she’s been there, too. Here’s what she says about leaving an unhappy marriage when you feel trapped and helpless:

How to Survive an Unhappy Marriage

How to Survive an Unhappy Marriage

“Looking back I know the answer to why doesn’t a woman just leave. I have said time and time again, I stayed so long because I feared dying more than I feared leaving….[I was in] seclusion from the world for most of my twenties. I have been away from this man now for over 10 years. The physical threat of him was gone after only 1½ years of having him removed from my home, but only because he died of a heart attack. The mental threat of him really only left my mind in the last year. I fear it will remain forever for my son.”

Of course, this is on the extreme end of surviving an unhappy marriage! But if your hands are tied in your relationship (literally or metaphorically), get strength from women like Rebecca. They found the courage to leave an unhappy marriage.

Start taking action – it’ll help you survive an unhappy marriage

The first step is often the hardest. Asking for help when you feel isolated, alone, and scared may feel impossible – but it will change your life. When I worked at Big Brothers and Big Sisters, we would encourage children to tell someone they trust when they’re hurt. We told them to tell someone – anyone – and keep telling until they found the help they needed. If you feel helpless at the thought of learning how to survive an unhappy marriage, you need to start talking about your life. You can’t leave a man you’ve loved for years unless you get support. And trust me – you can find support! Your church, your kids’ teachers, your neighbors, your family, the people at the other end of the helplines. You need only ask for help, and help will be there.

I think the most important tip for surviving an unhappy marriage is to figure out what’s going wrong, and if you have the power or energy to save your marriage. I’m not a proponent of rushing towards divorce when a marriage is unhappy, but I also don’t think you should stay married if you’re unhappy.

How do you survive and stop feeling helpless in an unhappy marriage? Tell me what makes you feel strong, courageous, and able to take care of yourself – even if you haven’t felt that way for years.

If you want to leave your unhappy marriage but don’t have money, read How to Save Money for a Divorce.

xo


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18 thoughts on “How to Survive an Unhappy Marriage

  • Phyllis

    I am sick now, depression and weight gain. 25 years with 3 kids, two with disabilities. I am 60 and failing, cognitive decline and poverty from disability

  • Kodya

    I’ve read other comments and find that I’m unusual. My husband is not the bad guy. I’m the bad woman. I b*tch, am needy, constantly demanding his attention or time for errands. We’ve been married seven years and together 24 years. The first 13 years he was still married to his first wife – 7 years of our affair and 6 years when he legally separated. I have no children and he has one adult child. This second marriage, for both us, has become a nightmare. I have lost my identity and feel like I have no home of my own. I live in the house he and his first wife bought. Somehow I thought I would get a home we both chose when we married. My previous homes have been very small apartments or one story homes. He refuses to clean out his clothes closets, library, family room in this large three story home. These areas are the results of classic hoarding: stacks of papers, magazines, lamps/knickknacks/dishes (TONS) of them, in three rooms. And I am not allowed to touch anything. I have a very nice car that I put in the attached car. I’m terrified that his stacks of stuff, including old walkers for his mother, roof shovels, will crash down on my car. I am simply not used to living in a home like this and he won’t budge. Thinks he’s so smart that he paid off the house and can live here forever. I cared for his mother, age 93 – 96 in the home, supervised her care I a nursing home, monitored everything when she died at age 99 in nursing home. Bottom line is that I don’t believe I’ll get much sympathy, I am wracked with guilt if I leave. I deystroyed his first marriage.

  • Dawghoused

    At this time unhealthy marriage relationship and divorce are very common things. Every couple face issues and problems in the relation but it doesn’t mean to end up with divorce. We can agree that all couples are not perfect for each other; it’s all depending on understanding and trust. I have read your post and found it quite inspiring to all those couples who are not happy in their relation. I would love to read these type of articles, keep sharing.

  • Rimjhim Aggarwal

    Intimacy in a married life is one of the most vital needs to deep-rooted common joy with your life partner. The ideal approach to depicting intimacy is to call it a sentiment of closeness between each other that no one else outside the relationship can have with you or your accomplice. It is a bond that occurs from opening up to each other as far as contemplations, sentiments and even physical communication. The word references portray it as making the most individual things (thoughts, considerations, and sentiments) known. Closeness in marriage is not guaranteed. It must be worked at and collected with time. Transparency is essential when it comes to trust and long-lasting relationships. Thanks!

  • Penelope

    Hello. I’ve been married for 3 years 10 months and am so unhappy. I’ve been unhappy for 3 of the years actually. My husband has adult children who have always hated me- they even stopped talking to their Dad when we got married out of anger toward his new life. I have had to carry this burden this entire marriage. I had no idea his family was so dysfunctional and hateful, it’s heartbreaking. My children have always been loving and open. Over the years my husband has gotten less and less interesting, he doesn’t know how to satisfy me emotionally or physically and I’m tired of trying to make this marriage work. I have no interest in being intimate with him and could care less about talking to him- I don’t like his beliefs or thoughts. I don’t want to walk away because my children love him- I’m not financially able to leave anyway. I don’t know what to do and fee o made a horrible mistake in my life

  • Hazel

    This made me feel a bit calm. I dont know what Im feeling. I think Im no longer happy but dont know the reason why. We are married for 6yrs and together for 12yrs already. I feel burned out and Im tired of understanding every situation we have. We keep on arguing even in little things. He keeps on admiring other women even in front of me. I cant understand if it is normal or not. He always said he loves me but I dont feel it anymore. Maybe the problem is with me i dont know

    • Iris

      I’ve been with my husband for a total of 5 years and we argue almost daily over everything…..even the smallest things. We have arguments that escalate really fast n the saddest part is my 4 year old son is usually around. I’m just so unhappy. Also my husband constantly watches porn and follows pages on social media with naked women constantly. I don’t know wat to do anymore but I’m so unhappy

  • Mrs. Saintprix

    I feel for all you woman, I myself am in the same situation, trying to survive an unhappy marriage. We’ve been together for 19 yrs, married 12 yrs n 5 months. My husband cheated on me about 10 yrs now with the same chick n made 2 kids on top of our 5. He denied the 2nd child up until I found out in June this yr. He then admitted to it. He moved this girl up here by us n then he moved out our home n now goes back n forth from me to her every other night but we get the shorter end of the stuck n they get most. He still say he not with the girl since 2 years ago n I know it’s all lies. I even seen a psychiatrist for help n it helped for a little while but then this side chick keeps coming after me indirectly n pulling me out of character. I need some help before I truly hurt one of them and be happy about it but sad at the same time because of my kids n they are my world. Any advice for me about how to survive an unhappy marriage is strongly needed and appreciated.

  • Lyn

    I’ve only been married for 8 years and never felt so alone. My husband disrespects me: Looks at other women (even in front of me). We have been in physical fights. He has left me bruised many times. Unfortunately, we have fought in front of the kids. I try to avoid that now. Talking to him is the hardest thing ever cause he blows up. He’s embarrassed to be seen with me in public. I cry almost every night cause I see how he doesn’t love me. I’ve even prayed for my life to end soon. I wish I was dead. It’s hard for me to leave cause we have two kids. Ages: 6 and 2. I’m the one who takes care of them. No baby sitters. He works and I take care of everything else. I don’t have time for a job so I can save up money to leave. I wish I had someone to talk to. Sometimes I think life would have been better off if I were never born.

    • K

      I know how you feel :(
      Having kids around when arguing tears me apart. That’s why most of the time, I just try to de-escalate the arguments by just agreeing with everything. It’s the stupidest I’ve felt my entire life. I thought I was strong and smart.

  • kenn Lee

    same thing here. i have a disability and cant leave now. The worst part is that my older son is learning how to disrepect me and women in general because that is what he thinks is the norm.

  • michelle

    I wish I could leave! I am unable to work due to an illness I can’t survive on the money I get alone. Another 5 years and Im entitled to alimony. Its gonna be a long wait!

  • Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen Post author

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on how to survive an unhappy marriage. Working with a counselor is great! It’s hard to work through the issues related to being unhappily married, but in the long run it will help you.

    I hope you’re doing well, and have arrived at a better place.

  • zahara

    Thanks for the article even im not happy with my marriage yet cannot leave him coz i love him and also its gonna be a mess if i leave him. As long as i remember we never had a good sex life just becoz he was not interested or whats so ever even of he was with me most of the time i felt like he is with me just like he is fullfilling his duty. May be im wrong but thinking of this i have spend and still spends lots of unhappy nights.. I really need help and advice

  • Pamala

    Wow. This article might just help me. I am in an unhappy marriage and find it difficult to leave after being with my husband for over 20 years (abusive in the last 10 plus years). I am at work right now crying. I have been reaching out for help from everyone I know. So I know I am on the right track. I am also working with a psychoanalyst who is providing me with information and a plan regardless if I leave or stay. I will look at the blog mentioned above and read what others are going through and how they are surviving. Thanks so much for this guidance

  • Marry

    I could try all of these tips on how to save an unhappy marriage. Great article! Thanks! Saving your marriage is not something that can be rushed.