These ideas are inspired by a wife who asked for help on my “surviving an unhappy marriage” article. She feels hopeless and helpless, and just needs to know she’s not alone.
Are you trapped in a marriage with a man you don’t love, who 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 Melanie said on How to Survive an Unhappy Marriage: “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.”
I can’t offer advice or counselling, but there are several things you can do to free yourself when you’re unhappily married. These tips aren’t about saving your marriage…they’re about saving yourself.
How to Cope When You’re Unhappily Married
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 cope with an unhappy marriage (and even improve a bad relationship) is about deciding what your options are, and learning how to live with the choice you make about your life.
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 a marriage, even if you’re unhappily married. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to leave your husband. It just means you need to accept your reluctance to leave as a normal part of separating.
Find women who survived 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 when you feel trapped and helpless:
“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 coping with being unhappily married! But if your hands are tied in your relationship (literally or metaphorically), get strength from women like Rebecca. They found the courage to leave unhappy marriages.
Believe you are braver than you feel
I love this You’re braver than you believe, Stronger than you seem, and Smarter than you think wall sign from Amazon.com. It’s what Christopher Robin said to Winnie the Pooh. Get something like that, put it somewhere so you can see it every day, and keep reminding yourself that you have what it takes to cope with your marriage.
Start taking action – it’ll help you stop feeling trapped in your 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 how to cope when you’re unhappily married, you need to start talking about your life. You can’t leave a man you’ve loved for years unless you rally the troops. And trust me – you have troops! 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 on how to cope when you’re unhappily married 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.
Read Boundaries in Marriage by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Boundaries are the ‘property lines’ that define and protect husbands and wives as individuals. Once they are in place, a good marriage can become better, and a less-than-satisfying one can even be saved.
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 – especially if you don’t agree with Dale Carnegie that “Happiness doesn’t depend on any external conditions, it is governed by our mental attitude.” That means that no matter how unhappy your marriage is, you can be survive and be happy as an individual.
What do you want to see happen in your marriage, if you had the power to wave a magic wand and create a miracle?
How do you stop feeling helpless when you’re unhappily married? 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. I can’t offer advice, but you may find it helpful to share your thoughts.
Your thoughts are welcome below! I don't give advice, but you can get free relationship help from marriage coach Mort Fertel.