How do you cope with an unhappy marriage when you don’t want to get divorced? It is a confusing, difficult question for many couples. Even unhappily married husbands and wives are reluctant to seek or even talk about divorce. Not only is getting divorce emotionally and spiritually devastating, it’s also financially and socially costly.
You may see your confusion in this reader’s struggle with her marriage: “My husband and I have been married for almost six years, together for eight,” says Angela on How to Leave Your Husband When You Have No Money. “We’ve been through a lot over the past year and almost divorced, he then changed his mind and wanted to stay. It was all a sudden surprise, and since then it has been a struggle. He loved me and doesn’t want to leave me but he wants to be with other women and can’t decide. I can’t trust him any more. Our sex life doesn’t exist. I can’t take the going back and forth about what he wants. It’s crushing me. Part of the problem is I can’t afford to live comfortably on my own as a divorced woman. Financially it’s easier to stay married even though I’m not happy. I’m confused. What should I do?”
Nobody can tell you what to do when you’re confused about your marriage. Even if the best marriage therapist or most insightful couples counselor advised you to get a divorce, you won’t be fully convinced it’s right unless you yourself come to that decision within you. It’s the same with the opposite decision: if a marriage counselor urged you to stay together and try to save your marriage, you wouldn’t be as fully committed as you would if you made the decision together, as a couple.
Still, it can be helpful to seek help from a marriage counselor. Not for answers, but for clarity into your own experience. Getting an objective perspective on your relationship, history, and life as a couple can help you decide what to do – especially if you’re confused about your marriage and unsure about divorce. If one of you isn’t happily married, chances are both of you aren’t. This means you both might benefit from talking through your marriage with an objective therapist who can help you see your blind spots.
4 Things to Consider When You Feel Confused and Unsure in Marriage
Here are several things to consider when you’re confused about your marriage. You’re unhappy married but not sure divorce is the right decision.
Another reader shares her experience: “I have been married for almost 6 years and we have 2 children,” says Hilary on How Do You Find Happiness in a Loveless Marriage? “My husband has a 17 year old daughter from a previous marriage. We have lost all intimacy. I am a law student and a stay at home mom. He wants me to quit school and not work and he also doesn’t like ANY of my friends or relatives. I have no social life and have lost my sense of self…I feel very alone and like he is trying to trap me. My husband breaks every promise he makes to our kids and me. I don’t want to give up any more of myself and I shouldn’t have to. I want to stay together for our kids and because I think I still love him. I am very lonely and confused, and this makes me scared to leave him because I don’t know if I can do this by myself. I also don’t want to take away the only father figure my kids have just because I’m lonely. I don’t want to punish them for my feelings…help!”
1. Try to get a “reality check” on your feelings
Sometimes we feel and think things that aren’t true. Sometimes we feel and act like our partners are fighting against us instead of working for us. Sometimes we believe myths about marriage, such as the idea of “happily ever after.” This is one of the blinds spots about being married. We think or believe certain things are true, but they aren’t. How do you know if your thoughts and beliefs about your marriage are true? Get a reality check by reading a good book about relationships, confiding in someone wise and trustworthy, or talking to a marriage counselor.
“Marriages today are in trouble precisely because of some misleading, even damaging advice that’s been foisted on couples for way too long,” writes Hal Runkel in ScreamFree Marriage: Calming Down, Growing Up, and Getting Closer. “…our families hand down these false truths, teaching us that ‘finding someone’ is the key to having a full life.”
2. Expect your feelings to change as your marriage matures
One of the biggest marriage myths is that the wedding is the biggest and most exciting part of being a married couple! After the wedding, life is easy breezy, right? Wrong. Happy, healthy marriages take work. The pastor of my church is also a marriage therapist; he often talks about how confused and unhappy he and his wife were before they went to couples counseling. He learned that relationships are always changing, growing, maturing – especially marriages. As a young husband he didn’t realize that he wouldn’t always feel the same way about his wife. Marriage counseling taught him that feeling confused or even unhappy in a relationship doesn’t mean divorce is the answer. It just means there are feelings that need to be aired out.
Today, this pastor therapist and his wife visit their counselor ever few months for a “tune up.” Why? So they can air out their relationship under the guidance of an objective, trustworthy eye. Are you unsure about but seriously considering divorce because you don’t feel happy in your marriage? Give yourself time to explore your confused feelings, examine your beliefs about being married, and even examine why you’re unsure about divorce.
Remember that this may be a temporary season of unhappiness in your marriage. Seasons change. This stage of your marriage may end, bringing fresh new life for you and your husband.
3. Explore the expectations you have from your husband
One of the most difficult things to accept about marriage is your responsibility for your own health, happiness, and well-being. You are a grown-up who has to learn how to meet your own emotional needs through a variety of relationships, activities, and pursuits. Your husband can’t be the sole provider or source of your happiness and well-being. If you feel confused about your marriage, consider what you expect and think you need from your husband.
Are you asking him to fill your need for security, self-worth, community, or connection? He can’t fill those needs for you. Especially if he has the same expectations of you. If your husband expects you to be the only person or thing that fills his needs for security, self-worth, companionship and connection, he will be disappointed. And you’ll both end up feeling confused about your marriage and unsure about divorce.
4. Still confused about your marriage? Consider a different perspective
Here’s a lovely perspective from Runkel in ScreamFree Marriage: Calming Down, Growing Up, and Getting Closer:
“We found a hand-carved statue in Siberia. Viewed from afar, it looks like a tall, singular person with a leather belt around his waist. Upon closer inspection, however, you see that this singular person is actually made of two individuals, carved to fit together so closely that they appear as one….these are two separate statues, two whole people. They are completely capable of standing alone…or together.”
What do you think about this image in relation to your own marriage? Are you and your husband healthy as a married couple? What about as two separate individuals? Talk to your spouse about how you feel. Express your confusion, doubt, questions and insecurity.
You can’t change your husband, but you can change how you respond to him. You have more power than you think to change your marriage! Plus, you owe it to yourself to be honest with your husband. Get as clear as you can about your confusion and uncertainty. Tell your husband you’re not happy married but unsure or confused about divorce. Take a risk; it may be scary and even cause conflict right now, but your honesty might help save your relationship.
“Self-respect and self-representation, at the risk of rejection, are the essential qualities that can actually lead to a growing, vibrant marriage,” writes Runkel in ScreamFree Marriage. “Every step toward your spouse is a huge risk on your part – whether it’s a step expressing negative feelings about him or a step expressing something positive.”
Have you been feeling confused about your marriage and unsure about divorce for a long time? Read How to Stop Going Back and Forth in Your Relationship.
“The world is round and the place that may seem like the end may be only the beginning.” – Ivy Baker Priest.