How To Stay In An Unhappy Marriage Without Totally Falling Apart

It's all about making happier connections.

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You’re unhappy in your marriage, but you’ve decided to stay. It’s been a gut-wrenching decision, and you’re beginning to wonder how you can stay and keep your sanity. You alternate between wanting to leave and praying that it will get easier.

This article shows how to make the best of an unhappy marriage. It takes a lot of soul-searching to make this decision. When you’ve been together for several years (or longer) and there are kids, making this choice can weigh heavily on your heart.


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Despite being in an unhappy marriage, there are reasons you are willing to stay.

Common reasons to stay in an unhappy marriage:

  • For the kids (the most-reported reason)
  • Fear of financial insecurity
  • Not wanting to be alone
  • The stigma of divorce
  • Not wanting to start over
  • Wanting to avoid the hassle

It’s a very personal decision but once you make up your mind to stay, you have some choices to make. You can learn how to create an amicable home despite the relationship failing. Sometimes, these tools lead to reconciliation but if not, you can still keep your home a safe haven for everyone involved.


*Note: If you are in an abusive relationship, these suggestions will not be enough to keep you and your kids safe. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233. They have the resources to help.

Practicing detachment to cope:

When a marriage isn’t working but you’re not ready to leave, detachment can be a lifesaver. Detachment is letting someone be who they are while protecting yourself from their consequences. Often this concept is associated with addiction, but it also helps create distance from certain behaviors that drive you nuts.

Detachment works when there is:

  • Drinking or drug use
  • Verbal abuse or criticism
  • Annoying habits
  • Problems that you cannot resolve
  • Behaviors that you want to change
  • Aggressive behavior



Every marriage has annoyances that create tension. Detachment provides that emotional space between you and the annoying behavior. It gives you a chance to walk away and take care of yourself instead of trying to fix it.

Detachment is letting other people be who they are without trying to change or fix them. Often, the relationship improves because when you detach, you argue less.

It’s letting go of the expectation that your partner will change. Accepting them for who they are relieves frustration.

When you focus too much on someone else’s behavior it’s easy to lose yourself. Trying to control someone else’s behavior is exhausting. You get derailed from your own life because you are obsessing about theirs. Hoping they will change or finally “show up” for you.


RELATED: 11 Ways To Be Happier & More In Love (Without Trying To Change Your Partner)

What does detaching look like?

  • Treating your spouse as a kind stranger would

  • Stop giving advice or trying to change them
  • Letting go of the small stuff
  • Not commenting on their behavior
  • Letting them make their own choices



Doing these behaviors encourages goodwill. Maintaining pleasantries such as please and thanks sets a powerful tone for the entire family. The kids see how to be respectful while you’re hurting.

Detaching means be light and polite. Being polite helps avoid those same old arguments. The home becomes less stressful. As you start making these positive changes you realize that you have the power to end the war — or at least not participate in it.

The Benefits of Detachment:

  • You have more energy to care for yourself and the kids
  • Not interfering helps you keep calm in the moment
  • There is less arguing because you’re not trying to change your partner
  • You stop expecting your spouse to meet all of your needs
  • Letting go of what isn’t working keeps expectations realistic

Find New Ways To Connect

Finding neutral ways to connect is important. When couples are unhappy, family rituals go out the window. Make an effort to keep a few going such as having breakfast together or checking in after work.


You can choose to stay and be miserable or find a way to be pleasant. That’s the power you do have which can open the door to healing. If not, at least you’re not living in a relationship war zone.

Neutral Ways to Connect in an Unhappy Marriage:

  • Make an effort to enjoy your kids’ events
  • Have some meals together
  • Watch a movie as a family
  • Talk about safe, neutral topics
  • Make daily conversations pleasant and light-hearted



This may or may not lead to reconciliation. Either way, you can co-exist in the midst of an unhappy marriage by creating new ways to connect.

RELATED: 101 Smart Ways To Improve Your Relationship Right This Second

Get Your Own Life Going Despite the Marriage

Part of coping with an unhappy marriage is redefining your own life. How you think determines much of the outcome. By focusing on the problem, the problem grows, but when your mind shifts to the solution, anxiety and hopelessness decrease. You start to have hope again.

Instead of expecting your partner to fulfill your needs, find alternatives. Getting enough support is another aspect of growing your independence. Join a support meet-up group to increase your social circle. Feeling more connected makes you feel less alone.


A Happier Self Heals You In An Unhappy Marriage

Starting to take better care of yourself is the next step. Join a gym or start to go out with friends. Show genuine interest in your partner’s day without resentment. The kids will be happier, and you’ll be less stressed. Your spouse may even become more amiable.

Stop fighting over what you cannot change and learn to focus on what you can. In the long run, even if the marriage fails, creating a happier connection means that everyone wins.



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Michelle Farris is a marriage and family therapist who specializes in helping people heal codependency and manage anger with practical tips that improve communication and trust. She’s a therapist who “walks her talk” and teaches others how to set healthy boundaries and improve self-care. Follow her on Facebook or sign up for her free 5-day email course on anger.