11 Reasons Why You're Stuck In An Unfulfilling Marriage (& How You Can Save Your Relationship)

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How To Save Your Marriage When You’ve Been Unhappy In The Relationship

If you're wondering how to save your marriage when you've been unhappy in your relationship, you're not alone.

People get married with a set of expectations, both conscious and unconscious.

Even their decision to marry may not have involved reflection and insight. Sometimes, a combination of outside influences, a lack of soul searching, or an errant thought that it’s time to get married, serve as the catalyst for a walk down the aisle.

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It's months or a few years later, after the wedding and honeymoon glow has dimmed, that people may pause to wonder how they got there.

And when a baby arrives, and external stimuli seeps into the unsuspecting couples’ lives, if the twosome has not developed a productive communication system for themselves, negativity often threatens the marriage.

Blame, shame, guilt, gaslighting, stonewalling, cynicism, sarcasm, and anger are just some of the unwanted outcomes that are passed along to one another. And if the very worst of Gottman’s "Four Horseman" rears its head in a marriage — contempt — it is a very challenging road back to harmony.

Yet it can be done.

Here are 11 underlying reasons why couples stay together in an unhappy marriage (& how to fix your broken relationship before it's too late):

1. Communication issues

Social power is important to both parties to stay in a marriage.

If both parties cherish social power as their primary value in the relationship, then the marriage stays intact. It still holds a lot of value.

If there were a point system, and both of their top value is social power, then they align with one another. How they are perceived and positioned is paramount to their image as a couple.

Choose instead to embrace the fact that you both share the same values; identify and discuss your needs and preferences, and prioritize communication.

2. You treat marriage as a game

You may view marriage as a game, where "losing" — or getting a divorce — is not an option. Divorce, in your mind, only means that someone has failed; they're a big loser.

You may believe that marriage is sort of a competition, where divorce is not on the table because that would mean you "lost," so therefore you have to stay to "win."

Attach to the mindset that you're both "all in," rather than winning or losing. Find the strength in that commitment and make small, kind, efforts every day to honor one another.

3. You stay for the children

You promised the kids. When a child has sat on top of the stairs, witnessing their parents argue, the child cries and fears that their parents will divorce.

Both parents assuage the child with their reassurance that they will never divorce. Ever.

“You have to stay together for the sake of the kids!” This generic statement has been around for generations and is now losing some stigmatized ground.

Couples who peek at separation or divorce, (and where there is no abuse) may consider the disruption for the kids, the financial impact on the family, and the emotional well-being of family members, and decide to stick it out.

With the guidance of counseling, a couple can work through “what happens if” scenarios in a safe and objective setting. Practice productive solution-seeking discussions.

Try to remove “never” from all discussions, and provide children with honest, (age-appropriate) nurturing language that's loving no matter what situations arise.

4. You feel like your marriage vows are set in stone

In your mind, these are sacred vows that no one can put asunder. Perhaps brought up in a faith where the dissolution of marriage is shunned, some people do not even allow themselves to think the “D” word.

And if this is a second or third marriage, the stigma (and possible shame) of yet another divorce might be unthinkable.

If commitment to a higher power, institution, or to the spouse is of utmost importance, then share that deep passion with your partner. But be open to honoring introspection, counseling, and change, and be willing to make the relationship work if you won't consider separation.

5. Your families are close or have a good relationship with your spouse

Some couples get together initially because their families are close, or parents adore the new daughter-in-law or son-in-law.

When the discontented spouse shares their unhappiness in the marriage with their parent, they dismiss the comments and objections because they are very fond of their in-law.

While it is wonderful to have parental support and approval, try to see your perspective through your own eyes. Don't stay in an unhappy relationship because it makes other people happy.


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6. You're dependent on your spouse financially

Like a mannequin or puppet, some couples excel on the Excel spreadsheet. With the same socio-educational-economic backgrounds, these couples are like plastic wedding cake toppers. They’re perfectly aligned in all ways, except emotionally.

They don’t feel alike, yet, the numbers on the spreadsheet cover all other categories of the relationship, so looking good on paper overrules.

If you're determined to stay, be grateful to get your emotional needs met through other people and activities. Perhaps through children, family members, friends, work, sports, arts, and hobbies.

7. You believe that upset and fighting are normal in a marriage

Marriage is hard work. Many believe they must accept this lifelong challenge; that mediocrity and settling is just part of the marriage relationship.

Some people are influenced by their parents, are not curious, or not inspired by anything anymore. The belief that all couples fight and struggle is just part of the marriage deal.

Shift your mindset. Neuroscience tells us that when you reframe a negative thought (“negativity bias”) with positive, you can actually rewire your brain. In less than 20 seconds, you can encode your brain with a new positive outlook.

8. You've believe it's your "lot" to deal with hardship

You may be unwittingly playing a "martyr." This is someone who believes that at birth or a young age, he or she is dealt a hand of cards you must play for the rest of your life.

You cannot ask for a re-deal or a misdeal. You often believe you are a “have not,” and will never be a “have.” And when it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, you get the rush that you were right.

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When someone offers some positive suggestions to consider, a martyr will often comment, “It’s all good,” to quickly end the conversation.

Don't revert to the “It’s all good,” comment. While the shift to a more positive thought is a start, instead, elaborate more on what is all good. What circumstances have you just accepted as "your lot in life?"

It will help you move the needle from a habitual negative frame of mind to a healthier positive one.

9. You're afraid to leave the marriage

Sadly, many relationships are founded on fear and threats. Fear is the foundation of this type of relationship where threats are launched.

Perhaps a spouse threatens that if one party leaves the marriage, they will keep the kids from them, or make the kids hate them. There will be financial instability. That they will be forced to live on the streets. Their friends will turn against them.

Definitely seek professional help to manage and shift fear-based thoughts and behavior, as well as to seek alternative solutions. This type of behavior should not be tolerated.

10. You've become utterly co-dependent on your spouse

You or your partner are no longer empowered. They become eroded and alienated from family and friends.

Ever so gradually, you relinquish complete control of your identity to your spouse. The giving away of oneself is so subtle, that your spirit slowly gets sucked into your spouse’s vacuum.

The empowered spouse projects their fears and insecurities onto the disempowered spouse, and they accept them in the name of pleasing the demanding spouse. The disempowered partner’s identity becomes blurred; you often no longer look, dress, or talk the way you used to.

Instead, you follow whatever path your spouse has laid out.

This requires counseling, either with or without the spouse. And seek the support of family and friends to help reclaim your identity.

11. You've just accepted that this is as good as things will ever get

Maybe you grew up in a home that was dysfunctional with a lackluster dynamic or a home with conflict. Your marriage, while uncomfortable, replicates that and feels like home.

The unexamined life is something that comes naturally and easily, so why would anyone venture to poke around in something for which they have no frame of reference?

You must explore yourself and your partner. Self-discovery and growth offer a priceless adventure to enrich the relationship between the two of you so that you can heal your wounds and grow closer.

If you can make peace with — and savor — the somewhat atypical reasons why you're in an unfulfilling marriage, you may lovingly and honestly grow together within the framework of their shared common values and fix the broken relationship to make it a happy one.

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Poppy and Geoff Spencer, M.S., CPC, are certified counselors, nationally syndicated writers, relationship and parenting experts, and certified in Myers Briggs (personality). Poppy and Geoff are a highly-credentialed husband and wife team who have made it their life’s passion to help people to immediately identify and address communication barriers.