If You’ve Been In An Unhappy Marriage For Years, Consider This Sage Advice

You can reawaken the vulnerability and happiness in your marriage.

Unhappy woman in her marriage, feeling disconnected StratfordProductions | Shutterstock

Marriages are expected to have some down days and the occasional heated arguments. None of those are on your favorites list, but they don't qualify your marriage as unhappy, either.

Believe it or not, fighting isn’t necessarily bad in marriage. It’s why and how you battle things out that matter. Couples who understand this aren’t afraid of a little heat, because they know it can help bring about positive change.


In a happy and healthy marriage, fighting doesn’t imply a loss of respect or compassion. There are still rules to abide by to protect a relationship. But this isn’t what an unhappy marriage looks like. Being in an unhappy marriage for several years takes a different toll.

RELATED: 15 Top Signs Of An Unhappy Marriage You Don't Want To Ignore

If you’ve been in an unhappy marriage for years, consider this sage advice:

1. Unhappy marriages are unique in their way

In an unhappy marriage, you may not remember the last fight you and your spouse had — or any fight that had any rules of engagement. Perhaps you’ve been miserable for so long that you’ve finally reached a breaking point. You don’t even recognize the couple that blissfully exchanged I do’s a lifetime ago. You don’t know what to do or where to start to make the break.


She feels stuck in an unhappy marriage Ground Picture via Shutterstock

Perhaps your unhappiness is only just announcing itself, even though it's been hanging around for years. You’re faced with the reality of your unhappiness — you’ve been living in denial all these years. It’s a tough pill to swallow. You can no longer pretend you're not aware. And you’re not the only one in this marriage — there may be other lives to consider, like those of your children or in-laws.

2. How is your marriage affecting your health?

Your constant upset stomach, lack of appetite, migraines, anxiety, and insomnia aren’t just coincidences. There's a proven link between an unhappy marriage and health. If the communication in your marriage has deteriorated to the point where you’re walking on eggshells, your body is going to register the discontent. You'll be at an increased risk of depression, and stress hormones will start a cascade of health problems. No matter what, your health has to be non-negotiable.


RELATED: 5 Signs Of An Unhappy Marriage — 2 Of Which Mean It's Probably Time To Leave

3. Why are you unhappy?

This obvious question isn’t always easy to answer. It requires you to come face-to-face with emotions and recognize, name, and feel them. Sometimes, that process is facilitated with the help of a professional.

There are proven links between marital dissatisfaction and depression. But knowing whether the marital conflict is causing the depression, or if depression is causing marital discontent is important to know how to go forward.

In the latter case, for example, an undiagnosed mood disorder can put tremendous strain on a marriage and the affected person’s spouse. The situation then feeds upon itself, often masking its origin. Most importantly, understanding why you are unhappy will give direction and purpose to your remedy.


4. Does your spouse know why you’re unhappy?

Doing your work to understand your unhappiness is essential if you expect your spouse to understand and be compassionate. No one gets a free pass on the expectation that their spouse is a mind reader. The two of you inevitably feed off one another’s energy. So, holding things in will draw either a parallel response or an opposite response. But neither will facilitate the happiness for which you long.

5. Is your spouse unhappy, too?

Chances are if you've been unhappy in your marriage for years, your spouse is, too. Whether one of you is depressed and the other is feeling the effects or maybe your communication is unhealthy, marriage isn’t lived in isolation. If you want to save your marriage, you have to care about your spouse’s emotions as much as you do your own.

They always disagree in an unhappy marriage Crime Art via Shutterstock


6. Do you have children living at home?

Just as your emotions affect your spouse, they also affect your children. If you ask, "Is my marriage worth saving?" your children are a big consideration. Whether you stay in your marriage or leave, you have difficult work ahead of you. And, sometimes, children are the sobering factor that decides for you.

RELATED: 10 Unmistakable Signs Your Marriage Can Be Saved

7. Have you worked on changing yourself?

Unless you’re content to throw in the towel on your marriage, your first step needs to be in the direction of a mirror. Nothing in your life is going to change until you change. That doesn’t mean you’re the cause of all the unhappiness in your marriage. It simply means your life and perception of happiness won't change until you change. Even if all you did was change your expectations of your spouse, you'll have redirected your criteria for happiness.

No matter what direction your marriage takes, you'll always be responsible for yourself. By diving deep into your own emotions and issues, you'll be in a healthier place to embrace those of your spouse.


8. What do you want?

When you’ve existed in an unhappy marriage for years, you may have lost any sense of what you want. Time loses relevance. Dreams lose their passion. And happy doesn’t even have a definition in your dictionary.


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If you knew your marriage could be saved — even if you didn’t know how — would you want to save it? Do you still have a warm place in your heart for the couple who said, "I do" once upon a time? Is the idea of remaining an intact family important to you? If you and your spouse still respect and admire one another underneath it all, do you want to build on that?

Knowing divorce isn’t the easy start-over you might wish for, is there a path to happiness within your marriage?


9. How long are you willing to wait?

You may have felt breathless when you first realized you’ve been unhappy for many years. The idea you've wasted valuable, irrevocable time can be a deadly blow. But now you have to consider another investment of time. The difference is that now you're living with awareness. The question is, are you willing to put in the time and effort, knowing your spouse may not be on the same timeline? Only you can answer this.

If you both have a genuine yearning to restore your marriage, you can. With help, you can learn to work as a team on behalf of it. At the heart of intimacy is the ability to heal life’s wounds. But the vulnerability required for healing is shared with the ability to hurt. Marriage has an equal potential for pain as it does for healing — an equal potential for unhappiness as for happiness.

Living in an unhappy marriage for years on end is an unfortunate misuse of intimacy. But, by its very nature, intimacy can be called into healing action again by the power of intention. If you can be vulnerable enough with yourself regarding your unhappiness, you can help reawaken the vulnerability — and happiness — in your marriage.


RELATED: How To Fall Back In Love With Your Partner (And Why You Fell Out Of It In The First Place)

Mary Ellen Goggin and Dr. Jerry Duberstein offer relationship coaching for individuals, and offer private couples retreats and couples counseling. They are co-authors of the book "Relationship Transformation: How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too."