10 Reasons Your Marriage Is Unfulfilling (That Have Nothing To Do With Your Partner)

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woman looking confused

I work with couples in counseling all the time, and the main complaint I hear from both men and women is feeling unfulfilled.

If this is how you feel, good news! It may be the case that the problem is you.

Why is that good news?

Because you can always work on yourself, whereas you can’t force your partner to work on their issues.

Here are 10 reasons your marriage is unfulfilling that have nothing to do with your partner:

1. You don’t express your needs

So many people are raised to please their parents at all costs, particularly if their parents are unpredictable, volatile, depressed, or unhappily married. They learn to put their needs on the back burner if they are on the stove at all. In adult relationships, being unable or unwilling to express your needs is the first step in creating a bitter, resentful dynamic. 

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2. You do not love yourself

It is so cliche to say this, but if you don’t love yourself, you can’t love anyone else. When you are deeply insecure or unhappy, you find yourself always looking out for number one. You cannot give yourself freely, because you are scared that you will get nothing back. When you feel deeply unhappy with yourself, upbringing issues are almost always at play.

3. You are unfulfilled in other aspects of your life

If you feel frustrated or stuck in your career, or you feel dissatisfied with how your parents or you have no fulfilling friendships, this frustration will likely overflow and poison your marriage. Partners cannot and should not be everything to one another. The first step when you feel stuck in your marriage is to think about where else in your life you feel stuck.

4. You haven’t worked on (your part of) your sex life

A major reason that many people are unhappy in their marriages is a lack of sex or a lack of fulfilling sex. Before you blame your partner for this, introspect deeply. Do you have body image issues that you need to work through? Have you checked your hormone levels? Are you focused on your physical health?

Have you worked through being raised in an anti-sex household? Do you express your needs in bed and share your fantasies? Have you directly attempted to teach your partner what you like and don’t like? Only after you conduct a thorough self-assessment in these areas can you conclude that the issue is with your partner.

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5. You have unresolved attachment issues

If you would classify yourself as a preoccupied or avoidant attachment, this is likely due to your relationship with your parents growing up. Insight-oriented therapy is invaluable in helping you work through core attachment issues and figure out how your unmet needs in childhood are impacting your ability to have a secure and fulfilling romantic relationship as an adult.

This is NOT saying your childhood, or your parents were bad. It is saying that if you have discomfort, guilt, anxiety, sadness, or anger when thinking about your childhood, it is naive to think that these squelched feelings aren’t affecting your ability to trust and connect with your spouse.

6. You allow your extended family to poison the well

If your family is overinvolved and intrusive, this is a surefire way to destroy your marriage. I have seen this a number of times in my practice. When other family members are overly invested in your marriage, especially if they talk badly about your spouse, this is, to use a clinical term, a Bad Scene.

If you find it difficult to set boundaries with family members that you know are difficult at best and toxic at worst, therapy can help you move out of this codependent role. (Also, read Children Of The Self-Absorbed.)

7. You create zero time for intimacy

I’m not only talking about sex but just time to connect in the absence of children or screens or work. “But my partner doesn’t create this time either!” I can hear you insisting, all the way to divorce court. If you are the one reading this article, take it upon yourself to call/text/smoke signal your partner this very minute and ask about a date night this coming weekend.

Today’s world is so hectic and fast-paced, and many couples are on their individual phones from the moment they open their eyes in the morning right up until they fall asleep. The impact on intimate connection cannot be overstated.

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8. You saw a bad marriage growing up and are subconsciously replicating it

You may have picked someone like one of your parents (in this case, it’s kind of your partner that is the problem but kind of not) or, by your own behavior, created a dynamic similar to the one you witnessed. Most couples do this; it is nearly impossible to change your subconscious template for relationships.

Note that I say nearly, or my entire profession would be nonsensical. The work I have done with couples figuring out that they are unintentionally mimicking the toxic relational patterns they saw growing up has been incredibly fulfilling. If you find yourself ever thinking that you and your partner are just as unhappy as your parents were, despite your best efforts to create the opposite, then you need to get into couples counseling ASAP.

9. You have not dealt with your own anxiety, depression, substance abuse, PTSD, ADHD, and so forth

It is almost impossible to be in a happy marriage with someone who is dealing with moderate or severe untreated emotional/mental issues. There is no partner in the world who can jolly someone out of a condition that is created by both genetics and environment and exacerbated by stress and marital dysfunction.

10. You refuse to look at your own behavior

Blaming your partner is a good way to avoid looking inward. People who are insecure about themselves are particularly defensive; if you know on a deep level that you have an unhealthy communication style or escalate conflicts or act abusive, you are more likely to blame your partner because looking at your own behavior is too upsetting.

If this is you, then therapy can help you to confront your own demons for the first time. You can take the first steps to being in the relationship you want by becoming a person you are proud of.

If this resonates with you, discuss it with your therapist (or reach out to a therapist). At the very least, introspect deeply about the points that apply to you, and even discuss them with your partner if you’re brave enough.

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Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten, aka Dr. Psych Mom, is a clinical psychologist in private practice and the founder of DrPsychMom. She works with adults and couples in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.