Suffering In Silence Isn't Heroic — It Can Actually End Your Marriage

Silently allowing yourself to be unhappy and unfulfilled is more likely to make things worse than it is to improve them.

sad woman with man comforting her Dmytro Zinkevych / Shutterstock

I don't know about all discontent married people, but the ones I've worked with are fooling themselves. They may think they are nobly "suffering in silence", but their body language and behaviors are loud and clear. And it's highly likely they complain bitterly about that "suffering" to anyone who will listen.

The problem is that suffering in silence is the exact opposite of healthy living.

It's a poor (and highly toxic) approach to relationships. So, why do so many married, and supposedly committed, people do this?


Here are five reasons people suffer in silence within their relationships.

1. They are unable to express their emotions.

They may not know how to give voice to his feelings and issues.

2. There is a lack of communication.

Neither of them person may know how to communicate clearly and solve conflicts because they didn't know what they really think or exactly what is bothering them.


3. They had no models of healthy relationships.

Neither of them had any role models in their lives who demonstrated how healthy, mutually supportive, loving relationships actually work.

4. They feel insecure.

One or the other may not feel secure, safe, or certain enough to speak up.

5. They don't feel they can rely on their partner.

Both of them may know when they were angry, but cannot depend on themselves to speak up civilly. So, they just don't take the chance and fall silent instead.

So, for these reasons, some married people — along with others in long-term, committed relationships — supposedly suffer in silence and stew. But do they really?


No, married people don't suffer in silence.

Hardly. Their bodies (energy, body language, etc.) scream their displeasure to everyone in the room, including the spouse they're supposedly holding their tongue with.

It's possible that folks who bottled up their emotions recall prior negative experiences associated with speaking out. Things just didn't go well, or the result crushed them. Now, they don't want to risk their self-esteem or the relationship. That's what was going on with my couple. They were wise to seek some professional help because the relationship each had with themselves, and the one they were creating with each other was on shaky ground.

Too often, folks in my office proudly tell me that they never fight. I look at them and often see tense, anxious, constricted, and unhappy people who are holding on to the myth of wedded bliss— what a relationship is "supposed" to look like, and they think not fighting is it.


These people fight, it's just not out loud.

These "silent sufferers" have huge conversations in their head, and likely with others who will listen, about the unfairness, the damage, the idiocy, the crassness, the thoughtlessness, and the lack of sensitivity of their partners. The look on their faces when they talk about their partners screams ‘Pain!’ This is poison to the relationship and to their health.

But one of the biggest mistakes that many people make is talking to their kids about their frustrations with their partners. Do not do this! Your children are not your confidantes. They deserve to just be kids, unburdened by adult matters. You chose your partner, not them. Work it out with your partner. Your kids love their other parent. It's your job to listen and help them, not the other way around.

Insights and skills are the antidotes to suffering in silence in marriage.


Are you suffering in silence? Maybe you didn't have such an easy time early on in life. Maybe you had big issues in your family that kept you quiet and keeping secrets, or you never had someone who really cared how you felt. You might have no sense that it's safe to share. Either way, it can lead to shutting down when strong feelings overwhelm you.

Loving someone and hating their behavior without the skills to work it out shuts you down. Loving someone, but not liking or valuing yourself much, leads to wanting to please other folks. Having been told that nice people don't make waves can lead to self-loathing when you are dying to speak up. And you could feel like you're dying inside. It's all so conflicting that, in the extreme, this is one reason why quiet, seemingly nice people kill their spouses. They stewed in silence, didn't get help, and could only see one way to stop the pain: eradicate the supposed cause.

Healthy partnerships are open, safe, honest, respectful, and trusting.

If you haven't had those things in earlier relationships, you may not know how to give or receive them now. So, the internal wisdom is to simply stay silent and that is not so wise because they don't know how to speak up and stay safe. You must do both. If you cannot, you must learn to. It's best to learn together, because you both contribute to releasing the problem and creating healthier solutions.


Stop. Get help. Your relationship can get stronger and become safer and more intimate by working through and learning things together. Remember that needing help doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Strong people who care about themselves do it right away.

Suffering in silence is unhealthy and unnecessary. It's likely you're both just scared to open, be vulnerable, and be transparent. You may not even know why. Maybe it's never been safe before.

You can end the suffering and end the silence. Move towards that wonderful, safe, intimate relationship you believe is possible.

Rhoberta Shaler, PhD, The Relationship Help Doctor, works with committed couples who know they love each other and want their once-great relationships back, stronger, closer, healthier, and more intimate. She is the author of Kaizen For Couples: Smart Steps to Save, Sustain & Strengthen Your Relationship.