The Smallest Clue Someone's Miserable In Their Marriage

It’s painful to watch the innocently wounded suffer.

Friend comforting another friend, it's easier to stay married Studio OMG,s snap, Karolina Grabowska | Canva

I'm talking to an old friend. She’s one of my favorite people in the world. Over the years, we haven’t gotten to see each other that much. But like old friends, when we do it feels like yesterday. There is one constant to her personality. She’s always smiling. 

That trademark grin still graces her face. But I see a shadow where once, only light existed.

“Are you happy?” I ask. “You don’t seem like yourself.”


“Not really,” she says.

Her words break my heart. It’s hard to see people you love struggling. It’s even worse when they are the type of people who bring only one thing to this world: joy. It’s more painful to watch the innocently wounded suffer. The givers and the lovers.

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Call it a sixth sense, call it reading the room, or call it what you will, I can sense the emotional casualty that’s born out of marital misery. Sometimes it will be overt and sometimes it will be covert. 

In the years I’ve spent as a relationship columnist, some people seek me out, and others find me. I’ll get a late-night text from a friend of a friend, or a Facebook message. I’ll see someone at the grocery store and they’ll confide a marital secret. They want to talk to someone. A person I barely know may ask if I’ll meet them for lunch.


I always know.

Even if it takes weeks or months for us to talk or meet. There’s a subtle trademark stamped on the face of an unhappily married man or woman. There’s a desperate cry for someone to listen.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “What’s going on?”


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Here comes the next clue.

I’ve seen it many times over the years. The people who want to talk but who don’t want to say it out loud. Instead, they mumble a few words or generalities.“Marriage is hard,” they say. “Things aren’t great,” they say. “It’s complicated,” they say.

My friend spits out a few words. I don’t want to push her.

“Life is short,” I say.

She looks at me somewhat startled. She points to her best friend who’s sitting beside her. A woman who has gotten divorced within the past several years. “Oh my gosh,” she says. “That’s what she always says.”


“It’s true,” I say.

We’re both telling her the same thing because we know her. We know well the gentle kindness that envelops her entire being. No person should remain unhappy but a sweet soul like this almost feels abusive. As if one of us, should pull her out of the water.

Because she would be the first to grab us. But she doesn’t have the instincts to save herself.

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Her focus is on everyone but herself. I’m not sure if my words found her that day. I hope they did. I hope these words find the right people as I write them. If someone else needs to hear that life is short right now, that they’re reading this. I hope it gives them hope.


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It reminds me of a conversation I had with another friend a few years ago. She’s one of my buddies and she was talking to another one of our buddies about my divorce.

“We were talking about you,” she says.

“You were?” I say.


“Yes,” she says. “We agreed we’re never getting divorced because of what happened to you and all your husband put you through.”

“Oh,” I say. “It was horrific. But my choice was to spend the rest of my life unhappy. I had only known positivity, optimism, and joy before that. I couldn’t continue to make that compromise.”

“But look what happened to you,” she says. “Look at how you struggle and how you were devastated financially.”

“Yes,” I say. “But life is short and I’m happy.”

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Colleen Sheehy Orme is a national relationship columnist, journalist, and former business columnist. She writes bout love, life, relationships, family, parenting, divorce, and narcissism.