How To Stay In An Unhappy Relationship — When You're Not Quite Ready To End It

Carefully consider your options before deciding to end it.

unhappy woman in the car lightfield studios / 

Sometimes, in relationsips, we find ourselves unhappy — but we aren't quite ready to leave. 

While an outsider might think that you should just end the relationship and move on if you are unhappy, you know that it’s complicated. Especially in marriage.

After all, your marriage involves finances, family, social life, and a commitment to vows made. Walking away isn’t easy. Especially if you have children together. 


That being said, if you are going to stay, it’s important that you don't let yourself drown in unhappiness, lacking hope for the future, and sucking yourself dry with self-doubt and worry.

If you stay, you stay and work to make a change in any ways that are possible for you — while keeping in mind that you can only control your own choices and behaviors, not those of your partner. Nor can you control how your partner feels about you

There are ways that you can stay in a marriage when you’re unhappy, while you decide what next steps to take. Knowing them as you enter this phase is very important.


RELATED: You Don't Need Anyone's Permission To Get Divorced

Steps to make the best of a troubled marriage or relationship

1. Talk to your partner.

The hardest part of this, but the most important, is for you to talk to your partner about how you are feeling.

To let them know that you are unhappy, that you are thinking about leaving but that you aren’t ready to do so. That you want to make the marriage work but that you are having a hard time seeing how to do it or see it being possible.


Why would you want to tell your partner? It’s scary and you don’t want to hurt them, after all. And what if they decided to leave you once you get the words out?

Telling your partner is important for two reasons.

The first is that, if you finally decide to leave, you won’t totally blindside your partner. They will know what you are thinking and it will give them the opportunity to decide what they want to do in light of your declaration.

The second is that, if they know, the two of you can work together to figure out the next steps in your marriage. How do you want to proceed? Trying to figure this out alone will be almost impossible.

A client of mine told her husband that she was thinking about a divorce – that she had been unhappy for a long time but that she wanted to give the marriage a chance and she wanted to take care of her sons.


She told her husband that she was putting him on notice and that the next steps were on him.

A year later, he hadn’t taken any action at all. He hadn’t even tried to talk to her about their marriage or his intentions. So, she left. He wasn’t interested in trying so she wasn’t either.

But what if she had put him on notice and he had recognized that it was time to take action to save his marriage? Everything might have turned out differently, in a way I think my client was hoping it would!

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2. Make a plan.

Once you have talked to your partner I would encourage you to make a plan, either together or on your own.


I would suggest that you discuss what your ultimate goal is, for you as a couple or individually. To make sure that you are interested in moving forward in a certain direction.

What kind of plan?

I would encourage you both to put out there why you are unhappy and what you would need to do/have to be happy. This cannot be a generic ‘I am unhappy’ because what can your partner do about that?

For me, I felt alone, ignored, not prioritized, and rejected. After my husband decided he wanted a divorce, he learned that I felt that way. He said that, if he had known how I felt, he would have taken steps to change that. Or he would have tried.

Unfortunately, at the time, I had no idea why I was unhappy just that I was.


I would encourage you to make a plan about what specific things need to be done once each of you has defined why you are unhappy. It’s one thing to know what you want – it’s another to define how to get there.

I would also encourage you to make a timeline about the work that you are going to do to try to save your marriage. For example, maybe a check-in at 3 months and a decision being made at 6 months. That way, both of you can know what the time frame is so that you can do the work in a timely manner.

Much like when you have a project at work, you want to define the goal, make a plan of action, and set a deadline. That is how things get done.

RELATED: 14 Truly Surprising Things That Can Predict If You’ll Divorce


3. Do your own thing.

Many people stay in a marriage when they are unhappy and spend all of their time obsessed with how unhappy they are.

Their marriage is very important to them and, as a result, they just can’t stop thinking about how sad they are that they can’t save it. They talk to their friends and their family about nothing else and they get bogged down and depressed with their overwhelm.

I would encourage you to not stop your life as you stay in your marriage. I would encourage you to spend time with friends (and not talk about your marriage). I would encourage you to travel or take up a new hobby or dive into work (if that makes you happy).

The reason that it’s important that you do your own thing is two-fold.


The first is to get your mind off your marriage woes. Obsessing over how unhappy you are will only make you depressed. And the more depressed you are, the less hope that you have for the future, the less likely you will be able to move forward.

The second is that it is important that, if you end up getting divorced, you have your own life. Divorce will be difficult and having things that you can do to keep yourself strong during the process will be important.

So, what can you do right now to make yourself feel good, in spite of your unhappiness?

RELATED: 9 Critical Questions You Must Ask Before Filing For Divorce

4. Take care of yourself.

When we are worried about our marriage and thinking about it constantly, we often let the most important thing that we need, self-care, fall to the side.


And, oftentimes, instead of self-care, we actually turn to destructive habits, like drinking, eating too much or having an affair.

I would encourage you to manage your unhappiness in a productive way.

I know that when I was unhappy, I slipped into some bad habits. Eventually, I looked in the mirror, saw a person who I was scared to see, and decided to change my ways.

I committed to walking every day. To make comfort food like mashed potatoes or tapioca pudding instead of stopping at McDonald’s when I was feeling blue.

I started doing yoga again. The twice-weekly break from my toxic thoughts and the pushing of my body in challenging ways did wonders for my self-esteem and my hope for the future.


I got a massage once a month – for relaxation, to help release the tension in my body, and be touched lovingly. It was amazing.

So, what can you do today, or tomorrow or the next day, to take care of yourself? You don’t need to sign up for a gym membership but do at least one thing every day that makes you feel healthy.

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5. Try to get help.

I know. The last thing in the world that you want to do is to see a therapist or a life coach.

Perhaps it’s because you think that doing so is a sign of weakness or that you don’t believe that it will work or that you are scared of what might come up if you do.

But, let me tell you, help is exactly what you need.

You have never been in an unhappy marriage before. As a result, you have no idea what to do. A life coach or a therapist is a professional. They can help you see things differently and guide you toward the next steps. They will help you see hope for your future and help you build the strength that you will need to stay in your unhappy marriage or get out.


And know, that a therapist or life coach won’t judge you. So many people are embarrassed that they have come to this place in their marriage, and are worried that they will be judged.

I can promise you that NO therapist or life coach will judge you. We all know that people are imperfect and just want the best for themselves and their loved ones. And, instead of judging you, they will applaud the strength that it took to bring you to their office.

So, whether it’s help for just you, or for you as a couple, getting help will be a key part of how to stay in a marriage, even if you are unhappy, or decide to get out.

The bottom line: Consider your options carefully

It is very challenging to stay in a marriage if you are unhappy. And it’s very challenging to leave as well.


Know that leaving a marriage in haste, without doing the work that you want to do, might ultimately make it harder for you, and your family, to move forward. There will be a lot of guilt and second-guessing and that will only hold you all back from healing.

Staying in a marriage, even if you are unhappy, and trying to do what you can do to either save the marriage or build strength for yourself, will help you move forward, whether you stay or go, in a conscious way, one that won’t be bogged down by regrets.

Best of luck in the next period of time. It will be tough but it will be worth it!

RELATED: Should I Get A Divorce? How To Answer The Painful Question Once & For All


Mitzi Bockmann is an NYC-based Certified Life Coach and mental health advocate. She works with all kinds of people to help them go from depressed and overwhelmed to confident and happy in their relationships and in their world.