What To Do When You Feel Stuck In An Unhappy Marriage
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“I want to be your favourite hello and your hardest goodbye.”
Stuck In An Unhappy Marriage?
If you’re feeling stuck in an unhappy marriage, then you probably don’t like the above quote… because right now your spouse certainly isn’t your favourite hello…
And you might even be contemplating a permanent goodbye.
It may surprise you to know that when we’re working with unhappy couples…
Most of the time the struggling marriage isn’t related to an affair, addictions, mental health issues or abuse…
I say “most” of the time because there are certainly cases where one or more of those three serious issues are involved in an unhappy marriage… but those are very difficult topics and I’m not going to cover them today.
…So the unhappy marriages that I see are couples who have “fallen out of love” to the point where they may not even like each other.
When Your Husband Is The “Problem”
Usually, it’s the wife who approaches my husband and me to help them… to fix her husband.
When she first walks in the room, she’s frazzled and at the end of her rope because she feels like she’s doing everything at home. She feels so overwhelmed and she needs some help.
Yet, when she looks to her husband to provide that help, she’s disappointed so many times.
And all the different things that they’ve tried to help their relationship haven’t worked… So they end up back to the same place where she feels alone. Again.
This is a tough place to be. And if that’s how you feel today, I want to encourage you and say that you’re not alone.
This post is for you.
4 Practical Steps That Can Help Your Unhappy Marriage
I know that this isn’t where you wanted to end up. When you got married, you probably had all kinds of dreams about what your relationship was going to be like.
So let’s look at 4 very practical steps you can take to begin addressing your unhappy marriage…
These steps certainly won’t fix everything in your unhappy marriage, but it gives you a place to start to help you get unstuck.
Before we begin these steps, I want to say that I’ve changed these steps slightly so they’ll work for you but these are very similar to the steps we take couples through when we work with them. (So we know they work!)
Step #1 – Write A (very honest) Letter To Yourself
This is as simple as it sounds. Write yourself a letter (you can even write “Dear NAME”) about what you’re like to live with day in and day out…
Write it ALL down — the good, the bad and the ugly. Don’t sugar coat anything.
Throughout the week, think about what you’re like and write it down. Ask yourself: what mood do you bring to the home? Do you smile a lot… laugh much… or are you cranky a lot?
The point of this exercise is that most women who come to us want us to “fix” their husband. It looks like an external problem…
“He’s the problem,” she’ll say to us, jabbing at her husband without looking at him.
However, when we begin working with a couple, we start with the internal because one of the keys to regaining hope and confidence is for the couple to first recognize what choices they have. The woman needs to see and take ownership of the choices she has.
And a foundation principle she needs to learn is that she can control her attitude and responses but she cannot control her husband. And vice versa… her husband needs to learn that he’s responsible for his choices.
Step #2 – Ask Two Other People To Write Letters
The next step is to find two other people, either family or friends, who know you very well and ask them to write a letter to you about what you’re like to live with.
It’s ideal if you can ask someone who has lived with you as they’ll know you best. Ask them not to hold back anything. You want them to give you the good, the bad and the ugly — the real deal. Don’t give them any clues or lead them in any way.
This step is really important because it helps to bring you more awareness. And the beginning of the growth journey is awareness.
We can’t grow or change what we don’t know and we all have blind spots where we can’t see where we need to grow.
This is an opportunity to take ownership of yourself and what you’re really like, while at the same time acknowledging the good things about yourself.
I don’t want you to wallow in guilt or be hard on yourself for your mistakes. This is an opportunity to get a good look at yourself in the mirror so you can see where you’re shining and where you can work on. See it as an opportunity for growth, not guilt.
Step #3 – Recognize What You Can Control (And What You Can’t)
Get out a piece of paper and draw a circle in the middle of the page. Next, write in the circle the things that are within your control, based on what you’re like to live with. Finally, on the outside of the circle, write the things that you don’t have any control over.
Now, look at what you wrote inside the circle… the things that you do have control over and answer this questions: What is one thing that you can do to have a better day today?
The key thing about this step is raising your awareness about what you’re doing to contribute to the pain you’re feeling.
I admit that it can be hard because it’s so easy to blame our spouse for our pain.
Believe me… I know all about this because I did that for years… it was Melis who needed to work on his stuff — he needed to change. But when he started to get better and I was still feeling the pain, I had to face the truth that I had things to work on too.
Step #4 – Reflect, Rinse & Repeat
If possible, take a moment the next day to sit down and reflect. Ask yourself: did my one action have a positive impact on our day?
If it did, write that down as a win, take a moment to celebrate… and then rinse and repeat (if it’s working, keep doing it!).
However, if it’s not working, then get creative and try something different. Go back and look at the circle to remind yourself what you do have control over and think about something else you can try.
Celebrating Your Wins Will Help You See The Progress You’re Making
So often, we’ll have a couple sitting in our “office” (a.k.a. our living room) thinking that they didn’t have a good week and so they feel a little discouraged.
However, when we ask, “What went right this week? what did you do well?”… They start slowly and might say, “well, she was cranky this week and I took her by the hand and said, let’s pray about that.”
Or “I was out shopping and finances have been a problem but I stayed within my budget for the groceries this week”…
Or “I have an accountability partner and I met with her this week and I did what I said I was going to do”…
We’ll continue to ask them “what else” and they’ll begin to get excited because they’ll realize there are more wins than they thought.
And the couple leaves knowing they can do this. They can make the changes they want to make to have a better marriage.
Remember What It Was Like When You Fell In Love
They also realize that they’re affecting each other. She realizes that her wins are having a positive impact on her husband and vice versa…
And they start to laugh more together, which is really important because it starts to remind them of when they first fell in love and really liked each other…
That’s key because some couples have not only fallen out of love but they’ve also fallen out of like with each other when they first come to see us.
James Thurber said that “love is what you’ve been through with somebody.”
When you turn your marriage around, the love that you share can be far sweeter and richer than what you had before because you’re making it through life together.
So my encouragement to you is to look for small steps that you can take in the right directions that will give you wins. Then celebrate those.
Big victories in our personal lives and in our marriages happen through small everyday wins.
NOTE: This article is not meant to provide advice to someone in a marriage that involves addictions, abuse, mental health issues or an affair. Addressing these issues is beyond the scope of this article.
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