If you believe you are struggling with an unhappy marriage, the next logical question is how do to fix it if you don’t want out? Keep reading to find out the solutions to 8 telltale signs of an unhappy marriage.
Questioning your relationship and not sure the direction it’s heading? Check out Part I to this blog: 8 telltale signs to the question, “Are you in an unhappy marriage?”
1. Civilized talking is impossible. Here’s how to work towards meaningful communication:
You may feel the two of you are replaying the same argument time and time again, with no lasting solution ever established. Active listening, empathy, and understanding are not an option because you feel so much at odds with one another.
If you’re asking how to fix an unhappy marriage and want to work to repair it, the best advice I can give is to begin over-communicating to change the narrative. Both you and your partner need to commit to working together to let go of the past, previous assumptions, and to begin building a new future. Over-communication and over-clarification can help.
However, the most powerful tool you have for resolving conflicts is listening to what is really being said and working towards finding a mutual understanding. Everyday issues that couples argue about have a root from where they stem. It may be an emotion, a clash of values or expectations (or beliefs), or a difference in goals.
For example, you nag your partner because they don’t take out the trash when it’s full – it just piles up until you do it. Are you truly upset about the garbage, or is it really that you feel taken advantage of or neglected? So over-communicating clarifies the actual issue and works towards finding a compromise that makes you both feel better.
So in this example, you would say, “I’ve noticed a pattern that frequently happens. When the trash is full – and piling up even higher – you don’t take it out. Even though we’ve agreed that taking out the trash is your job, I end up doing it for you in these situations. When this happens I feel angry and taken advantage of. What I’d like you to do differently is take out the trash when it’s full – and before it piles up. What I expect of myself in the future is to let you know my feelings rather than doing the job for you.”
Working with a couples counselor can be an important asset when trying to improve marital communication. Gottman method or Imago trained therapists are particularly skilled at this. A therapist can help the two of you work together to create a new tone and discover how to safely and effectively communicate with each other. Effective communication is hard. But, the longer your marriage is filled with poor communication, the more resentments there are to repair.
2. But what if you two aren’t talking? Here’s how to start again:
Talking and sharing with your spouse is a way to maintain closeness. If you haven’t been talking to your partner, you two are in a state of disconnection. The gap between you needs to be closed – and that is the purpose of speaking – to reconnect.
The first step is to think about the love you feel for your spouse. What attracted him or her to you in the first place? What ten qualities do you love about them now? Foster the love you feel for your partner and use that love as a motivator to take the next steps in how you fix your unhappy marriage.
Ideally both of you should be willing to work towards reconnecting. If your efforts to share are met with negativity or contempt, it’s difficult to continue, no matter how much you love them. You two need to figure out how to work as teammates. Changing communication styles in a longstanding relationship isn’t the easiest and will take time and effort. But it doesn’t mean the effort isn’t worth it.
Here are some other tips to make talking easier:
- Limit distractions and choose to make your spouse and what they have to say a priority. Yes, it takes effort, and no you may not actually be interested in what they are excited about. However, it makes your spouse feel like a priority. Such active listening will be returned.
- On a similar note to above, make more one-on-one time media free. Conversations are not always free-flowing, but it is even less so when you have a phone that has endless entertainment.
- If you or your partner have something that he/she feels is important or is passionate about, turn the T.V. off! Television on in the background is just an invitation to tune out, avoid the conversation, or sends the message that your partner is not important – all of which limits communication and pushes your partner further away.
Making some change in the relationship by yourself, while difficult, is possible. Mahatma Gandhi said “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Be unfailing kind, loving, positive, and constantly express thanks. You may be surprised at the results. For more ideas on how you can make changes in your relationship, check out either How One of You Can Bring the Two of You Together or Why Talking is Not Enough by Susan Page.
3. Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling are considered the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in a marriage, according to relationship expert John Gottman. If these are present in your relationship, here are some suggestions to keep your marriage from turning into the Apocalypse:
- Criticism in a relationship isn’t an automatic sign of impending doom, but if unchecked, it can lead to contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Work to change how you communicate in your relationship, focusing on the action and how it made you feel. Don’t make assumptions on what motivated your partner to do certain things. Also refrain from tit for tat on who has it harder. You know how you feel and what you are thinking. You can only assume you know your partner, but you probably have it wrong. Work together on coming up with solutions both parties can accept.
- Contempt is fueled by long-lasting negative thoughts of your partner, and is the single most significant predictor of divorce! Instead of stewing on the things that irritate you about your partner, build a culture of appreciation. Remind yourself of your partner’s positive qualities and find gratitude for positive actions. Maybe consider making a list of them throughout the day to get you into the habit of noticing the positive, and not just the negative.
- Defensiveness is a form of self-protection that pushes the blame onto others. Instead, take responsibility for your part in the conflict and offer a solution. It can stop the beginning of a blame cycle and the dispute from escalating.
- If you or your partner are feeling emotionally overwhelmed during a conversation, allow for a 20-minute (or more!) break to reset. Arguing when either partner is emotionally charged is not going to lead to a resolution; it will only dig the hole deeper. Taking a break allows each of you to cool off, take inventory of where you are at and what is important, and come back together in a manner that may lead to progress and resolution.
4. Sex in marriage strengthens trust between you two and improves marital satisfaction. When you are no longer intimate, it’s a sign of trouble. To get intimacy back in your marriage, you can:
Turning towards each other, in a loving, respectful way can help rebuild connection – focus on your partner and show them empathy instead of aggression, defensiveness, or being distant. According to Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW, emotional intimacy leads to sexual intimacy. If you and your partner do not have an emotional connection, it will be challenging to generate an intimate one.
As a team, work towards explaining your emotions in a positive need, not what your partner needs to for you. Emotions are powerful and challenging to take into consideration until they become so large you can’t not notice it. You can’t expect someone else to comfort and support you emotionally when you can’t process or communicate them yourself. Working on emotional attunement can help deepen the connection with yourself and your partner.
Here are some other ideas to help you connect with your partner:
- Agree to be in bed, with no electronic distractions, for 30 minutes each night before bedtime. Use this time to connect about your day, focusing on how you felt about what happened more than just recounting what happened.
- Increase intimacy by holding hands, kissing, and going on dates more. Pause working on the marriage for a moment and work towards enjoying each other’s company again.
- Schedule sex routinely, and over time it will feel less programmed and lead to more spontaneous encounters.
- Have a lower libido? Get a “sexy brain” by reading erotic fiction, listening to erotic podcasts, or fantasizing.
- Make sex less taboo and talk about it with your partner. What works, what doesn’t, what you want to try, etc. It’s hard when it’s not the norm, but allowing yourselves to talk about it allows you two to explore new areas about each other, improving intimacy and communication!
5. Quality time with your partner helps keep you two connected and growing together instead of apart. Here are some ways to make quality time a priority:
Distance does not always make the heart grow fonder. Spending less quality time together or spending the entirety of your days without your partner is a sign of a relationship drifting apart. You now have the opportunity to build your relationship back up by getting to know your partner again.
Quality time together doesn’t mean existing in the same room. It means connecting and enjoying time spent together. That you make your partner a priority and essential for the bit of time you have to spend together. It means focusing on the person in front of you. No cellphones, no work, no children (I recommend a babysitter to help with this one).
So how do you start spending quality time again? Schedule some time and pick an activity to do together, as distraction-free as you can make it. Don’t know what to do? Have each partner make a list of 5 things that qualify as quality time and schedule a time to make it happen.
Don’t have time for this? Well, sorry to say, but that speaks volumes on how your marriage may not be a priority. Quality time is not always easy to make happen. It requires juggling schedules and may be a more significant investment because it requires paying a babysitter. You may have to set some “important” things aside to carve out time. Whatever the obstacles, you and your partner need to choose to make it happen. Because without quality time, your marriage may not be any more than roommates living together.
6. Your intuition knows the facts and how you truly feel, whereas your mind can rationalize away from the truth. If you think you’re in an unhappy marriage and are just sticking it out, you may be ignoring your intuition. Here are some tips to tap into your inner guide:
The first step is to quiet the mental chatter. And there can be a lot of chatter! Analyzing your marriage and making the decision to put in the effort to stay and repair the marriage, or walk away and build a life apart is a difficult decision. It can be even harder to figure out where you stand if you are stuck with reoccurring, obsessive thoughts that may be fueled by anger, resentment, or fear.
Meditation is an excellent tool to heighten your awareness and foster a sense of inner peace. Meditation is surprisingly easy when you realize it’s expected your mind will wander. If you’re mind wanders, it doesn’t mean you fail – you just come back to your breath and continue meditating.
There are many styles of meditation, and you will find one that’s right for you. Online guided meditations, meditation retreats, or joining a class at a local yoga studio are great ways to help you get started.
Your intuition is like a compass, guiding you in the direction you need to go. However, if you don’t listen to its gentle nudge or ignore it, you may run into more internal resistance than you bargained for. Everyone has the gift of intuition; you just may need some practice.
7. When you find yourself asking how to fix an unhappy marriage, it can feel overwhelming. You may not know where to start – but not taking steps to fix your marriage may seal its fate. Here’s one way to get started:
Take a look at yourself and your contributions to the state of your relationship. Taking inventory in how you may have hurt your marriage and how you can make amends gets you on track to repairing your relationship.
You can begin by visualizing what you want to see in your marriage and what you can control and change. Start by creating a “wish list” of what you want to see in your marriage and how you can work towards this. You can’t rely on your partner to make changes, nor can you rely on your partner to make the first step. But you can control you. Taking the first steps in repairing your marriage may inspire your partner to do the same, or provide the information you needed to move on.
8. Fantasizing about a life without your spouse means you’re mentally detaching from your relationship and sending the signal you don’t care. If you’re not ready to pull the plug, here’s how to recommit.
Fantasies can help us establish our goals and provide motivation to attain them if you explore all sides of the story. The occasional fantasy isn’t a problem, but one that becomes frequent, or changes the choices you make is a sign something in your life needs to be examined. If you’re fantasizing about a single life often, take a moment to explore if it’s a fantasy that should be checked or acted upon.
Susan Pease Gadous, co-author of The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, suggests exploring the fantasy further by adding a bit of reality to it. Look at housing options, costs of living alone, re-entering the dating scene, and see how you feel. “It’ll give you another layer of reality, which can then help you know what the right next step is. If excitement or relief is your prominent emotion (rather than fear or apprehension), it may be a sign to acknowledge that there are serious problems in your marriage.”
You can wonder how to fix an unhappy marriage, but you cannot save it unless you take steps to do so.
Talking with a professional can help give you and your partner guidance on how to work through it together. In the Chicago area? Contact our therapists at (630) 423-5935 to schedule your appointment at Life Care Wellness today.
Jean Tschampa, PharmD, LCPC, CADC, C-IAYT, BCC
Jean Tschampa is a co-owner and principal therapist at Life Care Wellness, a group psychotherapy practice in Glen Ellyn and Chicago (Jefferson Park neighborhood), Illinois. She specializes in wellness, life transition, anxiety, and addiction treatment, and is a Board Certified Coach, as well as professional counselor. As a registered pharmacist, Jean can also provide medication therapy management for those experiencing issues with medication.