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How to Survive in an Unhappy Marriage

4 of My Biggest Secrets to Creating a Lifelong Romance

Are you stuck in an unhappy marriage but can’t leave? Maybe you’re in an unhappy marriage with kids, for example, and you really don’t want to see your family torn apart.

So you grin (at least sometimes) and bear it.

But at what cost?

It’s so painful to endure it all: the frustration of not being able to communicate with the one you love, the overwhelm and resentment at not getting the support you need, the loneliness at night.

If you’ve experienced this condition, I bet you could write the Cosmo version of the Unhappy Marriage Quiz yourself.

Well, I have good news and bad news.

If you’re wondering how to get out of an unhappy marriage or how to survive a loveless, sexless marriage, then bad news: this is not the blog for you.

The good news is that if you want to stay married, you can turn things around to create the vibrant, happy marriage you deserve.

You probably just don’t have the tools–yet.

Here are 4 secrets to creating a lifelong romance so you can have the happy marriage you had in mind when you said “I do.”

1) Know What You Want

power in relationship

When you’re stuck in a miserable relationship, it’s natural to put out feelers and look to him for the vital information of whether there’s any hope.

What are his intentions for the marriage? Is he willing to do the work to make things better? Is he ready to make a change?

Yes, it takes two to make a marriage work. The problem is, in looking over on his paper, just like the schoolteacher told us not to do, many women overlook the most important information for this equation…

What do you want?

If you had a magic wand, what is it that you see for yourself?

Maybe, right now it’s just peace, ending the fighting or cold war. Maybe it’s to get back the playfulness and passion you once had (or never had in the first place). Maybe it’s to raise your children in a happy, loving household with their father, modeling the kind of relationships you’d want for them in the future.

Whatever your vision is, the reason it’s so vital is that you are the keeper of your marriage.

As the wife, you have enormous power to create the kind of culture you want in your relationship, even if that feels like the furthest thing from the reality right now.

Exhibit A is Tara, who, looking back at the bad old days in her marriage, describes them as “a decade of misery.”

Things were fine until she got pregnant with their first child and her husband went to a poker night. He became obsessed, reading books about poker and playing at all hours–including throughout the entire six weeks of his paternity leave, when he was supposed to be taking care of their new baby.

Tara says he “totally tuned out.” They never spent time together. He wouldn’t even come to bed with her.

She felt like poker was his mistress and became resentful at the lack of attention.

She tried to “nag and drag” him, but it was not working for her. She knew she needed a different approach, so she decided to refocus her view with gratitude. Every time she felt the urge to control what he was doing, she would express gratitude for something, anything.

Today, he hardly plays poker at all.

True story.

Instead, he has planned all sorts of trips for them to take together.

Sure enough, she had the power to create the culture she wanted in her relationship once she got in touch with what that was.

Now it’s your turn: Get out your magic wand and go crazy! Imagine what might be possible for you if you had the skills to create it.

If fear rears its nasty little head saying that’ll never happen for you, just squash it on the head for now. You can always pick fear back up later if you want, but it’s just not useful for this exercise.

Visualize exactly what kind of culture you want in your marriage. Got your vision?

Okay, now…

2) Love Him, Flaws and All

respect in relationship

Another thing Tara wanted to create in her marriage was mutual respect. She didn’t feel too respected when her husband was out all hours doing his thing.

Then she got the skill to do just that, and it was—you guessed it—respect.

She couldn’t make him respect her, but she could explore how she might deepen her own practice of that skill to be a shiny wife mirror and see it reflected back to her.

For her, that meant expecting the best outcome. Even when it looked like he must have an addiction, it meant relinquishing control of what her husband was doing and letting go of trying to solve his problems. It meant giving him the space to be his own man. It meant not taking the bait when an argument was brewing.

These days, he’s so respectful of Tara and so keen to please her that he has a cute habit of making lists just to show her he’s checking things off.

If you too have been trying to solve your man’s problems, how has it served you?

If you’re ready to change the old dance, take the Tara Challenge, choosing to show respect for your man’s thinking and his choices. How many days (or minutes) can you go relinquishing control, criticism, and complaining? Share your day count below!

Now that you’re showing him such love, don’t forget secret #3…

3) Show Yourself Some Love!

self care in marriage

In my case, it seemed impossible to break the nasty habit of trying to solve my husband’s problems. Remember the paper I mentioned earlier? I was all over my husband’s!

That’s because I was missing the indispensable first step to intimacy: self-care.

I got my self-care groove on by playing poker (sorry, Tara!), playing volleyball, playing Words with Friends. Are you noticing a theme?

Yes, I learned how to play again! In taking on all the serious wifely duties I thought I was supposed to be doing, I had forgotten how to have fun. I had forgotten what made me happy.

Becoming responsible for my own happiness had a twofold benefit: It allowed me to get off my husband’s paper. That was a disrespectful place to be anyway, so no wonder he didn’t want to have sex with me or be around me anymore, period.

Getting happy also increased my magnetism. John couldn’t seem to stay away from me. Even when I’m doing my own thing, like working on the laptop, he’ll sidle right up to me on the sofa to be by my side.

What self-care would fill you up? Maybe a solo hobby like signing up for a rock climbing class, starting a book club, volunteering at your local shelter?

What’s something you’ve always wanted to do, if only you had the time? Getting out your old paintbrushes, getting a piano, getting a massage?

And what is it costing you to keep putting it off?

As Dr. Chris Peterson said, “I spent my young adult years postponing many of the small things that I knew would make me happy… I was fortunate enough to realize that I would never have the time unless I made the time. And then the rest of my life began.”

I bet you had your own rich personal life when you attracted your man in the first place, and I can’t wait to hear what happens when you come back to your marriage as a happier you!

4) Get a Second Opinion, from the Right Opiner

stay married

It’s bad enough to feel alone in your own marriage. But not being able to share what you’re going through intensifies the loneliness until it can be unbearable.

Especially since, when your marriage is in crisis, that’s when you need to be heard and supported more than ever!

It’s natural to turn to those closest to you to fulfill those needs, or at least to vent. But that often creates whole new problems that make the situation even worse. Family and friends only want the best for you, and when their protective instincts come out, it can sound like this: “You deserve better” or “It’ll never work if he doesn’t change.”

It’s hard enough to keep the faith to save a marriage without such hopeless voices in your head clashing with your own intentions for your relationship.

And, even after you hone the tools to get your miracle, those loved ones will be hard pressed to ever forgive the man who wronged you.

There are lots of well-intentioned advocates for divorce out there, which is why it’s so important to confide in people genuinely rooting for you and your husband, ideally other women who have been where you are and have transformed it themselves.

There’s immense relief just in knowing that you are not alone. And you’re not crazy for wanting to stay married even when things look really dark. Families depend on strong, lasting marriages, and I can’t think of anything more important than fighting for yours.

Connect with women who have been in the same boat as you so you can get the inspiration and information you need to turn that boat around. Check out my FREE Roadmap.

Now that you have the tools, which will you experiment with today to make your marriage happy again?

I’d love to hear in the comments!

By Laura Doyle

Hi! I'm Laura.

New York Times Bestselling Author

I was the perfect wife--until I actually got married. When I tried to tell my husband how to be more romantic, more ambitious, and tidier, he avoided me. I dragged him to marriage counseling and nearly divorced him. I then started talking to women who had what I wanted in their marriages and that’s when I got my miracle. The man who wooed me returned.

I wrote a few books about what I learned and accidentally started a worldwide movement of women who practice The Six Intimacy Skills™ that lead to having amazing, vibrant relationships. The thing I’m most proud of is my playful, passionate relationship with my hilarious husband John–who has been dressing himself since before I was born.

2 replies on “How to Survive in an Unhappy Marriage”

Hi Laura,
I have read your post how to survive in an unhappy marriage. It certainly rang true for me. I have been married to my husband for 35 years until this May when he asked for a separation. I found out he had a new relationship with a younger woman and he seems in love with her. He still lives with me but sleeps in the spare room but visits his partner at weekends. He has nothing as to do with me now and does not take me anywhere. When I found out about the relationship we argued constantly and it has been hell with the atmosphere. I am heartbroken and very depressed with my lonely life feeling lost and afraid. My husband lied to me and lives two different lives.
I am desperate to save my marriage and to get some self confidence and happiness back in my life. My husband states he has been unhappy for a long time and he cares for me but does not want to be my husband.
Please can I seek some help and advice as I feel so confused as to what to do to try and get back to a happy relationship with my husband. Is there any hope if he feels this way about another woman.

Regards Diane

Diane, I can see why you’re feeling so heartbroken, depressed and lonely. I know that you just want to be a happy wife, but first, you have to fix your marriage and it feels like it’s falling apart. You shouldn’t have to feel hopeless after 35 years of marriage! I still remember how hopeless I felt when I thought my marriage was beyond repair. That’s why my coaches and I have helped over 15,000 women fix their relationships, even when there’s another woman and he has asked for a separation.

We can help you too. Get a coach so you can stop feeling hopeless and afraid, and start feeling desired, taken care of and special!

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