How to Survive in an Unhappy Marriage (14 Must-Read Tips)

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Are you stuck in an unhappy marriage, wondering how to make it work?

Are the fights getting more frequent and bitter, leaving you feeling drained and exhausted?

If so, don’t worry – there’s still hope. You can survive a difficult marriage if you have the right tools to cope.

In this article, you’ll find key tips you need to survive in an unhappy marriage and deal with all the stress that comes with it.

If you’re short on time, here are the basics of what you need to do:

  • Create a life of purpose beyond your marriage
  • Invest in your skills to boost your confidence
  • Set boundaries in your relationship
  • Be respectful and nurture a peaceful environment
  • Release your partner from expectations that lead to disappointment

A word of caution: Survival is usually a temporary solution.

If you don’t want to get divorced but you don’t want to lose your sanity, we strongly suggest learning psychological techniques that will transform how you and your partner interact with a guide like Dr. Lee Baucom’s Save The Marriage.

Click the link above to start practicing those techniques now, or read on to prepare yourself to make an unhappy marriage work for you.

What are the signs of an unhappy marriage?

  • Unexplained anger or irritability: If one partner is often angry without a clear reason, it could be an indication of underlying unhappiness and frustration.
  • Avoiding physical intimacy: If you or your partner shy away from each other’s touch, that speaks volumes about the level of comfort and satisfaction in the marriage.
  • No more fun or silliness: If jokes have ceased and life together is gray and drab, you might have a big problem on your hands.
  • Withdrawal from conversations and activities: Does your partner check out of seemingly mundane conversations or activities? It’s possible they’re becoming increasingly closed off due to simmering discontent.
  • You feel neglected: Don’t ignore that nagging feeling that you’re not getting the attention you deserve. 
  • Feeling alone when you’re together: Do you barely look up from your phones, let alone talk to each other? This could be a subtle red flag.
  • Negativity: When one spouse is constantly putting the other down or being overly critical, it can signify their deteriorating mental health in the relationship while simultaneously making their partner feel devalued and hurt.
  • Lying: Whether about small matters or difficult topics, if lying has become frequent, it can destroy trust and block connection between you and your spouse.
  • Unresolved conflict: Frequent arguments that remain unresolved may point to greater underlying problems that need to be addressed.

Read Next: How to Save Your Marriage

Is it worth staying in an unhappy marriage?

woman thinking with a quote about how to decide whether to stay in an unhappy marriage

Determining whether it’s worth staying in an unhappy marriage is a difficult, albeit highly personal decision.

People stay in unhappy marriages for all kinds of reasons. 

Some couples want to stay together for the kids. 

Other couples stay married out of a sense of religious or moral obligation, or for fear of financial insecurity.

If you’re not sure what to do, start by weighing the pros and cons of staying vs. leaving.

For example, if you’re staying together for your children, you may decide that any lost love within your relationship is worth handling.

But if you determine that the personal costs to you are too great and you have the means of leaving, then you have your answer.

How to survive in an unhappy marriage

1. Get out of the house

If things are tough at home with your spouse, make sure you’re getting out regularly.

It’s a simple but highly effective solution that doesn’t require you to learn any new techniques. 

Even if all you have is 10 minutes for a quick walk around your neighborhood, that can be enough to clear your head and cool off tensions at home.

But in the longer term, you’ll want to make time for your hobbies.

Especially those that get you out of your element.

The point is to make sure you’re changing up the scenery and having some fun on the regular.

Creating that space for yourself will help you feel alive and connected to your true self. 

2. Take care of yourself physically

man running with a quote about how exercise helps manage stress in an unhappy marriage

Your physical health is a huge factor in how you feel overall – just think about what being stuck at home feeling sick does to your mood.

So getting some exercise is an absolute must for self care, whether you hit the gym or go for a relaxing hike. 

Working out releases endorphins, which can give you a natural high, reducing stress and helping you cope with any challenging moments in your marriage. 

In short, exercise can help you manage anger, anxiety and even depression. 

And it’s a great excuse to carve out some “me time.” 

3. Learn new skills

Rather than ruminating over anger or sadness, start picking up some new skills like cooking or painting.

For starters, it will boost your self-esteem.

Studies have shown that learning new things releases dopamine, which is a natural mood stabilizer, helping stave off gloomy feelings. 

Ultimately, you’ll help yourself feel less frustrated and more confident and capable. 

Not to mention, you’ll create opportunities to expand your horizons and find joy and purpose in life beyond the struggles of marriage. 

And you’ll get a boost of creativity to boot.

4. Set healthy boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries is about advocating for yourself.

It’s about setting limits for your interactions that help you stay sane and feel respected, and you can start right now.

For example, it’s okay to say no to things that don’t feel right.

You don’t have to spend time together, eat dinner together or share the same space if it makes you uncomfortable.

Remember, you’re not responsible for your spouse’s feelings.

So you do not need to feel guilty for setting these limits.

You have control over your own person and space, as does your spouse.

Learning this lesson can be a slow burn, but it’s extremely healing for those struggling in an unhappy marriage.

5. Seek professional help for unhappy marriages

Don’t feel like a failure if it’s difficult to untangle all the complexities of an unhappy marriage on your own. 

Reaching out to a therapist or seeking professional guidance of some type can be game-changing.

If you choose a therapist, they can offer you an objective viewpoint and provide insight into what may be causing issues in the relationship. 

Keep in mind, there are all sorts of ways to get help for those who are struggling in a difficult marriage, including expert at-home guides like Save The Marriage.

With help, you can start to create healthy boundaries within the marriage, express your needs clearly and find ways to reconnect with your partner, should you choose to work toward repairing your marriage.

It may feel intimidating at first – but taking this step is often essential for getting back on track and feeling like yourself again.

6. Show compassion for your partner

close up of a couple drinking tea with a quote about showing your spouse compassion in a marriage

Showing compassion for your partner can help make the situation more bearable.

For starters, it shows that you recognize and care about how they feel, which can open up healthy communication between you.

And by extending that compassion to your spouse, you’re giving them a chance to reciprocate and respond to you more gently and positively.

It’s not always so easy, though.

Being compassionate toward your partner means letting go of resentment.

But the good news is, this will also help you move forward and look ahead to the future, which you can co-create together with mindfulness and purpose.

7. Be kind to yourself, too

Are you the type to shovel all the blame on yourself in secret?

Constantly rehashing the past and worrying about how things could have gone differently doesn’t do anything constructive for you now.

You’ll need some compassion for yourself, too.

So let go of past mistakes that are just keeping you stuck in guilt.

It’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card for your transgressions, but taking responsibility for yourself and refusing to forgive yourself for your mistakes are two different things.

If you’re not allowing yourself to accept love and happiness, then you’ll find it pretty hard to survive in your unhappy marriage.

8. Be responsible for your own happiness and well being

Put simply, if you’re relying on your spouse for your personal happiness, you’re going to be disappointed.

It’s a recipe for disaster as your partner can’t read your mind and will surely fail.

The key is to build your inner sense of stability and well-being through nurturing and loving yourself first.

As hard as it is, you have to release your expectations.

When you do, you’ll find that you’re less hurt by the negatives in your relationship (and more pleasantly surprised by the positives).

Read Also: How to Rebuild Trust in a Marriage After Lying

9. Practice detachment

Detachment is a solution for those who have tried other solutions and just need relief.

Practicing detachment is about armoring your emotional self so that your partner’s behaviors don’t negatively affect you.

It’s not about giving your partner the cold shoulder.

Rather, you’re taking steps to remove your vulnerability from the equation by doing things like:

  • Refusing to interact with your spouse when they’re being rude or trying to spark an argument
  • Making sure you have outlets for your emotions that are not dependent on your spouse
  • Reminding yourself that you’re not responsible for your spouse’s decisions, behaviors or emotions

Detachment can be compassionate and help you assert boundaries you need to survive right now.

10. Meditate

close up of a woman meditating with a quote about how it helps in an unhappy marriage

If you’re stressed out in your marriage, take a few minutes to meditate.

An a.m. meditation routine is a calming and centering exercise that starts your day off on the right foot.

You’ll feel calmer and better able to handle any difficult situations that lie ahead.

Not to mention, if you’re wading through a particular problem in your marriage, meditation can help you get clarity on it and decide what to do.

11. Take a brief break

If you’re wary of separation, you have good reason.

The concept is polarizing, with some believing separation can be healthy for the relationship, and others believing it’s one step away from divorce.

But instead of separation, if you can get some space from each other for a day or two, you may be able to hit a bit of a reset button.

If tensions are sky-high and you just feel like you need a minute, try a weekend away from each other to pause and reflect.

And if when you return home you want to repair your relationship, you can try some simple but effective steps from Dr. Lee Baucom’s Save The Marriage.

12. Be respectful

When you’re upset with your spouse, it’s tempting to get your point across with iciness and thinly veiled rudeness.

But disrespect begets disrespect. 

So in the end it’s better to treat your spouse kindly and courteously.

Create an environment of mutual respect by being polite and responsive, even when you don’t want to.

When there’s nothing but rudeness and contempt in a relationship, it’s difficult to continue on if your goal is to stay married.

13. Keep a gratitude journal

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude can do wonders for your personal sense of happiness.

The magic of a gratitude journal is that it reorients you toward the positives in your life, regardless of external circumstances.

What we pay attention to is what we invite into our lives.

So if you’re constantly focusing on the bad parts of your marriage, you’re going to feel worse.

Instead, try keeping a gratitude journal that will remind you of all the little sources of pleasure and appreciation around you.

And this will help to shift your perspective and emotional state, day by day.

14. Lean on your social circle

Your friends and family are your support system.

If you’re suffering, make more time to spend with them.

This doesn’t mean you have to tell them every detail of your unhappy married life.

But you’ll find that being around people who love and care about you will improve your mood and sense of self-esteem.

If you don’t live close to friends and family, meetup groups are great for discovering new interests and making friends.

Or, you can look for a local support group for people in a similar situation to yours to find people you can talk to and who will get it.

Final Thoughts

Being in a long term relationship like a marriage is far from easy.

If you’re stuck in a difficult marriage and you just need to survive right now, there are steps you can take now to improve things.

Many of them center on building a rich internal life and keeping yourself busy doing constructive and meaningful activities.

But it’s also important to make sure you’re keeping the peace at home to the best of your ability so that the environment is as harmonious as possible.


When should you leave an unhappy marriage?

It’s a pretty personal decision to leave when you’re no longer in a happy marriage, but here’s a good rule of thumb.

Consider whether you’ve done everything you can to save your marriage.

If you haven’t seen enough change for the better, you still want to leave, and you have no more motivation to continue trying, it may be time to give up the ghost.

And any threats to your safety, whether verbal, emotional or physical, are never okay. If you’re a victim of domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for help.

National Domestic Violence Hotline


What is walkaway wife syndrome?

Walkaway wife syndrome is a term used to describe wives who seemingly out of nowhere decide to divorce their husbands.

However, the term is sort of a misnomer as women don’t usually leave their husbands on a whim.

Typically, they’ve been bottling up feelings of neglect for a long time before making the decision to leave.

What are signs you should get a divorce?

If you’re in a bad marriage, there are some common signs that divorce may be on the horizon for you:

  • There hasn’t been any affection or intimacy in your relationship for a long time
  • Envisioning your spouse moving on post-divorce doesn’t bother you
  • You and your partner treat each other with contempt and acrimony
  • You don’t feel like making the effort anymore
  • You’re living like roommates
  • You can’t find a compromise between your wants and needs
  • Trust has gone out the window and is not likely to return

Is divorce better than an unhappy marriage?

Not necessarily.

A frequently cited study of how people fared post-divorce shows that divorcees were no happier than couples who stayed in an unhappy marriage.

Does that mean divorce isn’t the right answer for everyone?

Not at all. But if you’re expecting divorce to solve all of your problems, you may be disappointed.

Is being unhappy enough to divorce?

It’s suggested that unhappiness shouldn’t be the sole reason you decide to get a divorce.

Reasons for this are pretty sound, including the fact that happiness comes and goes, and psychologists emphasize the fact that our partners are not responsible for our happiness – we are.

This is not to say that your personal happiness and fulfillment should play no role in your decision.

But it should not be considered out of balance with other factors.

Consequences of staying in an unhappy marriage

Staying in an unhappy marriage without any improvement or doing anything to support yourself emotionally can cause psychological damage in the long term.

It’s well-documented that chronic stress is bad for the body.

And if you’re raising children, you have to consider how they’re being affected by conflict, moodiness and ill will between you and your spouse.

So if you’re going to stay in an unhappy marriage, it’s critical that you take the steps to protect your mental health and nurture a peaceful environment.

If you need immediate help repairing the damage caused by an unhappy marriage, you don’t have to wait for a therapist – start practicing Dr. Lee Baucom’s techniques in Save The Marriage.

Marlene Davis is an experienced blogger with a focus on interpersonal relationships. Her dream is to help improve people's lives and relationships through sharing of practical knowledge and evidence-based practices.