3 Ways to handle an unhappy marriage

By | February 21, 2014 | Love & Relationships

Three ways to handle an unhappy marriage | The Momiverse | Article by Corey Allan, Ph.D.

Problems in marriage are inevitable. Even chronic. And so, at times, is unhappiness.

After studying 645 couples where one spouse rated their marriage as unhappy, a research study from a team of family scholars found that two-thirds of the couples who chose to stick it out together reported a significantly happier marriage five years later.

So what makes the difference if you choose not to divorce?

The marriages that got happier fell into three broad approaches: the marital work ethic, the marital endurance ethic, and the personal happiness epic.

Marital work ethic

In the marital work ethic, spouses actively work to solve problems, change behavior, or improve communication. When the problem is solved, the marriage gets happier. Strategies for improving marriages range from arranging dates or other ways to spend more time together, to enlisting the help and advice of relatives or in-laws, consulting clergy or secular counselors, or even threatening divorce and consulting divorce attorneys.

Marital endurance ethic

In the marital endurance ethic, by contrast, spouses don’t solve problems with concerted action on the part of either spouse. Stated another way, you don’t work on an unhappy marriage. Instead, you endure it. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, because with the passage of time, things get better. Job situations improve, children get older or better behaved, or chronic ongoing problems get put into new perspective.

Personal happiness epic

Finally, in the personal happiness epic, marriage problems don’t seem to change that much. Instead, you find alternative ways to improve your own happiness and build a good and happy life despite a mediocre marriage. This often contains elements of both the marital work ethic and the marital endurance ethic approaches as well.

Marriage as a shared story

Creating a happy marriage depends on more than just your interactions with your spouse, it also depends on how you view marriage in general.

Marriage is not just the sum of the personal interactions that you find either satisfying or distressing. Marriage is a social status and a shared ideal – a story you have about your own life, family, spouse, and love.

The attitudes and values that people and societies have about marriage and divorce affect how satisfying people find being married. In communities where marriage is highly valued, husbands and wives get more from marriage than they would in a community where marriage is seen as a merely private matter.

People who are deeply committed to marriage as a lifelong vow have happier marriages not only because of what they do in their relationships, but because of what they think about being married in general.

Read that sentence again.

Stated another way:  The happiness you get from any role in life – being a parent, holding a job, being married – depends in part on how satisfying you find the day-to-day interactions and tasks. It also depends on whether you see the role itself as important and valuable.

In general, we have many goals for our own marriages, and those of others: We want marriage to last, we want children to enjoy living with their own two married parents, we want these marriages to be happy, and we don’t want unhappily married people trapped in miserable lives.

Over the past 40 years, these goals have seemed to be in conflict: If we discourage divorce we create lasting marriages at the high cost of individual misery – almost certainly for adults and often for the children.

Based on the findings of this study, this conventional wisdom is untrue.

Does divorce typically make unhappily married people happier than staying married? No.

Does a firm commitment to staying married, even though unhappy, typically condemn adults to lifelong misery? No.

Is divorce always wrong and staying married always right? The answer’s not so simple.

Both divorce and marriage initiate complex chains of events whose outcomes cannot be predicted with certainty at the outset.

Marriages are not happy or unhappy. Spouses are. And with the passage of time, the feelings of people about their marriages can and do change.

A bad marriage and a good marriage is not always a fixed opposite, but the same marriage can be opposite at two different points in time (or in the eyes of two different spouses). Divorce may make an unhappy spouse happier, but there is no guarantee (and much doubt) that it will.

Marriage is no panacea, but neither is divorce.

People and marriages are going to be happier in communities with a strong commitment to marital permanence. While some marriages are so destructive that divorce or separation is the best outcome, marriages are more likely to be both happy and stable when marriage is highly valued.

Surround yourself with other married couples who value marriage as well. Stick it out through the tough times. And live life together with others. It makes the ride so much more enjoyable along the way.

Photo source:  Wavebreak Media Ltd, bigstock.com

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Corey Allan Ph.D.

Corey is the editor of Simple Marriage as well as a licensed marriage & family therapist. While he has a Ph.D. in Family Therapy, he only occasionally likes to be called doctor. He’s also a husband, father, author and speaker. Listen to his radio show Sexy Marriage Radio for honest, open, straight-forward talk about sex and marriage.

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KentClark1 November 17, 2014 at 6:25 pm

While I fully support those that wish to stay together and make a marriage work, I have to point out that some people just aren’t meant to be together. If one is in an abusive relationship, that person should leave. No one deserves to be abused. Sometimes, divorce is the best option.

JaxWillis23 January 19, 2015 at 7:26 pm

These are amazing tips, I think if everybody thought this way and fought for their marriages, the amount of divorces we see would significantly drop. I know that this is what I would do with my marriage in most circumstances. The one thing to remember is that there are a lot of things that could cause a marriage to end anyway. Even if you fight and do all of these things, you can’t avoid everything. When those situations come up, people need help to get out of the relationship.

tedsmith575 February 23, 2015 at 1:22 pm

Thank you so much for the list of ways to handle an unhappy marriage. My wife and I aren’t doing well and we are thinking of getting a divorce. We really don’t want to. This article helps me realize that I need to look at how I view marriage. I will definitely do that and try to adjust my view as needed. Hopefully everything will work out.

Joeywall87 April 27, 2015 at 12:52 pm

The importance that this article stressed it trying your best. Separation doesn’t always have to mean that you leave angry with each other. The article gives great tips on doing the best you can to keep going in trying to fix things in a good manner.  http://leifericksonlawoffice.net/Divorce/

AndreBeluchi March 7, 2016 at 12:13 pm

Correy, it seems like you might have a point when you wrote about the feelings changing amongst the two spouses in a marriage. I remember a family divorce lawyer talking to my wife about this when we had an argument. That argument almost led us to a divorce and that was what we weren’t prepared for. http://arthurdavidmalkin-attorney.com

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