So you’ve come to realize that you’re unhappy in your marriage.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that you look forward to the times when your spouse is out of the home. Maybe you’re feeling increasingly stifled or frustrated with your life and you’re experiencing a driving need to do something different. Or your spouse has begun to feel like a stranger to you and you startle to learn that you feel lonelier with them than when you’re by yourself.
Your mind is a whirlwind of conflicting thoughts and emotions. You remember your vows and you think about the pain that divorce would inflict upon your partner and children and you make an internal pledge to suck it up and make it work. Then, as you contemplate endless years with more of the same unhappiness or discontentment, you begin to summon the courage to make a change. And then you remember your shared history and the time invested into the relationship and you’re again unsure.
I’ve written before about what to do when you’re in the midst of a marital crisis.
But what about what not to do? Sometimes we need to be able to see the hazards clearly so that we can make sure we avoid crashing into them.
Here is that list –
What NOT to Do If You’re Unhappy in Your Marriage:
Don’t Ignore It
When things are uncomfortable or suboptimal, it can be tempting to turn away from the unpleasant reality. To pull an adult version of, “If I don’t look for the monster under the bed, it can’t exist.” Yet ignoring any concrete issues in the marriage or your own unhappiness with the status quo will not only be unsuccessful, it will also be unsustainable over the long run. The issues, whatever they may be be, will not resolve on their own and your ignored feelings will refuse to stay silent indefinitely.
It is only by facing your unhappiness that you have the possibility of resolving it.
Worried that you’re ignoring some important signs of marital discord? Here are five signs that you may be in denial.
Don’t Fixate On It
It is important not to deny your marital unhappiness and it is also critical that you refrain from becoming preoccupied with it. Whatever we nurture, grows. If all of your attention is focused on your discontentment, it will begin to multiply until it blocks your view of any residual affection or commitment.
When your marriage is in trouble, it’s natural for it to threaten to become all-consuming. After all, tremors in your relationship create aftershocks that travel through your entire life as you begin to realize how much everything is connected. You may find yourself grasping onto whatever you can as a fear of loss and isolation begins to press against your ribcage, threatening to cut off all of your oxygen supply.
Even as you’re navigating this uncertain and scary time, continue to reassure yourself that you will be okay no matter what the outcome.
Don’t Assign Blame Without Responsibility
It’s so easy – and often quite deserved – to place the blame for your marital dissatisfaction at the feet of your misbehaving or unenlightened spouse. “I’m miserable because he drinks.” “If she would just pay attention to me instead of just the kids, we’d be okay.” “We’re struggling because he keeps flirting with random girls on Facebook.”
All of those things may well be true. And it may also be true that your partner’s actions and your happiness are mutually exclusive, that as long as their behavior continues, you will be miserable. You cannot change their choices. Yet you also have a responsibility to yourself. What you tolerate, will continue. What you allow, communicates how you can be treated. When you only blame, you give away your power. When you take on responsibility for your own decisions, you become even more powerful.
It’s important to recognize, name and confront the decisions and behaviors that your parter is making that negatively impact the marriage. And it’s also important for you to identify and express the choices that you have in light of the circumstances. You may not be able to save your marriage alone, but you do have the power to save yourself.
Don’t Have a “Bandaid” Kid
What more tangible sign is there of a unity of two people than a child? This living, breathing combination of both of you. An impressionable and defenseless embodiment of love wrapped in blankets and dreams. So it’s no surprise that people often (consciously or subconsciously) have a child in an attempt to refresh a struggling marriage.
Yet children are also an immense strain on a relationship. Tempers flare as sleep becomes a rare and precious commodity. Finances stretch under the new responsibility and the partnership often feels the strain. And the challenging steps of negotiating a fair division of labor while navigating new roles can make even the closest couples begin to have doubts.
On top of the inevitable stressors that a child adds to a marriage, it is also unfair to task a kid with the burden of stitching a worn and threadbare relationship together. Just as you spruce up the physical space to welcome home a new baby, ensure that the repairs on the marriage are undertaken before a new child is brought into the fold.
Don’t Open Up the Relationship
Many of the podcasts I listen to and advice columns I read feature advice-seekers who begin by describing their dissatisfaction with their marriages and then follow up with a question about the viability of opening up their marriage. On the one hand, I get it. They’re desperate to find a way to keep what they have that also provides the excitement and novelty that one or both spouses are craving. On the other hand, navigating the transition from a monogamous relationship to an open one is fraught with many stumbling blocks. I can’t imagine a couple that is already in trouble successfully communicating about emotionally-charged boundaries and rules.
Part of the reason that opening up the relationship may be appealing in times of discord is that is acts as both a distraction from the marital problems and another source of the validation or intimacy that may be missing from the primary relationship. And when attentions are focused elsewhere, the unhappiness within the marriage is likely to grow.
Don’t Make a Major Purchase
For many of us, when we’re unhappy, we look to material goods to fill the voids that we feel inside. It’s easy to fall prey to the illusion put forth by advertisers as we see happy and smiling families spilling out of new homes or heading out in their newly-acquired vehicle on some sort of perfect adventure. We can begin to blame our current possessions for our discontentment and pin our hopes on becoming happier once we secure that next new thing.
Not only is this snipe hunt a distraction and wallet-emptier, it can become an endless search for meaning and satisfaction where it cannot be found. No matter what baubles decorate your marriage or what wrappings surround your relationship, the basic connection (or disconnection) remains the same.
Don’t Seek Emotional Intimacy or Validation Elsewhere
When you feel invisible in your marriage, it’s tempting to find others who will truly see and appreciate you. Be careful on this slippery slope. Attention feels good and you can end up unintentionally sliding into an emotional affair (here are the key signs to watch out for).
If you think your marriage has a chance, give it that chance. Focus your energy towards making your partnership stronger and growing yourself into a better spouse. If your marriage is already on shaky ground, focusing elsewhere is a surefire way to send it tumbling into ruins.
And if your marriage is dead, have the respect to communicate its demise before you turn your attentions elsewhere.
Because that’s just a cowardly and malicious way to end a relationship. You have the right to leave, but don’t lose sight of your spouse’s rights as well. Here is what you do owe your spouse, no matter what decision you decide upon for you.