Belittling remarks. Cold shoulder. Feelings of loneliness. AND NO SEX. The consequences of staying in an unhappy marriage are not pretty at all. Your only fantasy is to leave your spouse and live happily ever after. But divorce is expensive and impractical.
If not divorce, how can you survive a loveless marriage? Let’s find out, with the help of emotional wellness and mindfulness coach Pooja Priyamvada (certified in Psychological and Mental Health First Aid from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of Sydney), who specializes in counseling for extramarital affairs, breakups, separation, grief, and loss, to name a few.
3 Major Signs You Are In An Unhappy Marriage
If you’re in an unhappy marriage, it’s important to know the answer to a vital question: what are the stages of a dying marriage? Pooja points out four monumental stages you may experience when you stay in a bad marriage:
- The inkling that something is missing
- Lack of communication or a lot of miscommunication
- Conflict and detachment
- A complete disconnect with your partner
If you’re experiencing any of these, it’s a cause for concern. To understand how deeply fraught your relationship is, we’d like to turn your attention to another vital question: what are the signs you are in an unhappy marriage? Let’s find out:
1. Lack of emotional and physical intimacy
If you feel your partner neglects your emotional and physical needs, you could well be going through the stages of a dying marriage. If you feel like you are constantly taken for granted and everything gets prioritized over you, be it your partner playing with your dog, attending business calls, or even cleaning the yard, it’s one of the signs of unhappiness in marriage.
Related Reading: 10 Tips To Develop Emotional Intimacy In A Marriage
2. Indifference and neglect
My friend, Serena, was overstaying in an unhappy marriage for financial reasons. She would say, “I’m so unhappy in my marriage but I can’t leave.” Her partner would often make promises but never made good on them. He would say things like, “I didn’t mean to cancel but I have so much on my plate. I will make it up to you.” And he would, by using love bombing tactics. And then cancel on the next plan. It was a loop.
If you’re wondering what are the signs you are in an unhappy marriage, this kind of indifference and emotional neglect in marriage definitely make the cut. As a result, you and your partner say things like:
- “Do you even care for me? I don’t feel like I matter to you”
- “You are nothing. Who do you think you are?”
- “You don’t appreciate me enough. I don’t feel seen and heard in this relationship”
3. Lack of trust and acceptance
My friend, Paul, recently told me, “I’m staying in an unhappy marriage for financial reasons. I don’t think my partner provides me with a safe space to be vulnerable. My partner is overly critical of me. She has been trying to change me from day one.”
So, when you stay in a bad marriage, you are not able to be your true self in front of your partner. If you constantly feel like you have to become someone else so that your partner can love you, it might be one of the signs you will get divorced. If not divorce, then what are the consequences of staying in an unhappy marriage? Let’s find out.
9 Consequences Of Staying In An Unhappy Marriage
Pooja says, “Marriage is never a cakewalk. It is constant work from both the partners involved and not just one person. Commit to work on this relationship, be honest about your feelings, and if a problem arises, face it with dignity and sensibility.” And what happens when people don’t commit to working on a marriage? They have to face the consequences of staying in an unhappy marriage. Here are some:
1. Anxiety and depression
Pooja points out, “Bad relationships hamper mental health, especially the ones with physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. In such cases, partners may feel anxious, depressed, or both.” Research has shown that an unhappy marriage can lead to low levels of life satisfaction, happiness, and self-esteem. In fact, staying in an unhappy marriage is even more detrimental to mental health than divorce.
So, take a piece of paper and start writing down your feelings. Anchor yourself to the true nature of your marriage and what you are trying to escape. You have to ground yourself in the reality of how you and your body feel around your spouse, and what this marriage is doing to you and your mental health. You can write something along the lines of:
- “When he called me a bitch, I felt…”
- “When she threw the ashtray, I felt…”
- “When he screamed at the kids, I felt…”
- “When she was flirting with my friends again, I felt…”
- “When they were calling me names, I felt…”
- “When I found out she was cheating on me, I felt…”
This exercise can make you realize that you are suffering due to subtle forms of emotional abuse. Don’t live in this mental hell. Know for a fact that you deserve to feel happy, worthy, loved, and respected.
2. You lose touch with yourself
Alan Robarge, Attachment Trauma Therapist, points out on his YouTube channel, “It is self-betrayal to deny your own needs by telling yourself it’s okay to stay in a chaotic relationship that only causes chronic disappointment.” Here is what happens when the unhappy state of your marriage causes you to lose touch with yourself:
- You keep giving the benefit of the doubt to your partner
- The relationship lacks consistent emotional stability
- You constantly feel misunderstood, rejected, and depleted
- You feel disconnected from your feelings
- Your settle for being with an emotionally unavailable partner
3. Damage to your physical health
When you stay in a bad marriage, it affects your mental and physical health. Do you feel drained and exhausted all the time? Do you get sick often or get frequent headaches? Pooja points out, “If someone is in an unhappy marriage, they will be stressed and their sleep, appetite, and overall wellness are bound to get affected badly.”
In fact, some studies correlate marital quality to cardiovascular diseases. So, the consequences of staying in an unhappy marriage might include being more prone to a weaker immune system, high blood pressure, heart diseases, cancer, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, and depression. In fact, wounds heal slower in hostile couples, as compared to happy couples.
4. Deep-rooted trauma in children
If you are staying in an unhappy marriage for a child, know that growing up in such an environment might end up creating the exact damage that you are trying to avoid. In your children, it might manifest as:
- An inability to regulate emotions
- Deep fear and insecurity
- Low self-worth
- Aggressive behavior
- An attraction to intense, volatile, and abusive relationships
What are the consequences of staying in an unhappy marriage? Your children might be at risk of developing an insecure attachment style. According to Pooja, “An insecure attachment style is invariably linked to childhood trauma where the child was part of a dysfunctional family, witness to abuse, or inconsistent relationships.” So, if you are staying in an unhappy marriage for a child, it could lead to a very pessimistic and flawed perception of relationships in their minds, resulting in:
- Trust issues
- Relationship hopping
- Self-sabotaging nature
- Push and pull dynamic
- Deep fear of intimacy and commitment
- Fear of abandonment
- Inherent belief that getting hurt in love is inevitable
5. Low self-esteem is a consequence of staying in an unhappy marriage
My friend, Sarah, says, “I’m so unhappy in my marriage but I can’t leave. I have started doubting myself and I struggle to say ‘no’ to people. I cannot imagine my identity as separate from him. I am not able to take care of myself anymore.” As Sarah points out, one of the consequences of staying in an unhappy marriage is a damaged sense of self-esteem.
So, I asked Sarah, “All these are stages of a dying marriage. It won’t be a stretch to call them warning signs you will get divorced. So then, why prolong your agony?” Sarah didn’t know how to respond to my question. For her and others like her, Pooja advises, “Divorce is a taboo but there is nothing shameful about it. It shows you are a courageous person to face the facts of a relationship and call it quits. This must be a matter of pride rather than shame.”
6. You hurt yourself or people who are not even at fault
Are you using the following ways to cope with your unhappy marriage?
- Drinking heavily
- Cheating on your spouse
- Burying yourself in work day and night
- Taking your anger out on kids or old people in your family
Whatever it is that you are doing to escape the reality that you are in the stages of a dying marriage, is certainly not healthy for you. All of these unhealthy coping mechanisms might bring you relief temporarily but will still keep you from a fulfilling life.
What are the consequences of staying in an unhappy marriage? It can plunge you into destructive patterns. For instance, if you are dating a married person, you will end up hurting innocent people (like their spouse/kids). This will again create guilt and shame, which will then feel overwhelming in an already unhappy marriage.
7. A pessimistic outlook towards everything and everyone
One of the worst consequences of staying in an unhappy marriage is that you start losing hope. Love begins to feel like a far-fetched notion that exists only in fantasy but not in your destiny. You are unable to trust anyone because you are so scared that they will hurt you or take advantage of you.
You start accepting suffering or the feeling of being stuck as normal. You fool your mind into believing that this is how most marriages are, so yours is no exception. It is killing you but you stay on perhaps because you are scared to be alone. Pooja agrees, “Yes, a lot of people stay in unfulfilling marriages because they fear being alone but who says this is going to be the last relationship of your life?”
Related Reading: How To Leave A Toxic Relationship – Know From The Expert
8. You become toxic
Even the healthiest of people can become toxic when they stay in unhealthy equations for too long. So, one of the consequences of staying in an unhappy marriage is that it fills you with poison. Whatever you hate in your partner starts creeping into your personality too. You start taking revenge, turning the whole marriage into a power game that you must win at any cost.
9. Your ideas of a healthy relationship get distorted
Even if you end this dysfunctional marriage, there are chances that you will end up seeking similar dysfunctional relationships. You may have become so used to being mistreated that it has distorted your idea of what a relationship must be like. You might not even recognize when a healthy relationship comes along because this marriage has desensitized you to it.
Even if calling it quits on an unhappy marriage isn’t an option for you owing to your circumstance, it doesn’t mean you have to accept an unfulfilling relationship as your fate. You can choose to take charge of your happiness by trying to fix your marriage or prioritizing self-preservation. Maybe, there are some things that you are doing wrong and you are unaware of them. Maybe, the secret lies in tweaking certain habits and patterns. How to survive in an unhappy marriage? Let’s find out.
3 Ways To Survive In An Unhappy Marriage
Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, commitment in a marriage requires constant work. Every little conversation/habit counts. All these little things accumulate over the years, serving as the foundation of unwavering commitment between partners. So, it’s important that you pay attention, every single day. Here are some of the things you can work on to avoid the consequences of staying in an unhappy marriage:
1. Go to couples therapy
Pooja advises, “If you’re unhappy in your marriage, work with a counselor to get to the root of this unhappiness. Why do you feel this way? Was it always like that or it started after some event? If you can’t leave the marriage, try to work on it and make the situation better for you. Ideally, both partners need to go for couples’ counseling and find new modalities to work on this equation.”
But, keep in mind that couples therapy is not some miraculous cure. Research points out that the success of therapy has more to do with the client’s mindset than the type of therapy. So, counseling works better for clients who approach therapy with the optimistic view that change is possible and are enthusiastic enough to work on themselves.
2. Work on self-care and self-love
Just because you are in a marriage, doesn’t mean you stop enjoying solitude. Every once in a while, take out some ‘me time’ in the following ways:
- Going on a solo trip
- Spending time with friends and family
- Enjoying a meal by yourself
- Running with earphones on
- Reading a book
It is important to create a balance between your mind, body, and soul. These grounding exercises can help you center yourself and feel like yourself again:
Related Reading: How To Find Yourself Again In A Relationship When Feeling Lost
- Practice deep breathing
- Spend some time in nature
- Listen to soothing music
- Get adequate sleep
- Stay hydrated
- Maintain a gratitude journal or a journal where you can vent
- Stay active; you can try activities like walking, dancing, or swimming
3. Become creative in your marriage
Commitment and faithfulness in a marriage become easy when there is a sense of novelty. So, instead of looking for new partners, start looking for new activities that you can enjoy with your partner. Find different adventures to keep the spark going; this will strengthen your marriage. Here are some examples:
- River rafting
- Wine tasting
- Playing tennis
- Salsa/Bachata classes
- Making couple friends
On what to do when infidelity seems tempting, Pooja suggests, “Rediscovering new common interests, having a fulfilling life other than marriage and kids and maintaining your personality, interests and social group away from the partner are some of the ways to keep the relationship fresh and alive. Infidelity does seem tempting more so when it is casual and might not have impending consequences on the primary relationship. In such situations, people need to re-examine what their vows are and how they renegotiate boundaries with their partners.”
- It’s an unhappy marriage if it involves neglect, indifference, violence, distrust, and a lack of physical and emotional intimacy
- Staying in an unhappy marriage can damage your and your child’s mental health, and cause problems like anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem
- Bad marriages damage your physical health too and you may also end up hurting people who are not even at fault
- To survive an unhappy marriage, go into couple’s therapy, find ways to love yourself, try new activities and rediscover common interests with your partner
Finally, Pooja points out, “Abuse must be irreconcilable. It is better to part ways if there are irreconcilable differences and you both have already given this marriage your all. Being alone can have its own challenges in life (social/psychological/financial). Yet, facing the consequences of staying in an unhappy marriage, especially if there is abuse involved, is not worth it.”
No. For starters, you both should try your best to fix the marriage through couples’ counseling and everyday efforts to make it better. But if the marriage involves mental or physical abuse and has become toxic for your mental health, staying can do more harm to you than leaving.
No, it is not selfish to leave an unhappy marriage. In fact, it is one of the signs of low self-esteem and lack of self-respect if you overstay in equations that make you feel bad about yourself.
You also owe yourself a healthy and happy relationship. Try to work on it with your partner. But if it is irreconcilable, then parting ways is a much healthier option than staying in a bad relationship.