How did we end up here? Why is my marriage unhappy? We had such big dreams when we got married, and now we just exist.
Crossing the threshold into married life is often a bigger leap than couples are prepared for.
You’ve been there. You remember the bliss, the take-the-world-by-storm dream of all life’s possibilities.
You remember having almost everything in common. And you remember filling in the gaps of your differences with the creation of new and positive agreements to strengthen your connection.
You probably even remember acknowledging beneath the snow of pixie dust that “life won’t always be perfect.” But no matter, you would “lean on one another and get through it together.”
And yet, somehow you have arrived at the stark awareness of your disappointment and dissatisfaction.
Why is my marriage unhappy? Is it me? Is it him/her? Is it “us”? How do I figure it out? And can we get back to being happy?
Getting your marriage compass redirected to true north involves more than spinning in circles and waiting for the needle to settle. It requires a mapping of your coordinates, as well as your surroundings.
You may have only recently articulated those despondent descriptors – unhappy, miserable, bored, frustrated, hopeless. But you didn’t arrive at them overnight.
The “overnight” awareness of them, however, can trick you into reaching for “overnight” explanations and solutions.
Getting an answer to “Why is my marriage unhappy?” first requires a recognition of what an unhappy marriage looks like. Are you simply unhappy, dissatisfied, disappointed? Or are you in an unhealthy, even toxic, irrevocable marriage?
(*Note: This article addresses unhappy marriages that have not escalated to the level of being abusive or toxic. If you are experiencing physical or emotional abuse, please reach out for help immediately. Here is the link to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.)
Here are 6 signs of an unhappy marriage, accompanied by steps you can take and questions you can ask to figure out if and how they apply to you.
1. You’re not having sex.
It’s natural and expected that, somewhere in the early stages of marriage, you’re not driven to rip off one another’s clothes in public. And, at some point, your body is going to remind you that sleep is a good (and essential) commodity.
But, if you’re no longer or only rarely having sex, there is probably more going on. And the absence of this exclusive expression of intimacy can lead to spiraling in other areas of your relationship.
Here are some questions to ask yourself (and your spouse):
- Have I lost my physical attraction to my spouse?
- Am I intentionally withholding sex as punishment or as a statement of my unhappiness?
- Is there a physical or medical reason behind the lack of sex?
- Do we have healthy communication about sex – our needs, desires, inhibitions, fantasies?
- Are we making time for sex in our relationship or treating it as an afterthought or chore?
- Does either partner have body image issues?
- Has there ever been a sexual betrayal or infidelity in our marriage?
As debilitating as these issues may seem when sex has fallen off the table, they’re really just detours.
Honest answers to these questions will give you a starting place to restore physical intimacy.
They will also help direct you to expert help in this more-common-than-you-think area.
2. Nothing is fun anymore.
Your first thought when “Why is my marriage unhappy?” pops up may simply be, “Nothing is fun anymore.”
So life has settled in. Children, jobs, mortgage, bills, age, fatigue, crises. It can all shift your focus away from the enjoyment of life to the drudgery of life’s obligations.
Besides, you did all that fun stuff when you were young and dating. Nothing is new, and you have adult responsibilities.
Hit pause. Back up. Listen to yourself explain all the reasons there’s no fun in your marriage.
And ask yourself:
- Does “life” have the final say, or do we?
- Are we even making the effort to keep our relationship alive and new?
- When did date night go by the wayside?
- Do we even laugh together anymore?
- Do we take ourselves too seriously?
- When is the last time we planned to do something together that neither one of us has ever done before?
“Fun” is a perspective, a mindset, a release of inflexible guardrails that restrain the energy of creativity and discovery.
Make the effort to create opportunities for fun in your relationship. And let it creep back in, one giggle, one ROFL at a time.
3. You don’t feel heard.
Communication, communication, communication. It’s so much more than what is spoken. It’s what’s heard…and what the speaker believes was heard.
This perception of being valued enough to be listened to and heard at a heart level is central to emotional intimacy. (And emotional intimacy is central to physical intimacy – at least for women.)
The erosive danger of not feeling heard is the tendency to “return the favor.”
We set precedents by how we treat others. We also teach others how to treat us.
Marriage is that one place that is supposed to afford the greatest emotional safety for vulnerable self-expression. It’s supposed to be the place where you feel you can get your needs met – or at least heard and lovingly responded to.
- What need am I bottling up because I feel unheard?
- What do I need from my spouse to make me feel safe in expressing myself?
- Do I even feel that I can get my needs met in this marriage, or do I honestly believe my spouse doesn’t care?
- Am I doing my part to hear my spouse with my heart?
- Am I teaching him/her how to treat me by the effort I make to listen and respond with love?
- Are we both willing to work with a professional who can guide us in more effective communication?
4. You fantasize about life without your spouse.
Daydreaming about escaping your marriage is a big red flag. And it can happen only when enough space has been created between two people so that mental energy can be devoted elsewhere.
It’s a sign that you’re not getting out of your marriage what you need.
But it can also be a sign that you’re not putting into your marriage the energy that it needs.
So ask yourself:
- What is it that I’m longing for and not getting?
- Is that a realistic desire or just a fantasy?
- Have I truly lost my love for my spouse?
- Do I believe my spouse no longer loves me?
- Or are we just “stuck,” unable to navigate our way back to happiness without help?
5. You don’t want the same things anymore.
“Common values” is one of the strongholds of a healthy relationship. Core issues like faith and attitudes about children, family, careers, and money bind couples in a common cause and life direction.
But people naturally evolve in their desires as they mature. Youth makes them want to take on the world; age makes home the best place to be.
Tastes change. Even political and religious views change.
How are two people supposed to stay together if the glue that bound them starts to dissolve?
The key is always communication. Always.
Unless one of you has decided overnight to join a cult, changes in attitudes and preferences are an evolution.
Experiences and observations trigger thought and often the challenge of long-held beliefs. Biases break down…or go up. Ambitions soften or shift.
The beauty of marriage is that you have the opportunity to evolve toward your highest self in the company of a faithful companion.
The two of you get to work through past hurts and deprogram deep-seated malware from your youths.
And you get to do it while traveling on individual trajectories that share one another’s influence to create a common trajectory.
It really is the miracle of “the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.”
If you are convinced you and your spouse “just want different things now,” do some digging. And do a lot of listening – to yourself and to your partner.
So often the core that once defined and centralized your relationship is still there.
Its expression may have changed, matured, sloughed off unessentials, or simply shifted its weight. But the essence of what truly matters is usually still there.
- Have you been blindsided because you haven’t been communicating about the little things?
- Have you missed the opportunities to discuss experiences that have challenged long-held thought patterns?
- Have you been afraid to admit that you may have been wrong on some things?
- Have you allowed your common vision to get buried under the laundry pile of your own wants and grievances?
6. Work and kids consume your lives.
Sometimes the answer to “Why is my marriage unhappy?” is buried in the very things that make it happy.
Careers are the products of aspiration and hard work. Children are the manifestation of love and hope for the future.
It’s easy to see how they could take precedence over everything else in your life.
The problem arises when you and your spouse forget that your relationship, your marriage, is the umbilical cord that feeds everything else in your lives.
So often a marriage that feels unhappy is really just unfocused, unnourished, unprioritized.
Ask yourself and your spouse:
- Have we used our obligations to children and careers as justification for ignoring our marriage?
- What would our marriage look like if we put it back at the top of our priority list?
Knowing what an unhappy marriage looks like is one thing. But knowing how to look at and examine – honestly, vulnerably – an unhappy marriage is another.
And sometimes that involves asking for help.
Being unsure can actually be a good sign. Deciding your marriage is valuable enough to find the answers is a great sign.