Options When You’re Unhappy in Your Marriage

  •   |   Meghan Freed

Your options when you are unhappy in your divorce in front of a laptop.Understanding your options is a critical first step when you’re unhappy in your marriage. Marriage is one of the most complex and ever-evolving journeys that humans experience. Although there are bumps in the road in all marriages, what happens when the problems run deeper or persist — or when the marriage doesn’t fulfill you as it used to? What are your options, then? In her book Contemplating Divorce, Susan Pease Gadoua, LCSW, clearly outlines these options. Read on to learn your three main options when contemplating ending your marriage and how to evaluate them to find your own path to greater joy and fulfillment whether or not you choose to remain married.

Three Options When You’re Considering Divorce

You have three main options when you’re considering divorce.

  • Stay Married
  • Separate
  • Divorce

Easier said than done, right? Although this seems very straightforward, there are nuances to all these approaches, and the “best” course is as unique as each couple. It’s also important to note that these options aren’t mutually exclusive. For example, you may initially try to work through the relationship problems in couples therapy and, based on what you learn, later decide to separate or divorce.

If you’ve been feeling stuck, working through these choices — even when they don’t feel ideal — will make you feel better and move you to a resolution.

Read: Making the Decision to Divorce

Read: How To Decide Whether to Divorce

What Option Should I Choose When I’m Unhappy in My Marriage?

Some people contemplating divorce may know they want to end their marriage but delay moving forward because they fear its impact on others, like their spouse and children. If this is you, it’s essential to know that everyone who goes through a divorce is conflicted. For example, it’s normal to feel guilty at the same time as you feel sure that you don’t want to be married. Or, you may feel betrayed and simultaneously recognize your life will be better on the other side of the relationship. Acknowledging this conflict and owning that you’ll struggle with different things at different times is part of preparing for the end of your marriage.

Other people consider divorce not so much because they want it but because their marriage isn’t working. By communicating and expressing your own fears and sadness, you may open up a discussion about improving your marriage. Then, regardless of your ultimate decision, you have a better chance of being at peace with your actions and choices.

Read: Tips for Navigating Other People’s Reactions to Your Divorce

Read: Should I Work on My Marriage?

Option 1: Stay Married

All people have ups and downs in their lives. And, because two people make a marriage, every marriage has ups and downs. What about when the issues in your marriage last or reach a different level, though? Should you remain married? Generally speaking, people who stay married do one of three things. They choose not to do anything, try to work through it one-on-one with their spouse or engage a professional to help them improve the marriage.

Choosing Not To Do Anything When You’re Unhappy in Your Marriage

Note that we deliberately entitled this section “Choosing Not To Do Anything.”  Inaction — the decision not to take action — is just as much a choice as choosing to take action. Not that ignoring a problem is not the same as deciding to take a beat before you address it. There’s nothing wrong with letting an issue sit for a bit to allow things to settle down — in fact, that’s often the best course.   But not addressing issues at all means they will eventually reappear. Moreover, allowing issues to fester often leads to an even bigger problem, making things worse. In other words, ignoring problems further destroys communication and can lead to a higher conflict divorce down the line.

Watch: Your Life Is the Outcome of Your Decisions

Read: Articulating Your Needs When Considering Divorce

Should We Try to Work Through Problems in Our Marriage?

Again, not everyone chooses to try to work through the problems in their marriage, and that’s fine.

If you would like to work through the issues in your marriage, there are two mtriesirst, you and your spouse can try to work it on it directly between the two of you or bring in a professional like a therapist or coach to help you. In either case, it’s important to know that both paths require both spouses’ commitment. In other words, one person can work on themselves with a therapist. Doing so can improve and clarify your own approach to life and its choices, and it may even help you be a better partner. But it takes both spouses to decide to work on a marriage in order actually to work on a marriage.

Tools people use to work on their marriage without outside help include learning about improving communication skills, reading books, and making life changes such as moving.   Outside help includes working with couples therapists, coaches, or counselors.

Again, though, none of these is a silver bullet. As Susan Pease Gadoua writes:

“People sometimes have unrealistic expectations of how much these outside influences can accomplish. What couples should keep in mind is that the success rate of any intervention they employ, regardless of what it is or how capable the professional whom they are working with is, will only be as good as both spouses’ levels of motivation.

Many people have come to me for marriage therapy hoping that I could wield some power over their spouses that they themselves didn’t possess, and get them to listen or change in some way. Certainly, objective input from a professional trained to deal with such matters can help, but it is important to understand that there is no magic cure.”

Understand that you are in control of your own decision whether to invest to work on your relationship, and your spouse is in control of their decision. It takes both of you to move forward. And, it’s not a given that the two of you will ultimately decide that staying in the marriage is the best thing for you. However, even if you choose to divorce, the process may well help you have a good divorce.

Read: How to Work Through Conflict in Your Marriage

Option 2: Separate

It may be counterintuitive to you to consider living apart as an approach to enhance work your relationship. This is not the most common approach, but for some people, living separately (whether geographically near or far) allows them individual freedom while staying connected. For example, two spouses with children from previous relationships who have different parenting styles may find that maintaining two homes reduces the conflict around parenting and supports their bond.

Second, other people separate to gain perspective on their marriage. Living apart and working on your personal growth can help you decide whether you want to remain married. In other words, stepping away from the day-to-day routine and dynamics of the relationship can help you evaluate the bigger picture. It can allow you the space and perspective to assess your relationship and decide whether to move forward with the marriage or a more permanent separation or divorce.

Finally, there is the version of separation that we tend to think of the most — the one that basically reflects the end of the relationship and is a final step on the way to divorce. It may even be a formal, legal separation.

Read: How to Have a Good Divorce

Option 3: Divorce

People who thoughtfully assess their happiness in their marriage and then deliberately decide to transition out of their relationship tend to have better divorces. In addition, they are also more likely to have a mutually respectful divorce, including options like mediation and collaborative divorce. If we can answer your questions, please contact us.

Read: When Should You Hire a Divorce Attorney?

Next Steps

Far too many people decide to stay or leave their marriage out of fear. Taking the brave step to dig deep and honestly evaluate your happiness and satisfaction within your marriage will lead to a more meaningful decision — and life. For example, ask yourself: What more, if anything, could you and your spouse do to improve your relationship? Is that something you choose? What do you truly want for your life, and how does your relationship fit into your dream for your future?

If you would like a copy of Susan Pease Gadoua’s book Contemplating Divorce, please let us know.  We would appreciate the opportunity to send it to you, on us.

Freed Marcroft LLC

Freed Marcroft LLC