How to Be Happy in an Unhappy Marriage

Three Methods:Learning to Be HappyWorking Towards a Better MarriageConsidering the Alternative

People remain in unhappy marriages for many reasons. If you're one of those people, you may feel like you can't be happy. Nonetheless, you can find your own way to happiness, even in a bad situation, by practicing habits that lead to happiness, and you may even be able to work on your marriage to move toward happiness as a couple.

Method 1
Learning to Be Happy

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    Find ways to be grateful. It's not always easy to be grateful, especially in the midst of a bad relationship. Nonetheless, gratefulness can help you cope with the bad relationship, and it can lead to you being happier.[1]
    • Take time each day to figure out what you are thankful for. Try writing a few things you are grateful for each day in a journal. You can also use posts on social media for this purpose. Usually, even if the situation is bad, you can find something to be grateful about.
    • For instance, you may not like how you are being treated in the relationship you are in, but you may be grateful to have financial stability in your life at the moment. Alternatively, maybe you're grateful that the other person in the relationship remains a good parent to your kids.
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    Engage in flow experiences. Flow moments are when you lose yourself to an experience by being completely absorbed in whatever it is you're doing. If you're an artist, a writer, or even a runner, you may already understand this type of experience. It's that moment when the world falls away, and you are just experiencing or enjoying what you're doing. Studies have shown that the more flow moments you have, the happier you are in general.[2]
    • Choose an activity that challenges you a little bit, but that is still familiar so that you can lose yourself in it. For example, if you enjoy painting landscapes, then you might try painting a new subject such as a portrait or a basket of fruit.
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    Stop fighting the same fights. That is, if you always find yourself arguing about the same things, it may be time to put that topic aside. You need to decide that you won't discuss it because you can't agree or try to find a compromise that works for both of you.[3]
    • For example, if you tend to fight over politics, then you might want to make politics an off-limits topic. Or, if you often fight about what movie you are going to watch on Friday nights, then you might want to take turns choosing the movie.
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    Develop your own interests. If your marriage is not what you want it to be, it may be time to find some fulfillment outside of your marriage and not in the form of an affair. Having your own hobbies and interests will help you stay independent and keep you happy and engaged with the world. In fact, developing your own interests is a good idea even if you have a great marriage.[4]
    • Consider exploring interests at the library, joining local hobby clubs and cooking classes, or taking a class at a nearby community college.
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    Try volunteering. Having a sense of purpose and some good social connections with other people is also a good way to feel happy.[5] Because volunteering can give you a sense of purpose in life and it also allows you to interact with other like-minded people, it might help you to feel happier.
    • Try to find an organization that you would like to contribute to, such as an animal shelter or a food bank, and apply to become a volunteer. You might even ask your spouse if he or she would like to volunteer with you and it might be a good bonding activity for the two of you.
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    Develop your social life. Many studies point to relationships being key to happiness.[6] If your main relationship is unhappy, then you may not see how you can change your situation. But your spouse doesn't have to be your main source of socializing. You can have fulfilling relationships with friends, as well as other members of your family.
    • Try to go out to dinner with friends one night per week or get together with a sibling or cousin for a day of shopping.
    • If you don't have a lot of friends, then try to meet more people who share your interests. For example, you could join a bowling league, take an art class, or find a knitting circle.

Method 2
Working Towards a Better Marriage

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    Take time to be together. Making time for each other is a way to say you are committed to each other. Say you will spend a certain time each week with each other, and stick to it. It will also give you a chance to get to know one another again.[7]
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    Remember what you valued. When you first got together, you were probably partially attracted by the differences the other person exhibited. For instance, maybe you were exhilarated by the fact that he or she was impulsive and loved to be spontaneous. Now, you may find yourself hating the quality. The key is to try to remember why you loved that quality in the first place and move toward enjoying it again.[8]
    • For instance, it may drive you crazy when your spouse wants to drop everything and drive to the mountains. On the other hand, it keeps your life from getting too boring. Try to strike a balance, and enjoy what you can.
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    Talk about strengths and difficulties. It is important to acknowledge what is going well in your relationship as well as what has become a struggle. You might even want to make a list of strengths and difficulties together. Make sure that you include things on the list that you avoid talking about because of fears that you will just end up fighting about them.[9]
    • Try to pick a time to talk about your strengths and difficulties when you are both feeling calm and focused. Avoid talking at the end of a long day or at other stressful times.[10]
    • Use "I" statements rather than "You" statements. In other words, try to talk about what you're feeling and what you think is wrong without blaming the other person. For instance, saying "I get upset when we don't spend enough time together" is better than "You're never around." The second statement puts your spouse on guard, while the first helps open discussion.[11]
    • Spend time talking and listening. That is, you can't just lay out what you think is wrong. You also need to spend time actively listening to what your spouse has to say. Show you're engaged by offering short summaries of what he or she has said and by asking questions that are relevant to the conversation.[12]
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    Work out solutions. Once you've figured out together what issues you have in the marriage, it's time to try to come up with some solutions. You may even be able to draw on some of your strengths to help you develop solutions to problems in your relationships.
    • To compromise, you must talk about your wants and needs, helping you both to decide what's most important to each of you.[13] In other words, to make a compromise, you must be willing to let the other person win when it comes to their needs, giving ground when it comes in conflict with your wants. The same must be true of the other person.
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    Think about counseling. Sometimes, you need the help of a professional to get past your problems. A marriage counselor may help you fix more problems than you expect, and in fact, about half of people who use marriage counselors say that the counselor helped them fix all of the major problems in their marriage.[14]

Method 3
Considering the Alternative

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    Try legal separation. A legal separation gives you the time away from your spouse that you may need to work out problems. It is different than a divorce because you remain married. The benefit of a separation is it gives you a legal way to work out custody and child support while you are living apart, as well as how your property should be divided up. Nonetheless, if you work out your problems, you can go back to a normal marriage.[15]
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    Know divorce may be a better option. While getting a divorce is a life upheaval, staying in an unhealthy marriage can be detrimental to self-esteem and mental health. Some studies have shown it's better to get out of a caustic relationship and work to improve your own mental health than to stay.[16]
    • Understand an unhappy marriage can lead to depression. One study, which involved data from 5,000 adults, showed that the quality of your most important relationship is a good predictor of developing depression. Meaning, if one of your closest relationships, including your spousal one, is in bad repair, it puts you at risk for developing depression.[17]
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    Consider reasons to divorce. You may find that you have a good reason for getting a divorce. If you are unhappy in your marriage, you will likely find that you are a happier person once you get out.[18]
    • You might consider a divorce if your spouse had an affair. While some couples overcome infidelity, others never recover from it. If you find that you can't forgive your spouse for what he or she did even after months or years, you may want to consider a divorce.[19]
    • You've grown in different ways. Sometimes, when you grow into full-fledged adults together, you take different directions. If you find you and your spouse can't agree on much of anything anymore because you are just too different, it may be best to divorce.[20]
    • Your partner is bad at finances and won't change. Of course, everyone makes bad money choices sometimes. However, if your partner is so bad that it is causing stress on your marriage or is bankrupting your family, you may need to get out of the marriage, especially if you've expressed concern but your spouse is unwilling to change.[21]
    • Think about the kids. Many unhappily married couples stay together for the kids. Divorce is hard on kids, but it's also true that being unhappily married can be hard on your kids, as well. Your kids know you're unhappy, and if you're constantly fighting, you're putting stress on them, anyway.[22]


  • If your marriage is in any way abusive, you need to get out. If you don't know where to find help, try calling 211 or the police if the situation is dangerous.

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Categories: Married Life