I often hear from both husbands and wives who tell me that they're not happy in their marriages and who are asking for advice about what to do in this situation. Sometimes, it's somewhat evident that the person asking is looking for some confirmation that the situation is a difficult one. In some instances, I suspect that the writer is actually wanting for me to tell them that their situation is dire so that they will feel justified if they ultimately decide to separate or divorce. This is extremely rare though because I rarely advocate giving up on your marriage unless you're being harmed by remaining in it.
Many times, I hear from a spouse who is married to a decent and loving person and who was once a part of a healthy and fulfilling relationship which just has temporarily lost it's way. And, for whatever reason, the marriage is just no longer making them feel all that happy. I often hear comments like "I'm beginning to realize that I'm not happy in my marriage. It just feels as if nothing ever changes and that this might be all I have to look forward to. I don't want to live the rest of my life like this. I deserve and want to be happy. But I have my family to think about rather than only myself. What can or should I do when I don't want to walk away but I can't deny that I'm unhappy?" Believe it or not, I often see a lot of positive attributes in correspondence like this.
First of all, the spouse has the self awareness and the honestly to see that they're not happy and the drive to want to change things. This isn't always the case. Sometimes people will deny that anything is wrong or sort of go through the motions in blind acceptance of a life sentence of living this way.
Just Because You're Unhappy In Your Marriage Right Now Doesn't Mean That You Can't Be Happy In It Tomorrow: In my heart, I believe that most people understand this. But sometimes, if this has gone on for a while, people begin to get a doubtful attitude. They haven't seen any real change or improvement in a while so they begin to doubt that this is a possibility. Please believe me when I say that very few of these situations are hopeless. As long as you have the desire, a plan, and a bit of patience, you can turn this around. Sure, it might take a little time, a little work, and an ability to step back and change what's not working, but isn't the effort worth it? If the little voice in the back of your head is telling you that you deserve to be happier than you are, you're right. But, who has the ability to change that? You do. And yes, it's helpful if your spouse is on board, but it's not always 100% necessary, especially at first.
Identifying What's Making You Unhappy In Your Marriage Or In Your Life: Although I don't doubt that your marriage could be happier, I have to bring your attention to the possibility that other areas of your life are contributing to your perceptions of your marriage. It's not at all uncommon that our stress levels, financial difficulties, and the responsibilities of every day contribute to our putting what is the most important things to us on the back burner. There are countless happiness studies which indicate a person's close, personal relationships as the greatest contributor to their level of contentment. So, it's vital that you make your marriage as happy and as fulfilling as you can (which you likely already know and is why you're here.)
With that said, sometimes we take our struggles and disappointments in other areas of our life and we project that onto our marriage because it is close and it is convenient. And as the result, we'll sometimes subconsciously shift our focus onto other things when we actually should be doing the opposite. Because I firmly believe that the feelings that are coming out of a relationship are directly proportional to the quality effort that is going into it.
In other words, if you aren't contributing a lot of quality time into your marriage, it only makes sense that the quality of feelings that are coming out of it are going to change and diminish also. This is common sense, but so many people do not connect the dots, myself included. Sometimes, the issues in the marriage that are making you unhappy are quite clear. The things that I most often hear is a lack of intimacy, not having anything in common anymore, or that one or both of you "have changed." I maintain that most of these issues can be fixed with a change in focus, priorities and habits. No, it isn't always easy but the rewards are almost always worth it.
Taking The Initiative For The Happiness That You Deserve: So many of us are waiting for someone else to take the lead. Perhaps we are feeling guilty for our own unhappiness so we're just sort of waiting for things to get better. Or, we're hoping that our spouse notices that something is different and takes some initiative. The problem with all of these things is that you're waiting on something that might take a while to happen or, worse, which may not happen at all. In the meantime, you're wasting time being unhappy when you could be dramatically improving your situation. If you're not happy, then you alone have the power to change that. There's no reason to feel guilty about wanting to be happy and at peace. And, there's nothing wrong with taking the initiative to improve your situation.
You may decide to tell your spouse about the changes that you intend to make and you may not. I've seen both strategies be successful. Whichever way you go, I can tell you that often, when you begin to ask yourself what you really want and begin to set it up so that you're getting more of it, your spouse is often going to see some positive changes that will improve their behaviors as well. And eventually, you begin to have more and more positive behaviors and changes so that at some point you notice that your level of happiness has made a dramatic change for the better. This may seem to be an oversimplification, but it doesn't have to be. The changes can be gradual and virtuously painless, as long as you are taking deliberate action and continuing to move forward and tweak the plan as you see what works best.
It was technically my husband who was unhappy in our marriage but I wasn't all that thrilled with it either, sometimes. I think he suspected that our marriage was over. (And I secretly suspected he might be right.) But, I also felt that if I started by changing myself and refocusing my attention, I might be able to turn things around. Eventually, I was able to not only restore our feelings of "being in love," but to save our marriage. You can read a very personal story on my blog at http://isavedmymarriage.com/.