Are You In An Unhappy Marriage? Couples Therapy Can Help

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated May 13, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Even if you’re currently living in an unhappy marriage, the marriage doesn’t necessarily have to stay that way. One method of improving marital satisfaction can be attending marriage counseling or couples therapy together. A relationship therapist may rekindle your connection, teach you to co-parent successfully, help you navigate financial disagreements, facilitate effective communication, prevent you from blaming each other, increase your appreciation for one another, resolve recurring relationship issues, and put a stop to threats to leave or end the marriage. If you believe your unhappy marriage would benefit from therapy, you may find a licensed individual or couples therapist who can help in person or online.

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Experiencing marital challenges?
Rekindle your connection and build intimacy in a relationship

It can be normal to feel unsatisfied in a relationship or marriage when you get stuck in the cycle of work, eat, sleep, and repeat with your spouse. When we are knee-deep in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, sometimes we forget to engage in quality time with our partner, which can cause a disconnect and tension and leave you feeling like you’re in an unhealthy relationship or a loveless marriage. Maybe you’ve stopped showing affection or having sex as a result. In such a busy world, it can be easy to neglect your relationship with your partner or yourself, potentially leading you to feel you’re in an unhappy marriage.

How a counselor can help you navigate relationship troubles

If you and your partner find yourselves or your marriage in a rough patch, stuck in this unhappy cycle, and are experiencing relationship problems with no signs of moving forward, therapy could be right for you. A marriage and family therapist can provide a safe place for both you and your partner to tell your feelings and communicate what you need from each other. Your therapist may also offer suggestions and tips for you to practice at home or in other parts of your life so you can again find happiness.

These suggestions to improve your relationship can vary based on your needs, relationship problems, and lives. If your busy schedule has caused you to lose touch with one another or feel as though you are in a loveless marriage, your therapist might suggest that you set aside time each week to sit down and reconnect. It can be important to build intimacy to maintain desire and connection in a relationship, leading to a more happy marriage. This could be in the form of a date night, or it could be as simple as agreeing on a time each week before bed when you can decompress and spend time talking to one another about the week ahead.

Sort your feelings and learn to co-parent successfully

A marriage with children can bring its own set of challenges to the forefront. You and your partner may have disagreements regarding how to discipline and raise your children. This can have trickle-down effects on the happiness of the rest of the family.

Working through parenting issues

A couple or family therapist can help you navigate the conversation around parenting issues that are causing conflict and decide on reasonable solutions. A therapist can be especially helpful here because they are generally unbiased and can help you sort through the feelings and work toward a collaborative solution. Your therapist can teach you how to communicate effectively, especially when conflict arises, on your own at home. This can have the added benefit of you learning how to set a healthy example of communication for your children. Passive aggression and aggression can bring stress not only to marriages but to the family in general.

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Navigate financial disagreements and work through money-spending habits with a family therapist

One of the most common things that couples argue and stress about in a relationship can be money. If you struggle with money, it can add stress to any relationship. Talking about finances before you get married to your partner can be wise, as it’s not uncommon for two people who are married to disagree on how to spend and save money. It can be helpful to talk about money early and get a sense of the differences in your money-spending habits so that one partner doesn’t begin to resent the other.

While a therapist is typically not a trained consultant for financial decisions, they can help you find different, non-threatening ways to talk about your feelings about money and finances in your relationship. This can be helpful because arguments about money and finances often become heated and personal. If you’re in such a situation, your licensed therapist can help you and your partner brainstorm ideas and find something that works for your household. 

Differences in spending habits

Some couples and partners don't have issues with financial strain, but still aren't happy with the way their partner views or spends money, which could also lead to an unhappy marriage. They may doubt their partner’s financial priorities or the future of their joint expenses. Your marriage therapist can provide a safe space to communicate this information in a way that your partner doesn't feel cornered, defensive, or attacked.

Communication is key: Facilitate effective communication with your spouse

It is often said that the perceived problems in relationships likely aren’t the actual problems in relationships. Many of the most stressful issues and struggles in an unhappy partnership can stem from something simple: poor or ineffective communication. This often explains why problems tend to repeat themselves and get swept under the rug. Communication can be one of the most important factors in finding happiness in successful relationships. If you suspect you are unable to communicate effectively with your partner, a mental health professional may help.

However, please don’t interpret that something is wrong with you because you struggle to communicate effectively. Learning to communicate effectively can be a process that requires spending time actively learning and practicing. That’s because communication is not necessarily a talent that a person is born with. While one person may naturally be more effective at communicating than another person, it is still a skill that can be learned and strengthened.

In therapy, you can practice how to talk to each other with the tools your therapist teaches you. You can get instant feedback and suggestions for improvement that you can build on at home. Therapy may only be for one hour a week, but there may be many opportunities at home to practice.

Learning to communicate effectively as an individual

However, struggling to communicate effectively isn’t necessarily a bad sign that something is wrong with you. Learning to communicate effectively can be a process that requires spending time actively learning and practicing. That’s because communication is not necessarily a talent that a person is born with. While one person may naturally be more effective at communicating than another person, it is still a skill that can be learned and strengthened.

In therapy, you can practice how to talk to each other with the tools your therapist teaches you. You can get instant feedback and suggestions for improvement that you can build on at home. Therapy may only be for one hour a week, but there may be many opportunities at home to practice.

End the blame game associated with unhappy relationships

Many relationships and couples fall into the rut of blaming one another for their own actions when they feel unhappy. This form of constantly criticizing your partner is called the blame game, and it’s another one of the major signs of an unhealthy pattern in a relationship. This can come in the form of blaming your spouse for you losing your temper, or it could consist of keeping an emotional scorecard of all the wrongdoings in the past. You might even bring up a related story every time your partner makes a small mistake.

Many unsatisfied marriages have some level of constant criticism in their relationship, which can lead to self esteem issues and feeling unhappy in the relationship.

Taking responsibility and acknowledging how your partner feels can be two important things many couples gain from therapy. Both you and your partner may need to accept that the things you do and the choices you make are your own if you want to remain in this long-term relationship.

Why it's not healthy to "keep score"

Keeping an emotional scorecard of past wrongdoings usually isn't beneficial for anyone and can be a sign of a dysfunctional relationship. The only thing you may be accomplishing by doing this could be causing your relationship to constantly rehash old resentments and hurts. Rather than look at one person as right and the other as wrong, your best shot at resolving an issue could be trying to see the other person’s perspective. A therapist can lead you to understand these points and work with you to get you to a place where forgiveness and moving forward is a normal part of the process in your arguments.

If you find yourself stuck in a rut of past problems and tough times, bringing a list of these things to your therapist can jumpstart your success moving forward. It can be a good idea to note what you’d like to see improved in your relationship. Writing it all down on paper can also help you realize the most important factors to get out of a rough patch.

Little things matter: Increase appreciation for each other

There is generally always room for appreciation in relationships. It can be easy to forget how different life was before marriage and hard to remember what it's like not to have someone by your side in life. For these reasons, we may forget to appreciate our spouse for the many things they do for us and instead find ourselves in a cycle of constantly criticizing the things we wish could change about our spouse. However, constant criticism can make anyone unhappy, especially if constant criticism is never balanced out with affirmations to boost self-esteem.

A therapist can help you both understand the important roles you play in one another's lives. They may assign exercises to remind each other how grateful you are for one another, so neither you or your partner feels neglected or unappreciated.

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Experiencing marital challenges?

Be thoughtful when bringing up divorce

When you sense you are at your wits’ end with your relationship, threatening to file for divorce or otherwise leave the relationship because of the trouble you are facing may be your go-to. Unless you are actually planning on carrying out one of these tasks, you generally shouldn't bring up separation or divorce. It can create a stress response in the partner’s body and make them feel unsafe to address concerns openly. Even if you do plan on leaving your partner, or filing for divorce, you should do so carefully, especially if you are in an abusive relationship or worried about domestic violence*. According to the Battered Women’s Support Services, the most dangerous time for a survivor can be when they leave their abusive relationship. If you feel your well being could be in danger, reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline or other resources. 

Empty threats of leaving your partner are often used in an unsatisfactory relationship as a fear tactic with the intent of trying to get that person’s attention. A licensed marriage and family therapist may help you understand the toxicity of using these tactics and can also help you express your emotions in a healthier, more productive way.

If you or a loved one is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7.

Online counseling with mental health professionals

If you and your spouse have busy schedules or children at home that can make it difficult to attend therapy together in person, you might consider trying online therapy provided by mental health professionals. Online therapy can empower you to get the professional help your marriage deserves from the comfort and convenience of your home.

As one study explains, online couples therapy can be as effective as in-person couples therapy in a therapist's office. Although many of the study’s participants initially had doubts as to the efficacy of online therapy, they generally found that they were able to create a strong therapeutic alliance. In the end, participants often reported that their experience with online couples counseling was a beneficial and positive one.

Takeaway

It can be possible for an unsatisfactory marriage to transform into a happy and satisfied one through therapy. Marriage therapy can:

  • Facilitate effective communication
  • Rekindle your connection
  • Get you both on the same page and get rid of unrealistic expectations
  • Increase your appreciation for one another
  • Resolve parenting issues by teaching you to co-parent successfully
  • Prevent you from blaming each other
  • Address negative feelings and unhealed wounds
  • Help you navigate financial disagreements
  • Work through mental health concerns impacting you and your marriage
  • Put a stop to threats to end the marriage and increase your commitment

Please don’t hesitate to get the professional help you deserve to improve your relationship with your spouse. There are many licensed marriage therapists available to help you and your partner find resolutions to your problems. You may find suitable couples therapists in person or through an online therapy platform. Just attending therapy isn’t necessarily a cure-all for a difficult relationship, however. Make sure you’re ready to put in the work to add the love and happiness back into your marriage. 

Marriage can come with complex challenges
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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