A man and woman are standing in front of each other. Three reasons why people are unhappy in marriage.

Understanding the Reasons People Stay in an Unhappy Marriage

As a life coach, I help business owners deal with personal and professional problems, and one of the key areas that affects people is their love life. No matter how hard they try to compartmentalize their home life, it tends to affect all areas of their lives.

In this article, we are going to talk about the reasons why people stay in unhappy marriages or long-term romantic partnerships. This article is not designed to tell you what to do but rather to help you understand why you are doing what you are doing. Based on that, you can decide what makes sense for you in all areas of your life.

First, let’s talk about how we can easily recognize drama and stress in other relationships but can’t quite see it in our lives.

Oh! Look how bad THEY are!

Unconsciously identifying with other unhappy marriages

My father loved watching the show “Married with Children.” As a child, I remember that he could binge-watch it for hours on end. Often times, we are drawn to dramas that closely mimic the drama in our own lives.

Lots of people go for shows that are like the ups and downs in their own lives. It’s like our brains do it automatically to make sense of things.

Downplaying our problems using comparison 

When my dad got into Al Bundy’s world, I bet it was like a way to let out feelings or take a break from reality. The funny and over-the-top moments in the show probably felt like stuff he could relate to in his own life, making the tough stuff a bit lighter. It’s like these shows become a sort of mirror for our feelings and problems, but in a fun and exaggerated way. 

Unfortunately for my father, every time he turned off the television, he had to turn back into the real world. This included his unhappy marriage. And for almost 25 years, my father stayed until the day he decided he couldn’t stand being married to my mother anymore. But what made him stay, you may ask? Well, he stayed for reason number 2 (which is listed below).

Now is the time to ask yourself the same question: why are you staying in an unhappy marriage?

Nobody wants to feel like a failure, especially in the most important area of our life: who we choose as a life partner.

Why is hard to leave an unhappy marriage or partnership?

Reason 1: Safety in the Familiar 

You know how when you’re in a cozy blanket or cuddled up with someone you love, you feel all warm and safe? Well, that’s because humans really, really like to feel safe. It’s like our special superpower. Now, when this safety feeling is all tangled up with what other people think about us, things can get a bit tricky.

Imagine being in a marriage, and it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a bit like feeling unhappy, but the thought of not having that person around makes you super scared. You don’t want to be alone, and that’s totally okay! 

So, even if things are not going well, you might pretend everything is A-OK and sweep problems under the rug, just to keep things feeling safe and secure. It’s like wearing a pretend smile and acting like everything is perfect, even when it’s not.

Some folks steer clear of facing their feelings because they want everyone to see them as super successful and put together. And when we do this nobody, including ourselves, can see the full depth of our unhappiness.

Reason 2: Keeping Up Appearances

Alright, here’s another reason why fixing or ending a tough marriage can be like trying to solve a really tricky puzzle. The fact is some folks steer clear of facing their feelings because they want everyone to see them as super successful and put together. It’s a bit like wanting to show off a shiny trophy that says, “Look at me, I’ve got it all figured out!”

Now, imagine if they let out that they’re feeling down or things aren’t going so great in their marriage.

They worry that others might think they’re not doing well or that they’re failing at this whole marriage thing. So, what do they do?

They wear this invisible mask, pretend everything is hunky-dory, and stash their true feelings away. It’s like playing make-believe to look successful, even if deep down, they’re struggling.

They may justify staying in the relationship by saying it is good for the kids, the relationship is not that bad, or they are just going through a rough patch.

I am not a failure 

I am pretty active on X/Twitter. (Follow me there if you have’t done so already.) Anyway, when I spoke about this, someone left a comment on my post, and it really got me thinking. They said, “Admitting you’re not happy with the person you chose can feel like a defeat, a failure.” 

Many people can relate to this because they don’t want to say, “Hey, my marriage is not making me happy right now,” because they worry it might make them seem like they’re failing. It’s like keeping up a front and not wanting to admit when things are tough because they fear it’ll make them look like they’ve messed up.

Avoiding being vulnerable is especially common among those who grew up in families where being perfect and following the rules was the top priority.

Reason 3:  Unspoken Rules from Childhood

Okay, let’s dive into another reason why dealing with a tough marriage can feel like trying to untangle a knot. Some folks were brought up with really strict rules or in families where everything had to be just perfect. Imagine having parents who were like, “No quitting, no complaining – you stick with things no matter what!”

For these folks, admitting that there are problems in their marriage can be super hard. It’s almost like they were taught to ignore their feelings or push them away.

How we can push away the emotional pain

There are many ways to avoid emotional pain. Here are some ways to do it: 

  • Denial (pretending it’s not happening),
  • Repression (shoving feelings deep down),
  • Suppression (keeping a lid on those emotions), or
  • Intellectualization (turning everything into a big intellectual puzzle) just to avoid dealing with the real, deep-down feelings.

The video from Brené Brown is an excellent video about how we can actually be better through be vulnerable and honest about our feelings.

Unspoken family rule: Never admit that when you are scared

It’s like saying, “I’m feeling sad or scared” is a big no-no. Instead, it’s more acceptable to just say, “I feel sad” or “I feel scared,” without going into the nitty-gritty details. It’s kind of like a rule – don’t get too deep into your emotions.

This way of avoiding being vulnerable is especially common among those who grew up in families where being perfect and following the rules was the top priority. It’s all about being a super achiever and not showing any signs of weakness.

And to make it worse, some of us observed some pretty dysfunctional patterns from our parents and then tried to replicate them with our spouse/partner.

Don’t you worry. Everything is fine here!

So, when it comes to marriage troubles, they might find it tough to say, “Hey, things aren’t going well,” because it goes against what they were taught about always being successful and not letting on if you’re feeling hurt, disappointed, angry, or scared. It’s like sticking to the rulebook, even when your heart is telling you something else.

So, based on what I wrote, what are you going to do to take care of yourself? Why are you or someone you care about staying in an unhappy partnership or marriage?

I have summarized the reasons in the image below. In the next section, I will share my final thoughts.

A man and woman are standing in front of each other. Three reasons why people are unhappy in marriage.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to acknowledge and deal with emotional issues within a marriage. This is not a weakness, but a brave choice that can lead to personal growth. Being emotionally healthy is also important for business success. It’s important to accept the truth, even if it means making changes in your life. 

If you’re struggling with this, you can contact me for help on your personal and work life journey. I also have a podcast where we discuss how to maintain emotional well-being during tough relationships. You may find this episode particularly helpful. 

Remember, asking for help is an important step towards positive change. Don’t hesitate to get the support and help you deserve.