The Truth About Transforming an Unhappy Marriage

Transforming an Unhappy Marriage

A bad marriage can block happiness.

Something I know from experience and research validates. However, transforming an unhappy marriage is possible in a lot of cases.

Yes, we can create a bubble of happiness for ourselves regardless, but it’s a bubble with a set of challenges working against it.

I always say that marrying my ex-husband was one of the best decisions I ever made, and divorcing him was also one of the best decisions ever.

Interestingly, when I announced our divorce, I received multiple private messages from people asking me for advice on how to divorce their partners.

Seeing how many couples who appear happy on social media are struggling in a bad marriage was eye-opening.

I talked each one out of divorce and gave them resources on trying even more.

Here’s my take on a bad marriage, if there’s a level of respect and no abuse, keep working on it.

But, if you have exhausted all your options, consider other options that work for both of you.

Why? A lousy marriage impacts the emotional and mental health of both partners. And worst yet, the sense of wellness for a child is also affected. If you stay in your marriage, transforming an unhappy marriage should your first priority.

A bad marriage hurts the entire family unit and makes happiness unsustainable. One is left with three choices: transforming an unhappy marriage into a happier one, stay unhappy and affect your mental and emotional wellness or leave it entirely.

So, what do I mean when I say keep working on it?

Before I get into that, let’s go over the research on happiness and being in a bad marriage so we can understand the effects.


What are the research-backed effects of staying in a bad marriage?

For this article, I pulled three well-known studies on the effect of a bad marriage on our emotional and mental health wellness. All demonstrate the importance of transforming an unhappy marriage.

“The Effect of Marital Quality on the Mental Health of Couples” by Proulx, C.M., Helms, H.M., & Buehler, C. (2007)

The team analyzed the effects from 93 studies. This study found that the quality of their marital relationship influenced both men’s and women’s mental health. In addition, higher marital quality is associated with lower levels of depression and other mental health issues. This study was not limited to a specific demographic, so its findings can be generally applied to the broader public.


“Marital Conflict and the Development of Infant-Parent Attachment Relationships” by Davies, P. T., Sturge-Apple, M. L., & Cummings, E. M. (2004)

Couples were studied before and after the birth of their 1st child to understand processes by which marital conflict influences child development. This study suggested that marital conflict can lead to more insecure infant-parent attachment relationships, which can, in turn, affect maternal mental health.


“Marital satisfaction, depression, and the transition to parenthood” by Lawrence, E., Rothman, A. D., Cobb, R. J., Rothman, M. T., & Bradbury, T. N. (2008)

They studied the data collected twice before and twice after the birth of the 1st child and at corresponding points for voluntarily childless couples. They found that marital satisfaction can predict depressive symptoms following the transition to parenthood.

I feel that when it comes to an unhappy marriage, we don’t really need research to tell us its effect since we are already experiencing it, but clearly, a bad marriage is one we either need to fix or leave.


How an unhappy affects you

Let’s summarize the findings of the studies on marriage and happiness.

  • The quality of the marital relationship significantly influences both men’s and women’s mental health.

  • Higher marital quality is associated with lower levels of depression and other mental health issues.

  • Marital conflict can lead to more insecure infant-parent attachment relationships.

  • These insecure infant-parent attachment relationships can, in turn, impact maternal mental health.

  • Marital satisfaction can predict depressive symptoms following the transition to parenthood.

As I mentioned before, my first advice to anyone struggling in a bad marriage is to work on it, assuming there’s respect (and especially no abuse). Below you will learn what to do to begin transforming an unhappy marriage.


How can a bad marriage become a great marriage?

Dr. John Gottman, a clinical psychologist, and emeritus at the University of Washington, is one of the most well-known marriage and relationship counseling experts.

He and his wife, Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, have conducted years of research on what makes relationships succeed or fail.

1. Know Each Other Well

Understand what your partner likes and dislikes, what they are afraid of, what they dream about, etc. This helps you understand your partner better and enables you to feel closer to each other.


2. Show Appreciation

Regularly tell your partner what you like about them. It can be something small like complimenting their cooking or something more elaborate like telling them how much you admire their kindness or intelligence.


3. Pay Attention to Each Other

When your partner tries to get your attention, show them you’re listening and caring. It could be something like laughing at their jokes or hugging them when they’re upset.


4. Positive Perspective

Try to see the best in each other and your relationship. This means thinking positively about your partner and relationship most of the time.


5. Manage Conflicts

It’s okay to argue, but try to solve the issues where you can and learn to accept the ones that can’t. Understand that no couple agrees on everything.


6. Life Dreams

Support each other’s dreams. Show interest in your partner’s goals and help them achieve them.


7. Create Shared Meaning

Build a life together with shared rituals and symbols. This could be as simple as having a special dinner together every Friday night or as complex as creating a shared hobby or business.

Remember, the key to improving a marriage is open communication, patience, and the willingness to work. It might not be easy, but it’s often worth it. And it may just make you a little bit happier.

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