DIVORCE DIARIES: 'I'm making a pact with myself about my unhappy marriage.'

Welcome to Mamamia's new column, Divorce Diaries, where Dr Gabrielle Morrissey answers questions around love, loss and relationship breakdowns. If you have an issue you'd like advice on, email us at — you can be anonymous of course.


I've been debating this question for longer than I care to admit. A year or more. It's a question I wrestle with because I can never land on a clear answer.

Really my life is fine: my husband and I are good friends, and we love each other, but in that distant almost obligatory way - we aren't in love anymore. At least, I'm not in love with him, and I don't feel like he's in love with me. We don't fight a lot but we do irritate one another and there's an undercurrent of chronic unhappiness which leads to put downs and negative comments towards each other. Also, we don't do anything together anymore. We don't watch TV together; we don't holiday together, we rarely socialise together, we even watch our kids' activities separately. Mostly he sleeps on the sofa, falling asleep watching television and I go to bed with a book. Sex is infrequent and usually quick and formulaic. With each passing year, we become more sexless. There's no passion in the marriage on either side: good or bad. So it's not terrible, but it's years of "meh" and I find myself asking, "Is this all there is? Shouldn't life be better than this?" But I can't pin my unhappiness on anything specifically bad enough to end the marriage over. We tried counselling when the kids were younger and we had first lost the spark but over time things have become worse not better. I feel like I've settled for awful mediocrity and if I'm honest, I've learned to live with the chronic unhappiness. But more and more the question nags at me about leaving. Splitting up would hurt the kids, be expensive and of course be painful for everyone involved after decades of a life built together. Not to mention it's scary to be on my own. The marriage is no fairytale. But it's not a nightmare either. Should I suck it up and stick it out?


Watch: People admit when they knew it was time for a divorce. Post continues after video.

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I'm going to be straight up honest with you: you're not landing on a clear answer because there is no clear answer. When answers are clear they present themselves obviously, sometimes abruptly - a line gets crossed - and there's no debate about searching for an answer. But a lot of life happens in the muddled mix; not in sharp focus, requiring analysis and reflection on your current reality, and your future before deciding on an answer, hopefully that will have the best outcome for you and those affected by your decisions (in particular, your children). So let's weigh up some factors you describe:


Your situation is both complex and common. Take some comfort in knowing you are not the first, not the only, and won't be the last, to wrestle with this type of angst-ridden turmoil over whether to struggle in an unhappy marriage. The slow bleed of a marriage that has lost its spark, and its investment-reward dynamic is painful, sad and lonely. 

You describe a terribly lonely relationship in which you and your partner live alongside each other. Many describe the loneliness in a relationship as feeling acutely more lonely than when one is single. And I hear this in your description and in your turmoil about leaving.

Has your marriage lost all hope though?

That's central to your answer. You're presenting yourself with two pathways: stay together in an unhappy marriage as you are now and as you have been for quite some time, or, split up which will lead you, your spouse and your children through significant life changes. Would all those changes be bad? No; there may be freedom from toxic patterns, your children may learn positive and resilient traits and find opportunities in challenges, and you may find renewed happiness. Your partner may also find greater happiness. But your answer isn't clear because there are undeniable cons to both the options you present. No one can tell you which option will have the
"least bad" cons or which will lead to deeper happiness.

Would you consider further counselling as a third option? The reason I suggest this is because counselling to regain the spark in a marriage is a different type of relationship counselling to prevent the imminent end of a marriage.


I'm a big believer in pre-marital or early-commitment counselling: couples gain tremendous stability from sharing and working with a trained professional to make sure a blossoming relationship has healthy communication, healthy interpersonal patterns, and a good understanding of one another, as different people and as products of different families and upbringings. I'm also a big believer in counselling in the possible death spiral of a marriage or relationship too. Not with an agenda to stay together necessarily, but just as it is healthy to understand one another when you enter into a serious love and life commitment, it’s also healthy to understand one another if you are transitioning a split - which is even truer if you share children and years of co-parenting ahead. 

Listen to The Split where we speak to a Child Psychologist on how to tell the kids you are getting a divorce. Post continues after podcast.

So your question, while needing an answer, because limbo in misery isn't healthy for anyone, doesn't need one immediately. What you do need though, is to take tangible steps toward your answer rather than spending more time in painful wrestle mode. A counsellor will help you (or you both, if you choose couples counselling) to figure out if your marriage is, at this stage, salvageable to a state of happiness. Which you deserve! You all deserve it.

Being a martyr to an unhappy marriage and family home isn't the foundation, or role modelling, ideal for your children. They certainly see, hear and feel the unhappiness in the relationship dynamic present in their home. While you say you and your husband are friends, and it sounds as though you are both engaged parents, you aren't affectionate and connected as a unit, so you all live with this and how it feels every day. Tension hangs in the air of a home, loneliness is seen, even if ignored and partners living and sleeping separately are absolutely picked up on by your children. Research shows even children as young as two sense negative talk around them and shut down. And it's getting worse with time - you say each year your marriage becomes increasingly sexless. This is a one-way street unless there is an intervention. Sometimes our own feelings and self-talk get in the way of seeing things as they are, which hinders us from making decisions or finding another option we haven't considered with an open mind. There are many relationship counsellors who specialise in helping to answer your every question, trained to help you understand which factors are most important to weigh up, and which symptoms of your marriage are most and least fixable. Would you try to fix or dismantle something without expert instructions and guidance? The same holds true here: in the absence of a clear answer, expert guidance to help you reflect, analyse and weigh up actions and impacts. Take a breath and make a thoughtful decision, one that a third party with no bias can help with, and give you confidence that whatever answer you settle on, has been arrived at with your head as much as your heart.


Feature Image: Getty.