7 Reasons People Stay In A Marriage That Doesn’t Work


marriage that does not work

Why is it so hard to get out of a marriage, despite knowing that it’s not working out? Despite knowing that you are extremely unhappy and miserable for years?

I have met many people who tell me they have been thinking about divorce for a very long time. By the time they come to my office, their struggle has become a painful loop of indecision. “Should I leave? I don’t know if I can (or should) do it.“

Why is it so hard to leave your marriage when you have been unhappy for years? You have fantasied about what the breakup would look like for a long time. You imagine a better life, and then you imagine the things that worry you most. You feel more and more stuck.

There are several reasons that you may struggle with this decision.

Here Are 7 Reasons People Stay In A Marriage That Doesn’t Work

1. Fear. This Is The Biggest one.

a. You are afraid of making a mistake: “What if I regret this later?”

b. You are afraid you’ll damage the children: “I worry it will ruin my kids’ lives.”

c. You are afraid you will be alone forever: “No one will ever want me now.”

d. You are afraid of the economic costs: “Divorces are expensive, and I don’t want to end up in a dingy basement apartment, or worse yet, a bag lady.”

e. You fear you will hurt your spouse: “She is a good woman, but we just can’t get along.”

f. You are afraid of change: “I like my life the way it is, just not with him in it.”

g. You fear the losses that may come with divorce: “My family and friends will not support my decision, and I’ll have to give up my relationship with my in-laws.”

h. Fear of being blamed: “If I am the one to make the decision, everyone will blame me for the divorce. And they’ll see her as a victim.” “What if my kids blame me? Or take sides with him?”

Fear and Guilt are the most common reasons people stay in bad marriages.

Related: What To Do If You Have An Unhappy Marriage But Are Afraid To Leave

2. Guilt. This Is The Next Most Common Reason, In My Experience.

a. You feel guilty that you didn’t try hard enough. “He begged me to go to counseling with him but I thought it wouldn’t help to pay someone to listen to our problems.”

b. You feel guilty because you are not keeping your marriage vows. “I meant it when I said, “Till death do us part,” but now I just can’t do it anymore. I am letting myself down, not just her.”

c. You feel guilty because of an affair or an addiction. “I was weak. I just wanted some fun. I couldn’t stop myself.”

d. You feel guilty because you regret your hurtful actions. “I know I said and did a lot of things that I shouldn’t have done. I guess I didn’t know how destructive it was.”

e. You feel guilty because you realize you haven’t been a very good partner. “I didn’t pay enough attention to him after the baby was born. I thought he was being selfish and jealous of the baby. I was too tired to have sex or even go on a date night.”

3. You Can’t Afford To Divorce.

a. The cost of the divorce itself varies, depending on how complex the issues are, and how much conflict you have. Arguing is expensive, and an amicable divorce costs much less.

b. If you are having a hard time making ends meet now, it will be harder when two homes need to be supported. “There is no way we can support two homes, we have to stay together because we have no other choice.”

c. If you have not worked during the marriage, you may need to return to work to contribute to the support of the family. This is especially hard for full-time, stay-at-home parents. “We agreed when we got married that I could stop working and stay home to raise the kids. Why does that have to change?”

4. Your Religion Or Culture Does Not Support Divorce.

a. In some religions, women need the permission of the husband to divorce. “My husband will never grant me the divorce, and my community will shun me.”

b. Some religions strictly forbid divorce. “I believe that divorce is a sin.”

c. In some cultures, the man assumes custody of the children. “I am afraid he will take the children back to his country, and I will never see them again.”

d. Some cultures (especially collectivist cultures) make it difficult to divorce or lay blame on one of the spouses. This could be an issue of family honor. “My parents told me that it is my job to keep my marriage together, no matter how mean he is to me.”

Related: 7 Things To Remember If You Want To Escape A Miserable Marriage

5. You Hope Things Will Get Better.

a. You hope if you are just a better person, things will change. “I am in therapy, I go to a self-help group, and I read everything I can find to make me a better wife.”

b. You hope your spouse will change, get sober, or become a more successful provider, or a more involved parent. “I just trust that he could get sober if he would just go to AA.” “I am trying to motivate him to work harder for promotions so we can pay off our debts.” “She doesn’t seem to care about rules and discipline, so our house is in a permanent state of chaos. But I try to compensate for that by being more strict.”

c. You try to ignore the problems: “I’m not totally miserable, I can just ignore the issues and have a good time with the other parts of my life.”

d. You make a deal with the devil: “If you don’t ask me about my drinking, I won’t ask you about the weight you have gained.”

e. You believe that once the kids are grown you and your spouse will be able to fix your relationship. “We can just wait to deal with our problems. We can just focus on the kids, and later we will focus on us.”

f. Despite all your fruitless efforts and marital therapy, you still hope for change. “I think we are both trying hard to get along, and even though it has been years, maybe we have made a little progress?” “Everyone tells me it will get better.”

Staying in an unhappy marriage
Staying in an unhappy marriage

6. You Feel A Sense Of Obligation To Your Spouse And/Or Your Family.

a. You took your marital vows seriously and promised never to divorce, no matter what.

b. Your spouse is dependent on you emotionally or physically. “I can’t leave her when she is so depressed. ”I can’t abandon him with all his chronic health issues.”

c. You don’t want to disappoint or let your extended family down. “My family will never speak to me again if I divorce. They all love him.”

It’s painful to consider divorce, and sometimes it is easier to just accept the way things are. But how long will that work?

7. The Way Things Are Isn’t All That Bad.

a. You are comfortable with the familiar, even if it is problematic. “Yes, he gets enraged, but he always calms down eventually.” “It is okay most of the time, and only awful some of the time.” “I guess I am just used to the way things are.”

b. You tell yourself you can look elsewhere to get your needs met. “As long as I can see my friends and flirt a bit with other people, I can deal with the problems at home.”

c. You don’t want to “upset the apple cart.” “Even though we argue, I have been learning to just withdraw and not engage with her when she is angry.” “We seem okay just as friends, with no romance, but I guess it is enough for me.”

Do any of these sound familiar to you? I have written previously about finding the clarity to decide to divorce.

Related: 8 Warning Signs You Are Stuck In A Loveless Marriage

Many people who choose to stay in unhappy marriages have good reasons. This is a decision arrived at thoughtfully. It is possible to make a clear decision to divorce. If you feel stuck, remind yourself that you always have a choice. If you choose to stay, try to do whatever you can to make things better or try to accept that this is the marriage you have chosen.

If you do choose to leave your relationship, be sure that you have made a well-thought-through decision. And then consider an alternative dispute resolution process such as mediation or Collaborative DIvorce to have the healthiest divorce you can.

© 2020 Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Ann Buscho, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist specializing in divorce-related issues and the author of The Parent’s Guide to Birdnesting, A Child-Centered Solution to Co-Parenting During Separation and Divorce. See more at www.drannbuscho.com

Written By Ann Gold Buscho
Originally Appeared In Psychology Today
marriage that does not work pin

— Share —

— About the Author —

Leave a Reply

Up Next

7 Reasons People Regret Divorce: Understanding The Post-Divorce Journey

Reasons People Regret Divorce: The Post-Divorce Journey

There are many people who feel like they got a new lease of life after getting divorced, but there are also people who end up regretting divorce. But, why do some people regret getting a divorce? This article is going to focus on some of the reasons people regret divorce and what goes through their minds.


While divorce can be a healthy option for some people, others might experience pain and regret.

It’s not uncommon to underestimate the effects that divorce will have in various areas of life.

Therapy, communication, and time can help heal the wounds.


Up Next

7 Emotions You May Feel When You Decide To Divorce

When You Decide To Divorce: Unexpected Emotions You Feel

Making the decision to divorce is one of the hardest decisions to make. When you decide to divorce your spouse, you may feel a ton of emotions that you did not expect at all. This article is going to talk about those feelings and emotions so that if ever you make the decision to divorce, you know what to expect.


The decision to divorce is a personal and deeply emotional experience.

There is a common misperception that the person who decides to divorce doesn’t suffer from the decision.

The emotional journey is unique to each individual, and there are no right or wrong ways to feel.

Up Next

10 Honest Reactions Of Children To Divorce

Honest Reactions Of Children To Divorce

When two people divorce, we think about how they might be feeling about the breakdown of their marriage. What about the reactions of children to divorce? How does a child cope with divorce? How do children react to divorce? Let’s find out!

When your children experience your divorce, their reactions will vary depending on their ages, personalities, family dynamics, and the circumstances of the divorce. Some children will experience immediate distress, while others may not show signs of distress until later. Some children internalize their emotions and appear more resilient than they are.

However, the biggest factor affecting their reactions is the level of conflict between you and your spouse. Even if your children don’t witness conflict, they can sense it, even in the way that you hug them.

Up Next

5 Ways To Reduce The Stigma Of Divorce

Stigma Of Divorce: Ways To Normalize Divorce

One of the worst parts of getting divorced is the stigma that comes with it; the social stigma of divorce is sometimes more painful than the actual divorce. That’s why it’s important to normalize divorce and reduce this stigma of divorce. This article is going to explore the best ways to cut back on the stigma of divorce.


The language in Western cultures around divorce reinforces the stigma of divorce.

Normalizing divorce can reduce the stigma and foster a more supportive environment for those going through it.

Divorce is often a difficult and emotional process, and offering support can make a significant difference.

Up Next

How To Date A Widower? Finding Love Again

Dating A Widower: Tips and the Red Flags You Can't Ignore!

Picking yourself up after losing a spouse is a traumatizing experience. Learning how to date a widower will allow you to provide a safe space for healing for the man you love and care for.  

If you’re thinking about dating a widower, it’s important to know how to handle things. It can be a tricky road to navigate, but can provide you with a loving and fulfilling relationship.

This article is here to help you out. We’ll give you some simple tips and advice that can make things easier for you.

How To Date A Widower? 

When it comes to dating a widower, it’s essential to approach the relationsh

Up Next

How To Get Over A Failed Marriage

How To Get Over A Failed Marriage: Nine Strategies For Healing

Is your marriage going down the drain? Do you feel heartbroken, lost and confused, with no apparent way to make things better with your spouse? Well, you can still heal yourself and move on. Let’s explore how to get over a failed marriage.

A Union of Blessings or Pain?

Marriage is often considered a sacred bond between two individuals, filled with love, companionship, and dreams of a shared future. It is a union bestowed with blessings, often from a higher power.

However, not all marriages have a fairy-tale ending. When a

Up Next

7 Common Lies About Life After Divorce You May Have Heard: Thriving After Divorce

Seven Common Lies About Life After Divorce You May Have Heard

When someone gets divorced, some people are really eager to feed them all sorts of lies about life after divorce. There are so many lies you may have heard about life after divorce. Even though life after divorce is not exactly easy, but it’s never as bad as it’s made out to be by most people. 

There are several lies you may have heard about what to expect from life after divorce. Life after divorce can be tough and emotionally painful no matter what the situation is. However, it can be a struggle or it can be a time of great healing and rewarding on so many levels.

You may find that you come to a crossroads after the divorce is fin