On Happily Being Unhappily Married

Unhappily married sign It’s not always going to be rainbows and butterflies. It’s just not. But, who am I telling? You already know that, I’m sure. If you’ve been married more than 10 day, you’ve already experienced that. I’m sure. Marriage is work, so much work that sometimes it seems it would be better to just quit. That’s the quickest and easiest option, but is it the best? According to an article entitled Marriage Crossroads: Why Divorce Is Often Not the Best Option, anywhere from 1/3 to 2/3 of divorced couples (depending on circumstances and location) regret ending their marriages (Barlow, 2003). Considering this information, it may just be better to learn how to happily be unhappy.

I know what it sounds like. I know the phrase itself makes you uneasy. It should because, at first glance, it sounds like I’m saying, “Stay in your marriage no matter how unhappy you are, just to preserve the marriage.” I assure you, that is not the message I intend to send. Though I do consider myself a marriage advocate, I do not support maintaining dysfunction simply to preserve the family. I’m more about ending the dysfunction to reinstate the happiness (and preserve the family).

A wonderful friend of mine (check out her site) told me her mother once said, “Sometimes, you have to learn how to be divorced within your marriage.” My own mother has made similar statements. Thank God for the sage wisdom of mothers, because they really have a good point here. Again, this isn’t about accepting the unhappiness and letting it grow and fester. It’s about understanding the pendulum of marriage health. The condition of a marriage is not static. It changes, swinging back and forth between elation and extreme frustration. This is no different than the many other challenging duties we accept as part of our lives. For example, even the most successful entrepreneurs have days—or months even—where they’d rather just throw in the towel. And even the most doting parents reach that “I’m about to go crazy” point now and again. As my favorite lion king, Mufasa, pointed out, “It’s all a part of the circle of life.”

So, where does that leave unhappily married couples who can’t even stand to be around each other? It leaves them in great company. Practically all couples go through rough patches where they seriously rethink the day they said, “I do.” But, that doesn’t mean they should call it quits. Sure, divorce is warranted at times—certain things just aren’t worth saving—but many, many, many marriages are. Have you ever been so angry about something, only to look back on it later and laugh at how big of a deal it seemed at the time? Couples who “stick it out” can often relate to this feeling. They may not be laughing at the situation, but they’re grateful they didn’t draw up any paperwork.

The book The Case For Marriage reports that “77 percent of the stably married people who rated their marriage as very unhappy (a one on a scale of one to seven) in the late eighties said that the same marriage was either ‘very happy’ or ‘quite happy’ five years later” (Waite and Gallagher, p. 148-149, 2000). If a couple who rated their marriage a 1 out of 7 can turn things around, so can you. The question isn’t, “Is it possible?” The question is, “How?”

Steps to Rebuilding Happiness in Your Marriage

1.) Don’t freak out or draw conclusions. Things aren’t going well now, but it’s not necessarily the end of the world. If your spouse isn’t severely mentally ill, abusive, a drug addict, harmful to the children, a serial cheater, a serial killer, or just a plain old heartless monster, the odds are already in your favor!

2.) Make a commitment to get through this hump. When couples make it to the other side of unhappiness, it’s because they made it a point to do so. Things won’t just magically get better. It’ll take time. Give the marriage that time.

3.) Change your behavior. Before you present your list of complaints about what the other is doing wrong, make a list of the things you can improve and start improving them. You’d be surprised at how big of a difference you’ll notice in the other person after you decide to change yourself.

4.) Get your argument tactics together. Some of the sweetest, coolest people think it’s okay to fly off the handle when they’re in a fight. Just because you’re mad doesn’t mean you can say and do anything you want. Consider what John Gottman calls the Headless Horsemen of the Apocalypse: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. (Find out more about these here.)

5.) Celebrate the positive changes, regardless of how small they may be. The change won’t be overnight, but you should notice things slowly getting better. Even if it’s something teeny weeny, it’s a step in the right direction. Don’t ignore it.


Barlow, B. (2003). Marriage crossroads: why divorce is not the best option . Provo, UT: Brigham Young University.

Waite, L. and Gallagher, M. (2000). The case for marriage: Why married people are happier, healthier, and better off financially. New York, NY: Doubleday.

~Nadirah Angail

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18 thoughts on “On Happily Being Unhappily Married

  1. NewRowSigntist January 13, 2011 / 12:38 pm

    Interesting article! I agree that there is a “happiness spectrum”, if you will, in a marriage. Sometimes you hang-out at 1 (unhappy) other times you hang out at 10 (Uber happy). It’s easy when it’s a 10, but sometimes you have to be willing to hang-out through the “1” times to get to the “10’s”. . I can dig it.

  2. SHADEERAH January 13, 2011 / 2:21 pm



  3. Umm Hussain January 13, 2011 / 7:58 pm

    Believer know that divorce causes Allah’s throne to shake. However, in many instances ending a marriage is preferred to remaining in a relationship that is unbalanced, destructive and one where one or both parties are just plain miserable (aka unhappy). Working together to resolve conflicts is beneficial. Rising above one’s personal narcissism, preferences and moods is required for any relationship to work, especially marriage. Coming to terms with the fact that your spouse is not and never will be Halle Berry or Denzel = good advice. Realizing and coming to terms that your partner has certain habits that may never change (talking loud, being untidy or forgetful) is important for your marriage’s success. Learning to be “happily unhappy” — I don’t think so. Give the average person about 2 – 3 years and that mindset can possibly lead to depression, a serious argument or possibly the beginning idaat. Don’t most of us already have enough problems or conflicts with the greater society that we are already trying to manage, deal with or even change without someone telling us to be happily unhappy. It’s one thing to offer problem solving techniques or tips for keeping a loving relationship. It’s another thing to advise someone to deny what makes them unhappy is tolerable.

    But Allah did not put any of us on this Earth to be miserable, and it appears that far too many Muslim women assume the responsibility for “sucking it up”, “being patient” and embracing whatever tolerance in some of the most dysfunctional households.

    • Nadirah Angail January 13, 2011 / 8:11 pm

      Umm Hussain,

      Thanks for commenting. Sounds like you’re taking the title literally. I purposefully make my titles like that to grab people’s attention, hoping they’ll say “what is this woman talking about?” and then read it. I included the following part to make sure no one got the impression that it seems you have gotten:

      I know what it sounds like. I know the phrase itself makes you uneasy. It should because, at first glance, it sounds like I’m saying, “Stay in your marriage no matter how unhappy you are, just to preserve the marriage.” I assure you, that is not the message I intend to send. Though I do consider myself a marriage advocate, I do not support maintaining dysfunction simply to preserve the family. I’m more about ending the dysfunction to reinstate the happiness (and preserve the family).

      Sorry if you got the wrong idea, but I’m not telling anyone to just “suck it up” or merely “be patient.” Sure, people have tons of other problems to deal with in greater society, but ending a marriage that didn’t absolutely have to be ended isn’t going to make those problems any easier. My point here is to let people know that just because they’re having a hard time doesn’t mean they have to end it. I acknowledge that divorce is, at times, the answer. I say that in the article as well, but I don’t think it is always the answer. If i get a divorce, I want to be sure that we did everything possible to save it. Not everyone is doing that. A lot of people just give up because its hard or because it’s not going how they expected. Many things in life are hard and not what people expected. That doesn’t mean you should quit.

      • Umm Hussain January 13, 2011 / 8:23 pm

        Thsnks for your clarification. Learning to put your marriage ahead of yourself is paramount, especially for newlyweds, not very long marrieds and folks who are wondering if Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married was actually written about them. But far too often women assume too much responsibility in making a marriage work. After more than half my life in this deen, I have yet to see a balanced give and take where both husbands and wives give 100% each. Sadly, often one person has to realize that the other party is not going to do that. That is when learning to be happily unhappy will not work. One way to certain resolve a lot of fitna is premarital counseling. Despite my differing opinion with you, I appreciate the good work, making us all think, respond with respect and trying to do the right thing.

  4. khadija (penny) January 13, 2011 / 8:07 pm

    salam Wa Alaikum! jazakh Allah khair for the email….haha…Insha’Allah you are well and your family is well. I liked your fb page, and I sent a message to all my friends about you and your contest…My sister “liked” your fb page…yay!!! You are a wonderful writer masha’Allah, and I can’t wait to read your books!!!

  5. khadija (penny) January 13, 2011 / 8:19 pm

    ok so now I’m going to comment on your “happily being unhappy married.” Masha’Allah you are amazing…The first few sentences sounded just like my marriage. I was married last year, it lasted 6 months (3 of which I was serverly sick from being pregnant). After we lost the baby, I began to get well and went back to work slowly. We moved into a new apartment 2 bedrooms, which was great because I have a daughter from a previous relationship frome before I accepted Islam. 4 days after we moved in, my husband divorced me. Earlier that day we had gotten into an argument, a silly argument…He came home from school/work, and he divorced me. i was devastated, still am actually. Our marriage could have been salvaged, repaired. We both needed adjustments, and to change some of our habits and the way we did things…we were from two different cultures…he was raised muslim in a culture where he is waited on hand and foot, and I was raised by my mother and took care of myself basically. I needed to not be so independent and rely on him to make decisions and not be “the man” in the marriage as he put it….oh well, alhumdulillah….I miss him, and wish we could go back and fix things, but its in Allah’s hands…

    sorry about running on…I really just wanted to say I love reading your blogs and your thoughts…jazakh Allah khair for what you do…

    • Nadirah Angail January 14, 2011 / 10:49 am

      Khadija, thanks for sharing your experience. So sorry it didn’t work out. What’s done is done, but hopefully the two of you learned something helpful that will be an asset in your future relationships. So glad you like my articles. I love to hear that!

    • Wali January 14, 2011 / 8:18 pm


      Thank you for sharing your experience. Did you and your former husband explore counseling? Did you go through an idaat?

  6. Mahima November 16, 2013 / 8:01 pm

    my husband and I have been Married for 12 yrs and have 3 cdhilren. Before the reccesion started, we had decided that he needed to finish school for several reasons, so we decided that he would stay at home with the kids and finish school.On that note, I am responsible for supporting the family. I don’t mind becasue i love my husband, but I was a Construction Accountant when all of this started. I had just switched to that industry from Public Accounting. I am not degreed, but have been in the industry for 13yrs now, and have some college.We are haveing trouble because the stress is getting to me and we keep sinking further and further down. We are not in credit card debt, our house wasn’t priced unreasonably, but we are on government assistance and my husband and I have no medical coverage, and I have potentially serious medical conditions that are going untreated. With all of the stress on us (especailly with finals this week), We are haveing a few issues. We can only cut back so much and it was hard before the recession. I have had to change jobs twice already because of doors closing which is making me feel like a curse to business owners.Bottom line, is I am tired, I want to get medical coverage, and I want to not worrie for a while about if I can make the mortgage or not (started getting behind again). I feel desperate, abandoned, and incapable of taking care of my family for the first time in years.

    • N. Angail November 29, 2013 / 11:21 am


      Thanks for reaching out. I apologize about my delayed response. First off, congrats on 12 years of marriage and STILL loving your husband! That’s big. Some people are hanging on by a thread by year 12. Also, congrats on NOT being in debt. Given that many, many Americans are, it is a blessing that you aren’t.

      You know, what works today may not work tomorrow, and what works tomorrow may not work next week. I say that to suggest that your husband’s staying home may not be the best option for right now. Perhaps that setup is no longer beneficial to your family. What if he went part time and worked part time? Or, actually, what if he worked FULL time and went to school part or full time? These days, lots of schools have flexible schedules that include evening classes and online options. Yes, he’d be really busy, but sometimes that’s what’s necessary to keep the family afloat. I’m sure he can handle it.

      You mentioned you have some medical concerns. Have you looked into signing up for Obamacare? Your health is VERY important, so you def. don’t want to let things go untreated much longer. If not that, check out free and low-cost medical clinics in your area. And of course, feed your body well– lots of water, green veggies, healthy fats (like fish, avocado, olive oil) nuts, seeds, whole grains, fresh juices/smoothies. etc. Avoid white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sugars (Splenda, aspartame, etc), and white flour. Anything processed really.

      You feel abandoned? Why? That makes it seem like you’re not feeling supported by your husband?. Is that the case? Does he know how much this is bothering you. You should feel alone. You’re not. You two are garments for each other, so you should never feel alone and unprotected. During times of stress, it is common for the stress to leak into the marriage. That means you two have to make it a point patch up the leak (i.e., repair your connection by talking, hugging, kissing, spending time together, etc.). Remember, you’re not in this alone. If it feels that way, that’s a sign you and your husband aren’t communicating about your feelings. It’s impossible to completely eliminate stress, but you’ve got to at least be able to operate in a healthy manner, meaning being able to function well on the job. This is YOUR life, YOUR livelihood. Don’t let your circumstances control your behavior.

      I hope you are in constant prayer and work to regain your happiness. That has got to be a priority, for you and everyone else in this world.

  7. norain no rainbows November 18, 2013 / 7:01 pm

    Your husband may have to consider taking a sabbatical, reducing his course load or something. Don’t feel despair. Get some help. Tell your husband what is going on with you. You are not Superwoman, Wonderwoman or the perfume girl in those ads that “does it all.” That is a fantasy. You need sleep. Time for yourself and support. And the bills paid. Your husband has obligations to you and no one knows what he may or may not do in two or four years from now. Many of us know that horrible feeling of pushing and supporting a man for years only to be replaced by a younger and prettier version of yourself. Then we are, like yourself, emotional and physically, if not also financially spent and depleted. School is not a 24 hour responsibility. Your husband needs to step up to the plate. If necessary, increase his financial aid package if possible and go into debt to keep his loving wife. Most women throughout the world who are from every cultural and regional background already know you would do it. That is what good women do.

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