6 Signs You Are Stuck in a Bad Marriage


This Post Isn’t About What You Think

Help! I'm stuck in a beautiful pasture and I can't get out!

I took the picture that accompanies this post earlier this summer while I was on vacation in the mountains of Colorado. This cow (or possible bull? I really don’t know) is stuck. Her pasture is surrounded by electric fencing. Her future is certain. Eventually some of her will end up on someone’s dinner plate and the rest of her will end up in some dog’s bowl.

There’s nothing she can do about this. She could try to escape. But really, why bother? Cows can’t jump, and they can’t run very fast either.

You, on the other hand, are not like the cow in this photo. You are not being forced to stay in your current situation. Your future is not certain. Anything could happen because you have choices. You could stay in your marriage. You could leave it. Or you could attempt to change the system from within.

You are reading this blog because you are attempting to change the system from within.

Still, despite all of this, you probably still feel stuck and you might even feel a bit angry at me for telling you that you have choices. That’s understandable. All I can give you are two words. They are “been” and “there.” I once felt just as stuck, too.

I eventually learned, however, I was staying stuck in a bad marriage because I was resisting change. I was, as Albert Einstein once said, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein also said that we can’t “solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” It was only after I changed my thinking that I was able to change my marriage.

What follows are the types of thinking I had to change.

  1. You only notice what your spouse does wrong. I still do this occasionally. For instance, this Saturday, my husband did something and I thought, “Typical” quickly followed by “figures. He WOULD do that. He ALWAYS does this.” I had to stop myself and remind myself of all of the many things he does right—and that his behavior that morning actually wasn’t typical, not anymore anyway.
  2. You refuse to change your communication tactics. If you are a yeller, then you just keep yelling. If you are a sulker, then you keep doing that. If you are a silent-treatment-doller-outer, then that’s what you do. You keep communicating in this way even though it’s not working for you.
  3. You want to be understood, but you don’t try to understand. You want to be loved, but you don’t love. You want to be heard, but you don’t listen. I could go on. Life is a paradox. Many times what we most want is the very thing we often refuse to give. Give and you shall receive.
  4. It’s all about your issues and not your spouse’s issues. You want your spouse to take you seriously when you ask her to help you keep the house clean and orderly, but you don’t take her seriously when she says she wants more passion in the bedroom. To her, this issue is just as important as your issue. Until you see that, you will be stuck.
  5. You refuse to go out of your comfort zone. You might say, “I don’t do affection” or “I’m just not into giving compliments” or something else. But these are all skills, skills you can learn and become comfortable with. When you tell your partner, “I just don’t do _______,” what you are really saying is “You are not important enough for me to stretch out of my comfort zone.” That stings.
  6. You expect more than your spouse is capable of giving. The flipside of #5 is that some people really are only capable of so much change in a given amount of time. Sometimes acceptance is in order. Learn how to deal with the issues that matter most and to let the small stuff go.


  • The August Reader of the Month is donating her free pass to an Orlando theme park because she lives overseas and can’t use it. I will pick one commenter on this post randomly for that prize. When you comment, please mention whether you want to go to Orlando.
  • I have a new co-authored book coming out in a few weeks. I wrote it with a retired FBI Profiler. Dangerous Instincts is an important book, one that I think everyone needs. Therefore you should absolutely preorder it of you know what’s good for you. I’ll be telling you more about this book closer to its release date.
  • You can listen to my interview on Woman Talk Live here.
  • You have until September 24 to win a free copy of the No Fight Divorce Book.

93 comments… add one

  • Sara August 19, 2014, 3:14 pm

    Like you Brenda, I am living in a relationship where my husband gives me the silent treatment any time I say anything he doesn’t like. He will not take responsibility for his actions even as far as laying blame on our 6 year old – “she wanted to play the 17+ age restricted game with me” when I complained that he had allowed that. My husband is in hospital now after having severe pain last night – I have been the dutiful wife and gone to visit him and take him what he needs, but it is a relief to have him out the house – this seems to be the end of a week long silent treatment and I have no idea whether it will continue when he comes home or not. We are also in a sexless marriage (his doing – not mine) and the constant rejection is wearing me down. I have two beautiful daughters from this, my only marriage and for that I will forever be grateful, but the isolation and loneliness is crippling and when I did not want to visit him in hospital and when I did not care that he was in pain or had to go there, I felt like I must be a bad person, but it is hard to care for someone so distant and so intent on punishing me for anything that expresses a desire other than what he wants. I am scared to leave – my children have friends and a life they would lose and they still love their Daddy though they see him so little and spend no time really sharing with him (he puts them in front of the TV while he plays computer games when he is with them – any technology is an excuse not to get to know anyone, including his wife).

    • minadach August 29, 2014, 12:05 am

      I am so sorry. I wish you the best. You don’t need that. I consistently try to change my husband but I realized that you can’t change someone who is blameful, hateful and a wall. He finally after I left him for four months decided he was going to try and we after a year been doing way better than before. He used to not even try and get so angry, but now he actually sits and try and ot makes me try. Instead of me getting potty and play the blame game, I don’t react as quickly and yell as fast. Until we both saw that we both needed to work than nothing was going to change. Unfortunately I don’t see that in your relationship. He seems childish and unfortunately not showing any love :( hope ot gets better or you get the courage to move on because you can’t truly be there for your children if you are unhappy.

  • Incredulous August 19, 2014, 4:27 pm


    Narcissists are game players. I understand that the rest of us have feelings, and when we respond with the same tactics which they treat us to, we feel horribly. However, it is the only way to salvage a shred of humanity, and more importantly, a way to break the cycle and save your children. I understand you are afraid of uprooting your children and taking them from their friends. However, we all grow and move on to new and different friends throughout or lives regardless of whether we stay in the exact same location or whether we move. Your children won’t be losing what you think they will and instead they will be gaining so much more. They will be gaining a mother who can be wholly healthy and they will be gaining independence they never realized they didn’t have. I completely understand how difficult and scary it is to turn and run from not only an inconsistent tormenter, but also someone who potentially does provide some bit of support in some ways. I have complete faith in you to put yourself on the path where you can be free. You don’t need the excess baggage. You aren’t gaining anything from such a sad sack of nothingness. Give him doses of his own medicine, and silently slip away in the dead of night so that you won’t have to see what happens when you really upset a narcissist. Best wishes!

  • Anyadviseplease April 1, 2015, 12:47 am

    Let me start off with background. 10 yrs married. 3 lovelys, 3 dogs, a cat and barely my sanity. We are in process of selling our too small home. The prob is we own mom/pop construction co. I could go on and on.. But I need to know how to love someone who is NEVER wrong. It is wearing me down, I love him but do not like him. It’s hard for me to comprehend how an individual can never be wrong. Is there any hope with someone with this mentality?

    • TheListener April 28, 2015, 8:06 am

      Hi Anyadviseplease,
      I am sorry for what you are facing. 10 years is a very long time. No, a person can ever be always right. Neither can he be always wrong. Everybody has a little bit, or a lot of both. Living with someone who always think that they alone are right, and the opinions of others doesn’t matter, can truly be a painful experience. One may even say that it will eat away at your soul, bit by bit over the course of time. As to your question ‘is there any hope with someone with this mentality?’ – the answer is like this, a person won’t change unless they themselves see a need, a reason or a purpose for them to change. But, when there is love, there is always a chance. Nothing can be done, without a little bit of hope – Hellen Keller.

      I’m not entirely clear on what you really mean by ‘he thinks he is never wrong’. Does this mean he never accepts your opinion/suggestion/idea regarding the construction company you both own, or is it on how to raise your kids, or which new house is better for you two to purchase? Or is it about small, personal things – color of the curtains (you like blue, he likes green, hence you are wrong), or you get back late from work and dinner is at times delayed, and he can’t understand that this is because of work, and anything you say to make him understand is unaccepted, and he thinks you need to better manage your time and dinner preparations, hence you are wrong. Knowing these things in detail help come up with better, more specific solutions that you can work with. Communication is always important.

      But I’m going to go with my best guess right now :
      In any relationship, the best thing to invest in is time, conversation, and understanding. Your best way of solving this problem you are facing, while preserving the family, marriage and home that you have, is to sit down with him and try to communicate. You have to figure out a way to get him to just sit and listen to you for a while. The key to this is to make sure that once you have him ready to listen, that you say things that are nothing but solid and reasonable points to make. He must see the need for change. The things you tell him must be true, must be rational, must be conceivable. You must be able to communicate with him effectively and let him see why this is important to you, and how important it is to you. Make sure you don’t yell, or get carried away. Speak clearly, and speak with a serious tone – so he knows that this is serious. Make sure you give him a chance to talk after you are done, and listen thoroughly too. Ask questions if you must. If he doesn’t take your questions seriously, then that shows that he doesn’t respect your effort of communicating, and is not listening.

      Now, how are you going to get him to sit quietly and listen to what you have to say? A person who is never wrong (in their own eyes) can be impossible to sit down and talk to sometimes. Will you be able to do this? If you must, throw in something like, “If you love me you will listen.” You are not trying to trick him by saying this, but you are telling the truth. A person who only think they alone are right may sometimes (or most of the time) put others down and barely gives them a chance to talk.

      Your husband sounds like my father. But instead of 10 years of marriage, my parents had 26 (to date). I wouldn’t wish what happened/happens to my mother, onto even my worst enemy. This, for surely affects your 3 kids too, even if you think it doesn’t. When something chips away at your soul, you lose a large part of who you are/could be.

      Email me if you need to, it’s always important to have a window to these things.

      • Jojo June 8, 2015, 5:12 am

        It’s always the man who’s to blame and when the husband seeks advice from a nut case woman it’s never taken serious and all the stories are shame on him. WTF. . . .

  • Susan Miller April 27, 2015, 8:45 am

    Great post. Thank you. Nice twist. We control and choose our destiny– not just observe/react. The sign that you might be in a bad relationship starts inside.

  • sherry wood July 7, 2015, 8:47 am

    I can relate. It will be 19 yrs this month not sure what day. I have wanted to leave this person for years now. I am trapped due to financial reasons of not being able to leave. When I meet him I had a daughter I raised by myself for 7 yrs. No help financially. We meet I thought he would be different cause he did not drink or try to abuse me. He moved in with me with no job. He gave up his job and all his friends and has clung to me ever since. I thought he was the quiet type and just had a lot of bad life happening to him. We eventually got married I am 51 and he is 45. Through the years I have had to be the man and woman.. He never had any kids and he agnored my daughter all these years she is 25 and out of the environment. I have went back to college working on my Masters degree which he thinks is a waste of time . He lives on computer games 51 hrs aweek qne he will work 55 hrs aweek driving a truck. home every night he hates to work and I have heard him wine for yrs. I want to just leave him when we do talk it turns into a fight he controls all the money and keeps it in a lock box. I have a rokcwheiler Dog she is my life and I don’t think I can just up and leave her I want. I have no feelings for him. When stay in separate bedrooms for 8 or 9 yrs now. These last yrs I have got high blood and health issues. He is making me sick . I was in a reck with him driving and I needed to go to the hospital and he wouldn’t even call an ambulance. I had 3 disks in my neck messed up. and have been recovering for a yr now. I need encourage from someone who has had to take the risk with big dog and get work and get away

    • Incredulous July 7, 2015, 2:31 pm


      I haven’t had to pick up and leave with my dog myself so I can’t tell you that I have done it. But what I do know is I have been chronically ill for the past 15 years. I have been free from my abusive ex-husband for the past 5 years. Well, actually only 3 because there was still some aftermath after I was physically free, but it was still better than being with him. He abused me mentally for at least 6 of the 20 years we were together, probably more as I continue to piece together different things he would do and say. My dogs are my life and always will be. But the important part which relates to you is my health improved after I broke free. I didn’t recover completely, but it was such a huge difference to not be under his control and negativity. I do understand the fear of being able to support yourself and I also understand the fear for your health. But I know you will find a way if you and your Rottweiler pick up and disappear. Reach out to old friends whom he doesn’t know whom you haven’t been in contact with in awhile. Even if you feel that they might not still care about you the same way they used to, I bet they do. Once you get somewhere else you can work on getting your school credits transferred to a different school and meanwhile continue to work elsewhere. Your daughter is already out of the house so she can connect with you in a new home. It’s time for you to have your life back. There’s also a program which helps pay for emergency boarding for your pet called redrover.org I’m not sure if I can share a link in this message, so if there’s not one showing, look up red rover for help while you find a place to stay. http://www.redrover.org/domestic-violence-and-pets

      There are other people who have done it, just not myself.
      Incredulous´s last blog post ..Why Not to Say Hi On OKCupid

  • Trisha Lynch August 30, 2015, 5:43 pm

    I did read the article and each number carefully. I have to admit that I was once a yeller. Over the years the yelling subsided. Why yell? I was not getting my point across. I sounded like a lunatic. So what was the point. My marriage is 26 years young and it has been horrible from the start. But being the type that did not believe in divorce, I stayed. I never cheated. I never went out to bars or had girlfriends to hang out with. I stayed home, raised my three children, and was miserable. He constantly accuses me of cheating. It got worse when I became disabled. If I went to work I was having an affair. I stayed home, I was sleeping with my neighbors. I went to college I must be sleeping with classmates. You know…the crazy thing was, I never even considered cheating. Sex turns me off. I guess I am with the wrong man, but I really don’t care if I ever have sex. My main goal is raising my kids. Now they are young adults, but still I have a role in being there for them. THe empty nest is playing on my nerves but I still don’t want to go out and FIND SOMEONE. I guess I am loyal to a man who hates my guts. He tells me how unattractive I am daily. He says he is embarrassed to be seen in public with me. He tells me cruel things and yet expects me to just hop in bed with him whenever he wants. The bedroom, which has been his for the last 13 years, is as vacant as his heart. I have found my place on the couch for the last 13 years. I don’t want to be near him and avoid him as best as I can. So many people tell me why havent you divorced him. I would love to leave him, but like so many other wives, I am trapted finacially. I can’t support myself on disability. I can’t rent an apartment on what I get monthly. And I don’t know the first step on what to do? Or even if it is possible. He keeps threatening me that he is going to move and I can be kicked to the curb like a stray dog. He verbally abuses me, and only a few times on occassion has physically abused me. Yes, I know once is enough. I did leave and moved into a shelter with my three kids, that was 13 years ago. He found us, kidnapped my kids, and I could not handle it. I came back to the house with my tail between my legs. I did it for my kids sake. I knew he would never let them go. Now they are past 18. So now he would not have to pay child support. But now, I am disabled due to a car accident. I can’t find a job because I can’t pass the drug screen with the meds I am on. I would love to find a job working from my computer, but again, I have no clue on where to even look. I am just at the end of my rope, barely hanging on. I just don’t know what to do? If I could live on my own and get divorced I would be so happy. I would not have panic attacks or always be so anxious knowing he is coming home from work. Depression has become my best friend. For those of you who has been in my shoes, how did you start? What do I need to do?


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