I Feel Trapped & Unhappy in My Marriage – Should I Leave?

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Hey Wendy,

I’ve been married for many years. I married young, and he is a wonderful, smart, ethical, handsome, hardworking, educated, supportive, respectful and respectable man that I’ve never been attracted to. It seemed he didn’t have any interest in physical intimacy with me either. Looking back, I believe we married because it was socially acceptable in our community, and I wanted to escape an abusive home environment. I knew I was making a mistake. I cried until I fell asleep on the night of our wedding.

Throughout the years we’ve had many platonic friendships, and our home is always full of guests/friends/social activities. This full life is a way we both escape our not-working marriage.

At this point, I feel sorry for him and I feel sorry for me. We are past the point of having children, and we both feel trapped. I’ve been working on myself and I’ve been gradually feeling better. I’ve learned to be comfortable and happy when I am alone. I feel, however, that I cannot grow old in this relationship.

We are two good friends, like siblings. We sleep in separate bedrooms and barely see each other. I painfully miss the intimacy and connection with the right man, and I don’t know which way to go. I feel stuck.

D. T. – Vancouver, Canada


Hey D.

I’m sorry you’re feeling trapped and alone in your marriage. Feeling lonely when you’re in a relationship is the worst. Let’s look at possible paths forward. You could:

  • Stay together and drastically redesign your relationship
  • Open up your marriage
  • Leave

If you choose to stay and want to craft a life you love, you’ve got to clear the bar on these three questions first:

1) What do I need to not feel trapped?

2) What do I need to not feel so lonely?

3) What do I need to fully own this choice and be happy and fulfilled in my life?

If you’re going to be in 100% on this choice, you’re going to have to make new deals, arrangements, and fixes. Try to eliminate the sacrifices. For example, if one of you sleeps in the guest room, keeps their stuff in the master, and is making do with the half bath down the hall, this might contribute to negative feelings building up. Consider a remodel so you both have master suites—even if this means taking out that third bedroom.

Are you accountable for too much? Maybe it’s time to say, “I’m no longer cooking dinner for you after I come home from work. From now on, we’re responsible for getting our own meals. If I’m making something for myself, I’ll offer, but please don’t expect dinner from me.”

Declare solo nights, like every Tuesday and Thursday. You want to see a movie? You go. You’re “off duty” those nights and you don’t have to report to each other. This gives everyone a little breathing room.

And for sure, keep that house filled with friends and events that make your lives enriching and full.

Another option: You can do all of the above plus…open up your marriage. If this is an interesting concept to you, check out the book called, wait for it…Opening Up.

An open relationship has the potential to keep your family structure in place. You can stay in the marriage, have all your friends around, and also have the sex, intimacy, and freedom with someone you like or even love. This is a real thing that does work for some couples. There’s still stigma around it, so you mostly only hear about it when people divorce. But plenty of couples live this way and have happy, fulfilling lives!

If you choose to leave, work on leaving each other the way you lived together: in a loving way. Do your best to maintain a friendship after the marriage dissolves.

And as a newly single person, this is what you can expect:

In the beginning, you’ll be lonelier than you ever imagined. This will eventually pass. And if you’re single long enough, you’ll come to love and appreciate your autonomy and freedom even more than you do now. If you’re willing to take on the lifelong commitment, getting a pet can help—a lot.

You’re going to be worried about your ex, and most likely consumed with guilt for not staying forever. A fairly decent hunk of this emotion never goes away, but it does get better after he re-partners.

Finding a new love might happen on your first date, on your 30th first date, or your 300th date—there’s no telling. It took me a decade and 121 first dates to find my guy.

If you end up in a happy, stable relationship, your new love is also going to feel a bit like your brother after a few years. There’s a 100% chance of this happening. Want to keep it crazy-hot and exciting? Make the relationship unstable or have a lot of time apart.

That new-relationship energy is biologically designed to last about nine months. It can go beyond that, but once it wears off—and you’ve found someone with whom you’re compatible—what you’re left with is deep love and respect for your partner. He’s your friend, someone you have great affinity for, a family member, a partner in crime, someone who makes you laugh, someone you like hanging out with, you like to have sex with, you like snuggling with while you watch TV. But don’t worry if he’s not someone you’re constantly fantasizing about flying off to Paris with unless of course, you’re plotting out all those tasty pastry stops you two are going to hit as you walk the streets and look at architecture. Long, lasting relationships can and do have plenty of sex and intimacy—but it just might not be what you’re picturing.

D, whatever you choose, the good news is you can design your life and relationship(s) any way you’d like. You have all the power.

Good luck with your decisions!