Saving Your Relationship When Your Marriage Hurts

Young woman sitting on sofa, looking at distressed man at table
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This article is not about hurts caused by physical or emotional abuse. If you are in a marriage that includes domestic abuse, please seek professional and legal help.

For some people, their marriage is a source of joy and happiness. For others, the relationship they have with their spouse brings about feelings of emotional hurt and pain.

If your marriage hurts you emotionally and you want to save it, it can be helpful to understand what's behind the hurt and how it impacts your life. Communicating how you feel can make your relationship better. In some cases, a professional may be needed to assist with this process.

Causes of Emotional Pain in a Marriage

Emotional pain in a marriage relationship can be unintentional or it may be a direct result of a partner's intentional actions.

Unintentional Hurts

What hurts one person emotionally won't necessarily hurt another. However, here are some ways that marriage partners might hurt one another without meaning to cause emotional pain:

  • Apathy or a lack of interest
  • Being thoughtless
  • Controlling actions or behaviors
  • Forgetfulness
  • Hurtful teasing
  • Ignoring their spouse
  • Insensitivity
  • Selfishness
  • Silent treatment
  • Unkindness

Intentional Hurts

Intentional hurts are when you hurt your spouse, you know you are doing it, and you continue to do it. These hurts might be inflicted in the midst of an argument, during a clash with each other, or as a result of a misunderstanding. 

An example of intentional hurt is if you decide to watch porn even though you know it causes your spouse distress. Other ways that one might intentionally damage their marriage include:

Most Common Factors of Divorce

The divorce rate has been declining since 2012 in the U.S., with a 10% reduction in divorces between 2019 and 2020 alone. This is good news if you're intent on saving your marriage as this trend shows that it is increasingly possible.

Still, some partners do decide to call it quits. Some of the most common reasons cited for pursuing a divorce include:

The way you communicate during conflict can predict your likelihood of divorce. The four communication styles often leading to a relationship's demise—referred to as the Four Horsemen—are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

For many, divorce is a result of issues that build up over time. Then, something happens that pushes them to decide that the marriage is over. There is a "final straw" that breaks the relationship, with some of the most common "final straws" being:

Impact of Emotional Hurts on a Marriage

Emotional hurt can show up in a relationship in a variety of ways. When these hurts (and their subsequent impacts) are not addressed, it can lead to divorce. If a hurt occurs in a person's marriage, they might:

  • Allow bitterness to build
  • Clam up
  • Dig in their heels on the issue
  • Dwell on the hurt
  • Hold onto a grudge
  • Walk on eggshells around the other person
  • Withdraw from the relationship

Importance of Communicating Your Emotions With Your Spouse

One study found that more than half of the couples deciding to divorce reported not being able to talk to one another as one of the major contributing reasons. So, if you feel hurt by your spouse's words or actions, talking about the situation may help you save your relationship.

In Courage to Love...When Your Marriage Hurts, author Gerald Foley explains that communication is important for each of the marriage partners. Foley states, in part, "The one who is hurt and the one who did the hurting both need healing."

When you don't express your feelings, the hurt can continue to grow. Yet, being able to express negative emotions is associated with better relationship outcomes. Specifically, it is linked to eliciting more support and a heightened sense of closeness and intimacy.

Tips for Communicating/Resolving Conflict in Your Marriage

If you feel hurt in your marriage, the first step is to discover the cause. What is your partner doing (or not doing) that is hurting you emotionally? Once you identify the reasons behind your hurt, talk about them with your partner. If you don't, it can lead to emotional withdrawal, causing you and your spouse to drift apart.

During this conversation, hold each other's hands. Research has found that this one simple action can help increase a person's feelings of comfort, also reducing the emotional pain felt when recalling the experience at a later point in time.

If you're having a difficult time putting your hurt into words, here is a list of feeling words to help you get started in sharing how you feel:

  • Angry
  • Attacked
  • Beaten down
  • Broken
  • Defeated
  • Discouraged
  • Disrespected
  • Empty
  • Lonely
  • Lost
  • Rejected
  • Resentful
  • Tired
  • Torn
  • Used
  • Wounded

Additional Advice From Relationship Experts

Some relationship experts offer helpful advice for saving your relationship when your marriage hurts. For instance, in Strengthening Your Marriage, H. Wallace Goddard and Kathleen Rodgers suggest that you:

  • Decide to let certain things go
  • Focus more on finding solutions than on assigning blame
  • Be specific with what you want or need from your partner
  • Allow your spouse a few faults or imperfections
  • Recognize which values you have in common
  • Try to understand your partner versus judging them
  • Engage in regular experiences together to help your relationship grow

In The 4 Seasons of Marriage: Secrets to a Lasting Marriage, author Gary Chapman shares a few more strategies for enhancing your marriage. They are:

  • Deal with your previous failures
  • Keep a winning attitude
  • Learn your spouse's love language
  • Develop your empathetic listening skills
  • Find joy in helping your partner succeed
  • Maximize the ways in which you're different
  • Become a positive influence

Seeking Professional Help

If you're unable to resolve your emotional hurt on your own, find a professional to help. Couples therapy can help you address and solve the issues that are causing hurt within your marriage relationship.

Several types of couples therapy exist, ranging from emotionally focused therapy (EFT), which seeks to understand and change the things that make you feel disconnected, to psychodynamic couple's therapy, which strives to help you better understand each other through exploring your hopes and fears.

The type of therapy that offers the best results can vary depending on the issues at hand. If infertility is an issue, for instance, research has found that EFT can help improve marital commitment while decreasing couple burnout. A therapist can help determine the best therapeutic approach for you.

A Word From Verywell

Emotional hurt sometimes occurs in a marriage. But if this hurt occurs on a regular basis or is intentional, it can damage the relationship, sometimes even leading to divorce. One way to avoid divorce and save your marriage is to learn how to communicate your emotions to your spouse.

If you find communicating with your spouse difficult, or you struggle to resolve your conflicts, a therapist can help. Several types of couples therapy exist, enabling you to find the one that is best suited for your situation and needs.

11 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Sheri Stritof
Sheri Stritof has written about marriage and relationships for 20+ years. She's the co-author of The Everything Great Marriage Book.