“I feel trapped in a difficult marriage. What shall I do?” From the ‘Dear Karin’ advice column.

Dear Karin - Coping with a difficult marriage (c) KarinSieger.com

Dear Karin,

I have been married for almost 25 years to my wife. The best way to describe my relationship is I feel invisible. As a person I do not seem to exist from her perspective.  Any conversation where I tentatively express my feelings are ignored or hijacked by the typical phrase “So, you think you had a bad day ? Well, let me tell you about MY day!”  Our conversations revolve around 3 types from her: command, criticism or complaint. As well, I strongly suspect my mother is a narcissist and I watched my father suffer horribly.  Because of her disregard for him or finances, he was forced to work almost until his final days before cancer treatment forced him to stop.  In conclusion, I do not wish to be like my father.  I don’t wish to die with bitterness, sadness and regret.  My mother and wife have very similar traits.  In a nutshell, the world essentially revolves around them. Unfortunately I cant simply leave due to financial circumstances and I also feel it is negligent on our youngest daughter who is seventeen and entering the final years of school. What am I to do ?

Sincerely yours


Dear Kaneda,

Thank you for writing in and asking for assistance. As explained in the submission guidelines, I do not provide relationship or family advice via this column. That is because there are usually more than 2 sides to every problem. Expressing views without getting a more comprehensive picture can cause more harm, than do good.

However, I believe many people, irrespective of gender, may face a similar situation to yours – feeling trapped in a difficult marriage, for a variety of reasons. Therefore, looking more generally at the dilemma you find yourself in, may be of interest to you and others.

It is important that we assess:

  • How damaging is the situation for us (emotionally, physically, financially, spiritually etc)?
  • Are we safe?
  • Are others safe?
  • Can this be worked out (eg with couples counselling or mediation), or not?
  • Do we need immediate, short- or long-term help?


Sometimes we jokingly (or more seriously) observe “I married my mother / father”, because our partners have similar traits. This can be because we are attracted to people like that, even if we want to avoid people like that.

How can that be?  Because sometimes through our upbringing we have had to learn, how to cope with difficult and complex character styles. Perhaps we had to, because that’s what our parents modelled to us. This is not about blame, right or wrong.

Sometimes people find it harder to accept that others are nice, kind, supportive and loving towards them. Because they are not used to it. And therefore they may find it difficult to accept such behaviour as real and think of themselves as not deserving of it. Accepting the opposite may be more familiar territory.

Coping mechanisms and affects on us

When we are in a difficult marriage, we may find ways of coping with helpful or less helpful habits, which can cause problems of their own (eg addictions).

Such situations can affect our mental and physical wellbeing. It can lead to stress, depression, anxiety, social isolation and much more.

Other people in the family or in the house will be impacted, even if we try our best to shield them from the fall-out of difficult relationships.

Why do we stay in a difficult marriage?

Even if we feel, we need to get away, this may be very hard for a range of reasons – children, financial ties, fear of repercussions from the person we want to leave and such.

If we stay?

If we choose to stay, then it is important that we identify ways of taking care of ourselves – physically, mentally, emotionally. Because a difficult marriage and any relationships can be draining. And we need to have ways of re-charging ourselves.

We may need to consider getting external support. Because it is important not to feel alone in what we are going through. Often it may not be possible to confide in friends or family. Independent support through a counsellor or therapist may be a useful idea to consider.

Often people say to that “But I am not the one with the problem!”. I understand. But talking in true confidence can help develop self help and positive coping strategies, as well as behaviour and communication strategies of help in a difficult marriage or relationship. And even strategies of leaving a relationship, which may have become unsafe.

Protecting others

If children or others are involved who may be vulnerable and depend on us, then things can be especially hard. We need to consider, what might be of best assistance. Is more harm done by staying or by leaving? They themselves may need some kind of support.

In Summary

In my experience, Kaneda, if people are ready to reach out for help, then they may consider that some kind of change is possible. Even if they do not acknowledge it consciously to themselves. I am saying this, because I want to give you hope in what looks like a bleak situation.

I hope to have given you and others some assistance.

You might also like to read Drawing a line

With best wishes.



Read other #DearKarin columns here


  1. Kaneda, I cannot add any of my own words to Karin’s beautiful words to comfort you, but just 3 things to Do/Think/Read about. (1) Create a playlist of all the music that inspires you and listen to it over and over (2) Read “BIFF” by Mr. Bill Eddy which gives advice on how to deal with high conflict people. (3) Read “You Are Why You Eat: Change Your Life” by Dr. Ramani Durvasula which is not just about losing weight it is so much more. Peace wherever you are.

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