The “Semi-Happy Marriage” and Affairs


“The Semi-happy Marriage: Too safe to leave, too boring to stay. A business partnership at best.” 

The “Semi-Happy Marriage has become common these days and is one of the most common situations that lead to affairs and/or divorce, according to relationship experts.

All marriages have their ups and downs, but the semi-happy marriage is chronically ambivalent. It’s a marriage that’s neither miserable nor all that successful.   Semi-happy spouses genuinely can’t decide if they should stick it out and live with the faults in the marriage, or if those faults are too much to handle.  Many semi-happy marriages are high-functioning — almost like business partnerships or friendships — but they lack important elements. In other cases, spouses wonder if their expectations are too high and worry that they’re being selfish, but they also can’t shake the feeling that they might be in the wrong marriage.

Once considered an imperative of sorts, traditional marriage is getting a second look-and research suggests that it may be coming up short.   Instead of considering themselves to be happily married, some people are discovering that they’re only “semi-happy,” and their quest for fulfillment can lead them to extramarital affairs and divorce.

Researchers estimate that anywhere from 55% to 65% of divorces hail from this group of low-conflict yet listless marriages.

As one person wrote, “There’s a part of your soul that isn’t nourished in (this type of) marriage, and it’s too big a part to live without….You’ve tried, but you fear that you’re in the wrong marriage, however wonderful your spouse may be.”

“Boredom is basically like an attack on a relationship’s immunity system,” says Ian Kerner, PhD, founder of Good in Bed and author of “Love in the time of Colic: A New Parents’ Guide to Getting It On Again.” “It’s not a coincidence that a fifth of respondents admitted to being unfaithful to their partner as a result of being bored.”  While most of the women one psychologist interviewed said they felt lonely in their semi-happy marriages, men told her that they felt “trapped” or “penned in.” It didn’t seem to matter if they married “too young” or waited until they were older; what mattered was what people expected from their marriages.

Here’s a link to one article on the subject:



I found this concept a while back – long before D-day, and it seemed to fit my marriage to a tee. And it’s certainly was the environment I was living in, and the context within which another person was able to enter my life and what made me vulnerable to this person and to an affair.

My “semi-happy marriage” was characterized by low-conflict, low passion…and low satisfaction.  It’s not that I seek conflict or thinking constant fighting is the sign of a good marriage (I don’t and it’s not!!), but I realized that it was devoid of deep meaning, passion, attraction.  Everything was underground and unsaid.   On the surface, everything looked great. But underneath, I was becoming desperately dissatisfied.  A huge emotional chasm was opening up between us.  We weren’t being “real” with each other, although we got along very well.  That was fine in the beginning, but as the years wore on, it wasn’t.

I was in a marriage where I constantly asked myself, “Is this it? Is this as good as it gets?” I had a strong inner sense of vague discontent, which caused inner conflict.   After all, it wasn’t “that bad”, right? We got along.  We ran the house and our lives pretty efficiently.  Our kids were doing well.  We didn’t fight.  What on earth was I complaining about??  Was I just being selfish?  Immature?   Overly high expectations of marriage?   All I knew was that I was beyond unhappy but couldn’t quite put a finger on why.

I can already hear the critics reading this.  “Well, NOBODY is perfect, no MARRIAGE is perfect, and you can’t expect to be happy all the time, and use that as an excuse for an affair!”

I agree!

I”m not (nor is the psychologist who coined this – Pamela Haag) saying that being ‘happily married’ means being “happy all the time and your partner meets 100% of all your needs 100% of the time.”   No, that’s not realistic.  That’s an impossible standard to meet.

My wife and I used to brag to ourselves and others that we never fought.  And it’s true.  We NEVER did.  Not even loud words.    We saw this as a sign of extreme compatibility and harmony.  But it’s not.  It’s a sign of a lack of passion for the marriage!  It’s a sign that problems aren’t being addressed openly and honestly!  I’m not saying fighting is good – it’s not.  Too much fighting is a faster way to a divorce than the lack of fighting.  But NO conflict of any kind is not necessarily a positive.  It was a sign of a marriage on life support where it was easier to just not say what each of us thought and “get along” to keep our lives moving, rather than a sign of some deep compatibility and total understanding.

What I think the difference here is we get so caught up in our day to day tasks, our careers, our individual interests, that the marriage is allowed to slip into a deep complacency.  A listlessness.  Where even fighting over things doesn’t seem worth the energy.  There is a growing distance between the partners.  They accept their status as a “married person” but no longer put any energy into the marriage.   Instead, their energy goes elsewhere.  Whether it be work.  Individual hobbies….or someone else.

Marriage is not much different than a plant.  It has to be fed and nurtured if it is going to continue to grow, or it withers and dies.   Neglect to some leads to passionately fighting back and then leaving.   To others, quiet resignation.  To still others, looking elsewhere to be happy.  Neglect is the death of marriage, and it needs to be actively and consciously avoided by a couple.   That’s the point of this concept, I think.

Are some people trapped in hopelessly unrealistic expectations of marriage?  Yes.  I sometimes think that my parent’s generation (largely born during the depression, went through WWII and gave birth to the baby boomers) were more successful in general than other generations at marriage because they brought such LOW expectations into it and therefore were largely happy with what they ended up with.  Or because that generation takes commitment so much more seriously than does the current one, where living with multiple partners in a lifetime, let alone divorce, carries no stigma or shame and therefore, commitment is a soft word and a floating concept.   Could be something to that.

But I certainly think that overly-high expectations of marriage can be the death of ‘satisfaction’ and of the marriage.  It’s not going to be all romance, trumpets, and hot sex.  I mean, don’t you think that even “Harry and Sally” hit a wall at some point?  Every day was not like a passionate kiss on New Year’s Eve.  At some point, she noticed that Harry was rather short and was losing his hair, spoke pedantically, and so she started to actively avoid sex.   Harry began to get irritated at Sally’s extreme high-maintenance and entitlement attitude and started spending more time with Jess at the batting cage wondering how he managed to make yet another marital mistake.

But I’m not talking about the movies or people with ridiculously unrealistic expectations of marriage, or incredibly self-centered, narcissistic types.   We’re talking about honest, balanced people with realistic expectations of their marriage and their partner who still feel a horrible nagging feeling that even these expectations aren’t being met and whether they should stay or go.

YES, THERE IS HOPE.  Yes, we’ve turned it around. I no longer feel the vague discontentment. How did WE do it? By ‘dating’ again.  By doing more things together. By being romantic.  By being very sexual again.  By opening up like we’ve never opened up before — Communication!! HELLO!! Something we never did very deeply.

By making “us” a priority again.  By no longer taking each other for granted any more.  By not getting overly focused on operating a home and family.  By rediscovering what we once saw in each other — when we first met.   We again feed the relationship.  We are maturing and changing together and within its boundaries.  And liking it. Our satisfaction grows. I’m no longer semi-happy.  I’m very happy.  PERFECTLY happy?  Hardly.  But I feel content in my marriage. Optimistic.  Happy.  Looking forward to whatever years we have left together.  I feel like part of a ‘couple’ again.  I don’t feel like the guy I used to any more.  But 2 years ago, I certainly did feel like a man trapped in a low-conflict, but dull, existence.  It was a big reason for why I ended up where I did.



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