Are you in an unhappy marriage and worried you may be headed for divorce? Being in what feels like a loveless marriage can be draining. And you may not know how you got to this point.
However, marriage troubles rarely develop overnight.
Each partner often is just trying to survive the day-to-day busyness of life that they rarely look back to see the cumulative damage.
Here are 8 tell-tale signs that your marriage is unhappy and you and your spouse need to fix it ASAP:
1. You struggle to speak civilly
Maybe you feel hurt and wronged by your partner, making communication just plain difficult. Every discussion dissolves into a fight because you feel your perspective isn’t heard.
You and your partner outline every past flaw and fault. You both end up shouting because each of you is full of emotion.
It takes effort to listen actively. Often, especially after many years with your spouse, you stop actively listening and start making assumptions. While assumptions are great ways to speed up the process of getting from A to B, they can be messy and full of inaccuracies. And if all your communications are full of assumptions, you will never feel like you are heard. Nor will your spouse.
Relying on assumptions and not listening actively also keeps you on the surface. Even if you reach a “solution,” often the solution doesn’t hold.
That’s because the real problem (usually a clash of values, expectations, goals, etc.) lives below the surface details of the problem.
So, not actively listening may leave you feeling stuck replaying the same argument repeatedly. You two are fighting so hard to be heard, and no one is listening to validate feelings and work towards a real solution.
2. There’s a lot of silence between you
Alternatively, the silence is pervasive because you feel like you have nothing to say.
Maybe limiting contact keeps the peace. Perhaps you feel like you need to sort your thoughts out and are even tempted to discuss your marital issues with others. Maybe, for your own reasons, just avoiding your partner makes sense.
Your partner should be the person who you want to share the best and the worst parts of your day with. They should be the one who can safely receive your most vulnerable feelings. This emotional intimacy is the basis of a strong marriage.
When you choose to go elsewhere for that support, you are shutting your partner out. According to Dr. Shirley Glass and Jean Staeheli, authors of Not Just Friends, choosing to share the significant parts of your day or your marital troubles with others is opening windows to them and building a wall between you and your spouse.
The more barriers between you and your partner, the harder it is to breakthrough. But more importantly, the more you may open yourself up to extra-marital affairs.
3. You’re allowing the “Four Horsemen” to enter your marriage.
According to John Gottman, psychological researcher and clinician on divorce and marital stability, your marriage is headed for trouble if these four “horsemen” are prevalent in you or your partner’s communication.
- Criticism is not the same as critiquing nor voicing a complaint. Critiquing is offering a careful judgment on what you consider the good and bad parts of something. Criticism tends to cut deeper because it’s judging the merits and faults of someone. It’s a subtle difference, but there is a difference. Critiquing in a relationship focuses on the action, criticism focuses on your partner’s character.
- Defensiveness is often a response to criticism because you feel attacked. You think you have to justify yourself and may even push blame back. Unfortunately, this is viewed as excuses by the critical partner and sends the signal that you aren’t serious about the issue. Criticism and defensiveness draw battle lines and rarely lead to good solutions in conflicts.
- Contempt is when you treat others with disrespect, mock them, ridicule, call names, mimic, scoff at them, or roll your eyes. It makes the other person feel unvalued and worthless, while you have placed yourself (knowingly or not) in a place of moral superiority. Contempt keeps you right without ever having to recognize your partner may be struggling as well.
- Stonewalling is often a response to contempt.When the listener withdraws from the conversation, refuses to engage, or shuts down, that’s stonewalling. It usually takes time for stonewalling to emerge in a relationship, but when it begins, it can quickly become a bad habit and hard to stop.
4. You’re not having sex anymore
Sex is not only healthy for your emotional health, but also the overall health of your relationship. Regular sex with your partner improves your confidence, which reflects in your marriage. It can improve your self-esteem and your sense of being an attractive, desirable individual.
When you have sex, you place trust in one another, and that creates increased intimacy. Yes, we all have physical urges to have sex, but there is a need for emotional fulfillment as well. Intimacy creates that desire to be close and bond with your partner, leading to improved marital satisfaction, emotional well-being, and happiness.
According to sex and relationship therapist Megan Fleming, Ph.D., if you’re having sex less than ten times a year, you’re headed for trouble! Sexual and emotional intimacy separates the romantic relationship with your partner from all other relationships you have.
5. Quality time doesn’t exist — and maybe you don’t care
Do you distance yourself from your spouse when you get the chance, because you would rather be apart? Are you spending time in different rooms when home? Are you drifting apart at social gatherings?
If you’re avoiding spending quality time with your spouse, you are disconnected and growing further apart by the day. This distance sends a strong message to you and your partner: You no longer value the relationship to the extent of caring about time with your partner.
All living things need care. Without care and nurture, those living things wither and die. Just like the child, pet, or houseplant in your home — without care, your relationship can’t survive. Quality time is part of that care in human relationships.
6. You’re ignoring your intuition
Take a moment right now and close your eyes. Focus only on your breath and continue to do so until you feel a calmness sweep over you. In this calm state, ask yourself, “Am I in an unhappy marriage?”
The little voice in your gut that answers back is your intuition. It’s easy to ignore the booming voice in your head, but the little voice knows your truth. You cannot ignore facts forever. And the longer you do, the more (sometimes) irreparable damage can be done in your marriage.
Your intuition can be very informative when you give it the chance to speak. Find that calm again and continue asking yourself more specific questions.
- Is my marriage working?
- Do I love my spouse?
- How safe do I feel? Respected? Loved?
- What can I do to fix my marriage?
- Do I even want to fix my marriage?
Whatever questions you feel you need to ask, allow them to emerge. Quiet, calmness is the key to hearing your intuition because it comes from your heart. And typically the first answer is from your gut. Trust your gut because your mind may try to rationalize you away from it.
7. You aren’t taking any steps toward repairing your marriage
One way to distinguish between a marital rut and a deeper issue are the answers to the questions, “How long has my marriage been this way? And is the situation progressively worsening over time?”
All couples experience periods of rough patches in their marriage, which can be predictable at times. However, if your marital dis-ease has lasted longer than two years with no signs of improvement, it may be time to seek marital counseling.
Unfortunately, the average couple waits six years from the time they begin recognizing relationship problems to when they try therapy.
Six years is a long time to be asking, “Are you in an unhappy marriage?” And in six years, lots of damage can be done. What could have begun as minor missteps in the marriage can erode into significant transgressions difficult to overcome.
8. You fantasize about a life without your spouse
Or about making decisions like a single person again.
Imagining a life without your spouse is a sign that your marriage is headed in the wrong direction. Regularly fantasizing about the single life emotionally detaches you from your relationship.
You’re working on distancing yourself for an eventual separation, hoping to save yourself some pain. And you’re setting your marriage up for failure.
According to Jamie Turndorf, Ph.D., author of Kiss Your Fights Goodbye, “…Detaching psychologically by fantasizing about having an affair or making plans for the future that don’t include your partner can all be signs that you’ve fallen out of love. It’s as if the mind has pulled its own plug so our hearts won’t suffer as much when the relationship ends.”
The same thing occurs if you routinely begin to make decisions that exclude your partner. Are you making financial decisions like you are single? Do you consider your mutual goals, or only your needs and wants?
Acting as if you are solo sends the message to your partner that they don’t count. You don’t need to take their opinion or dreams into consideration. Whether you have decided to stay in the relationship or not you send the signal you don’t care.
Finding yourself in an unhappy marriage did not happen overnight. Many couples rest on their laurels and just forget to focus on their relationship. However, losing sight of your relationship doesn’t have to be the end – but continuing with the status quo may be.
Jean Tschampa is a co-owner and principal therapist at Life Care Wellness, a group psychotherapy practice in Glen Ellyn and Chicago, Illinois who specializes in relationships, wellness, life transition, and anxiety, and is a board-certified coach, as well as a professional counselor. For more information on how she can help you with your marriage, call (630)423-5935 to schedule your appointment today.
This article was originally published at Life Care Wellness. Reprinted with permission from the author.