Are you in an unhappy marriage? 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. So, are you in an unhappy marriage? Keep reading to learn eight common telltale signs.
Feel like you’re in an unhappy marriage and don’t know what to do next? Check out part II: How to fix an unhappy marriage
8 Telltale signs to the question, “Are you in an unhappy marriage?”
1. Talking civilly feels impossible because it’s just the same argument time and time again.
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. 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 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. The 4 Horseman are prevalent in your marriage.
According to John Gottman, phycological 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: It 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.
Recognizing some of these signs in your marriage?
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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 are having sex less than ten times a year, you are 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.
If you are 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 over 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 to work towards 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 are fantasizing about a life without your spouse or making decisions like a single person.
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 do not 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.
Seek counseling if you feel stuck and miserable. Talking with a professional can help get your marriage out of a rut. If you’re in the Chicago area, contact our expert therapists at (630)423-5935 to schedule your appointment at Life Care Wellness today. If you live outside the Chicago area, find trained couples therapists through these directories: ICEEFT, Gottman Method, and Psychology Today.