7 Signs You’re in an Unhappy Marriage & When Should You End It

While we can all easily point out the qualities of a happy marriage (love, respect, and the like), it may be more challenging to identify what’s the characteristics of an unhappy one. If the marriage started on the right foot, but slowly disintegrated into negativity – this slow decline can also be challenging to pinpoint.

But now, years after you walked down the aisle, you are wondering if your marriage is really as miserable as it feels. Finally concluding there is trouble in paradise is not easy, but there are many signs. Do any of the following seven signs ring true in your marriage?

In the end, we’ll also give some pointers on when it’s time to call it quits, and when you should seek marriage counseling. [2]

7 Signs of an Unhappy Marriage

Recently eHarmony, the well-known dating website, published their findings from an online survey of couples. “The Happiness Index: Love and Relationships in America” completed with the assistance of Harris Interactive, painted a pretty clear picture of the characteristics Americans feel go into a happy relationship.

Happy couples have more sex than the average, have more than two kids, and frequently hold hands or kiss in public. Participants had an easy time pointing out these ideas, and 11 others of what made a relationship happy – yet still 19 percent were unhappy in their own.[1]

What are the signs of an unhappy coupling? Here are seven of the most common:

Breakdown in Communication

You likely filled the very first stages of a relationship with an overabundance of conversation. You spent hours on the phone every single day, even after a day together. You lie in bed each evening reliving the most mundane details. But over time this intensity tends to wane, and in some cases ceases altogether.

What happens if you barely communicate anymore? Or the only communication you do have with your husband or wife is about family logistics? You’re experiencing a breakdown in connection, which left unchecked may be a strong signal the relationship is headed south.

Some common signs of communication issues are:

  • Little to no casual conversation
  • Strictly conversations about bills and errands
  • Talk quickly unravels into negative emotions

Fizzling Sex Life

No Sex Life Frustrated Wife

How often do you and your partner have sex? A personal question, but one which may hint to the happiness of your relationship. On average, an adult in the US has sex 54 times per year – about once per week. By some accounts once per week is the ideal for ongoing happiness in a marriage.  

“When in a long-term relationship it’s important to reconnect through sex. The brain chemicals released during sex further enhances bonding,” says Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a clinical psychiatrist. So you can see how connection, intimacy, and happiness can fail when sex fails. [3]

The signs of a fizzling sex life include:

  • Weeks, months or years between sexual activity
  • A feeling of distance in the bedroom
  • Withholding sex as punishment

Dreaming About Time Alone

Spending 24 hours a day with your husband or wife isn’t always a healthy goal, but what if you dream about spending no time at all with them? As you daydream in the shower, or as you fall asleep at night, do you imagine a life without your partner? Does this life seem happier, more prosperous, and less stressful?

Imagining being alone (or at least away from ) your spouse is a subtle sign that the happiness between the both of you may be slowly waning. Likely there is a root cause behind this. The time you spend together won’t always be sheer joy, but a large part of it should be comfortable content, and enjoyable.

Evidence that you are dreaming of a future without your spouse:

  • Planning upcoming trips without your loved one
  • Big future dreams without your partner
  • Resentment when you spouse tags along

Lack of Mutual Respect

Mutual respect builds the foundations of a strong supportive relationship. Without respect for one another, there is nothing to stand on. Disrespect of a spouse often comes out as criticism about parenting, career decisions, or work around the house. It can also come out as negative communication, and failure to understand where the other is coming from.

Can you place yourself in your partner’s shoes, and can they put themselves in yours? Part of your marital happiness comes from the respect you feel from your partner, and vice versa. If there is no respect, it’s hard to fake your joy.

Key phrases in a relationship showing lacks of respect:

  • “I don’t care.”
  • “Why does that matter to you?”
  • “You are overreacting.”

Seeking Support Outside of the Marriage

Marriage Support Outside Help

Where do you turn to in your time of need? Generally, married couples turn inward when they are coping with grief, managing trauma, or need emotional support. An unhappy couple may begin to turn outwards to find this support. Friends, family, and even coworkers can start to fill the emotional void that you are so painfully feeling at home.

You might seek casual conversation and connection from someone beyond your partner. While this might not end up as a full-blown affair, it could signal a lack of connection at home.

Signs you are not getting support at home:

  • Instinctually calling family and friends first for support
  • Hiding emotional turmoil from your partner
  • Feeling upset after seeking support from your partner

Emotional (or Physical) Affairs

Very clearly there are serious issues when an affair happens, but it doesn’t always have to be sexual. Forming a strong emotional bond with some outside the marriage may mean you are not getting fulfilled at home. Emotional affairs often begin as friendships, as you seek conversation and connection from others, but may evolve into intimacy and sexual tension.

Any type of extramarital affair, sexual or emotional, is one of the most noticeable signs of an unhappy marriage. It usually signals the affair seeker is unhappy, and an affair will inevitably lead to the unhappiness of their partner.

Signs of an emotional affair:

  • Sexual chemistry with someone outside the marriage
  • Hiding messages and phone calls from your spouse
  • Constantly comparing your spouse to another person

Separate Goals and Dreams

Maintaining your individuality within a relationship is pretty crucial to long term marriage success. People can often lose themselves after years of togetherness. However, the opposite is also true. Do you have totally separate aspirations from your partner? For example,  do you dream of a big house filled with children, when they dream of never settling down, and traveling the world?

Part of the agreement of marriage is that you both work towards some mutual goals. You agree on some prominent aspects of your future together, maybe not all – but some. If both you and your partner have vastly different ideas about what your future together is going to look like – this could mean trouble down the line.

Signs your separate aspirations are leading to trouble:

  • You have strong opposing desires for (or not for) children
  • Your spouse places their goals before the family’s
  • You resent your partner’s future plans

When to Leave an Unhappy Marriage

Importantly, if an unhappy marriage has a sexual, physical, or verbal abusive component ensure you are in a safe space. Your personal health and safety are paramount. There are ways through abuse, but it may be better to take some time and space away from a dangerous home for the healing process to begin.

Deciding to leave a marriage is never easy. With emotions running high, getting clear on how you honestly feel can be extremely challenging. According to Susan Pease Gadoua, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, she typically sees two types of scenarios play out in her offices as people contemplate the future of their relationship.

In her piece for Psychology Today, she describes to two most common answers to her question, “Why do you want to stay together?” to her clients. She finds that individuals want to stick together for a positive future goal or plan. As in, you want to stay together for the children, or your partner wants to work through their mental health issues. These are both positive signs for the future together.

But, Gadoua also often hears people sticking together because they are afraid, don’t want to get hurt, or they feel financially trapped. This isn’t a good sign. People are sticking together not because they want to work it out, but because they are afraid to leave. [4]

If there is no goal-oriented thinking, there is likely not a lot of glue holding the relationship together. In these cases, the marriage tends to fall apart according to Gadoua. She describes goal-oriented people as eager to change, work hard, and push through the tough times. After all, they have a goal to accomplish! The others have no positive push to work through the issues, and the marriage crumbles.  

There are of course red lines that any person may cross which makes the relationship untenable. These may be different for everyone, but some common threads emerge. According to Gadoua, the relationship is likely unworkable if there is:

  • Pathological dishonesty
  • Safety issues (mental, emotional, physical, and financial)
  • Absolutely no healthy communication
  • No concern or respect for each other
  • Extreme abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, or mental)

If one or more of these are present in your relationship, and either you or your partner is unwilling to change – it may be time to call it off.

How to Save an Unhappy Marriage

Many an unhappy marriage, even decades-long ones, have turned themselves around when both parties dedicate themselves to working on it and themselves. Marriage counseling is one of the best ways to turn the ship around from a course set on disaster.

By some studies, certain types of couples counseling are 75 percent effective.  There are other statistics showing that even if the relationships terminate after counseling the client satisfaction of the experience is hovering above 95 percent. [5][6]

It’s hard to find numbers about American marriages, but in the UK, only five percent of married couples seek counseling before divorce. One UK marriage counselor reported to the Telegraph, “Over 60 percent of the couples I’ve supported end up staying together. The process is about coming together and learning to cooperate, not compromise.” [7]

For anyone skeptical about marriage counseling, this is important to highlight. A marriage counselor won’t scold either of you for bad behavior within the relationship. Instead, they work on communication, cooperation, and mutual growth together. If you are in an unhappy marriage but aren’t ready to call it quits – marriage counseling may be the right first step.