Top Signs of an Unhappy Marriage (and how to make it better)

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Are you feeling concerned about the state of your marriage and wondering how to improve the health of your relationship? Some of the signs of an unhappy marriage fly under the radar and can take you by surprise, so watching out for signs of marital discord can help you take any issues in stride so you can move toward fixing them in a healthy, productive manner.

If you’re already noticing these signs and wondering what to do about an unhappy marriage, it’s okay. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of course correction, and you’re in the right place because we are going to lay out some of the top signs of an unhappy marriage and what to do about it here.

Signs of an Unhappy Marriage

Irritation

A woman is irritated with her spouse
Daily irritation about everything your spouse does and says is like death by pinprick for the marriage.

Are you irritated by each other’s presence? This is one of those early signs of unhappy marriage that can seem like it’s not a big deal, and it isn’t… but what it leads to is. This might be something like all of a sudden feeling annoyed at the sounds your spouse makes when they eat, or the way they tell that one story about that one time and oh my if you have to hear them tell it one more time, you’re going to absolutely lose it! If you let this continue, it can lead to contempt, and that is a major destroyer of relationships.

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Less or No Intimacy

A strong indicator of unhappy marriages is lack of intimacy. This doesn’t just mean sex and physical affection, either, this is also an emotional and mental intimacy. Do you not care about your husband/wife’s inner thoughts? Do you not really mind if they don’t tell you how work was today? Every relationship goes through lulls, but if you and your spouse have had a break in intimacy that is physical, mental, and/or emotional and there’s no outside reason for it (sometimes grief and other big life changes can disrupt intimacy in relationships), then it might indicate an unhealthy marriage.

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Avoidance

If you and/or your spouse actively look for ways to avoid spending time together, this is probably a sign that your marriage is unhappy. If it were a happy marriage, you’d want to be together, too! It’s important to have lives and friendships outside of the marriage, but if you find that your world beyond your spouse is preferable to the world you’ve created with your spouse, then it’s very likely you have an unhappy marriage you want to escape from.

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Criticism

A healthy relationship is one in which grievances can be brought up without being confused as criticism, but if it is now the case that you criticize each other rather than problem-solve together, your marriage is probably unhappy. It’s usually a good standard to try to make sure there aren’t more criticisms than compliments in any relationship, so if you or your spouse are overly critical, the marriage will be unhealthy.

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Feeling Misunderstood

One of the most beautiful parts of a healthy, loving relationship is feeling understood and seen by another person, so when this part flips and you feel like your spouse no longer understands you or misinterprets you and your actions often, this can be highly distressing. Feeling misunderstood is an unhealthy marriage trait.

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Apathy

A couple in an unhappy marriage sit at opposite end of a couch
Apathy is never a good sign for a marriage.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from irritation is apathy, and if you and your spouse are completely unaffected by each other, this is often a red flag that your unhappy marriage is near its end. If you and your spouse have moved beyond having any feelings at all toward each other, this is a major indicator of an unhappy marriage headed toward divorce.

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Abuse

Any kind of abusive behavior – mental, emotional, physical, sexual – is never okay and should not be tolerated. If you have any kind of abuse in your marriage, the marriage is unhealthy, unsafe, and yes, typically unhappy. No one deserves to be abused; it is important that you prioritize health and safety over wedding vows, always. 

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Adultery

Adultery is a tough one because it is one of the most devastating signs of an unhappy marriage, especially if the person being cheated on was still relatively happy in the marriage. If your marriage is unhappy and you are trying to make yourself feel better by looking outside the marriage, then you have to recognize that you are only compounding the unhappiness of the marriage by betraying your spouse.

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Researching/Considering Divorce

This is one of the most obvious signs of an unhappy marriage, of course. If your marriage has lost fulfilment and happiness and you have lost the desire to try to bring it back, then researching divorce is probably where you’re at. Similar to apathy where a person just stops caring, divorce means there’s no interest left in doing the work to improve the marriage.

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How to Fix an Unhappy Marriage

Be Honest

Step number one in how to fix an unhappy marriage is always being honest with your spouse. You have to be able to acknowledge there is an issue before you can get to the serious work of fixing the issue, right? If it is you that is feeling unhappy in the marriage and you’re unsure if your spouse feels the same, be sure to preface the first talk by acknowledging that this is how you feel right now, and you want it to get better. Remember to use your I Statements to keep the focus on how you are feeling vs on your partner’s actions.

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Be Open

A couple in an unhappy marriage have a serious discussion on a couch
Being open is an important step in fixing an unhappy marriage.

Being open is an important part of honest communication; you and your partner both need to be open and receptive to how the other is feeling in the marriage, even if its difficult to hear the person you’ve married tell you they are unhappy married to you! Focus on understanding the other’s point of view before rushing to explain your own. This helps you to stay open to hearing what is being said vs focusing on how you will respond.

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Reconnect

Sometimes it’s as simple as reconnecting with your spouse on an individual level. What drew you together in the first place? What did you find so attractive about them? Maintaining connection in a relationship is an ongoing task, so if that’s been neglected, focusing on connection might be just what you and your spouse need to do about your unhappy marriage!

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Seek Therapy

There is just no substitute for professional help when it comes to heavy issues that need navigating, and fixing an unhappy marriage is a pretty heavy issue, right? Find a good couples counselor near you so you can work with a neutral third party who is able to help you two work out what your issues are and give you guidance on where to go from here. If your spouse isn’t open to couples therapy, seek therapy for yourself; you deserve it.

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Allow Space

Sometimes it is the case that two people, no matter how well-intentioned and loving they have been towards each other, grow apart. This isn’t an indictment of either person or an indicator of how much love they once had – or maybe even still have – together, but just the reality of life and growth. If this is the case, allowing space for the two of you to consider if you want to work on improving the marriage or if you want to make steps to move on is a beautiful act of love on both your parts. If a marriage is unhealthy and unhappy, then binding someone to it against their will is not loving. 

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Final Thoughts about Unhappy Marriages

If you are in an unhappy marriage with no interest in fixing it, that is okay. Sometimes separation and divorce is the most loving step a couple can take when the marriage has become unhealthy and unhappy, and there is no reason to view this as a failure. No one should feel trapped in a marriage that is unhealthy, unhappy, abusive, and/or unfulfilling. Marriage should be a beautiful choice you make every day, not a sad settling that requires you to ignore your true feelings.

Ultimately, the only two people that truly know the state of a marriage are the two people in the marriage. If your marriage doesn’t feel safe and loving – physically, mentally, and emotionally – then this might be a sign that your unhappy marriage is nearing its end, and we wish you well on your journey always.

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