Does your marriage exhibit one or more of the typical symptoms of an unhappy marriage?
It’s normal to wonder about the viability of your marriage when you’re not as happy as you’d like. And the wondering can be both frightening and confusing. “Are we really that unhappy?” “What does an unhappy marriage look like?” “Is this salvageable?” “Is it me?” “Is it him?” “Is it her?” “Maybe all marriages get to be ho-hum. We can’t expect to be truly happy forever, right?”
It’s not unusual for couples to spend years in an unhappy marriage before it dawns on them to ask, “What does an unhappy marriage look like?”
Yes, there are the obvious betrayals — infidelity, abuse, addiction — but symptomatically even these don’t guarantee the divorce. The truth is, there is never just “one” reason, one symptom, that causes a person to choose divorce.
Unhappy marriages grow insidiously from a lack of correction of harmful — even if subtle — behaviors and choices. And happy marriages taken for granted and left undernourished can render their partners asking, “How did we get here?”
The very thing that makes romantic love so exclusive and unique is the same thing that can be its undoing. Intimacy involves vulnerability. And that kind of exposure means that another person has power to both heal…and hurt. That is an awesome gift of trust…and an awesome responsibility.
So what does an unhappy marriage look like? Are there specific qualities that are always present? Every marriage, happy or unhappy, is unique.
But if you’re in an unhappy marriage, you will undoubtedly recognize at least some of the following:
1. You’re not having sex anymore, and there is a lack of visible affection.
Remember, intimacy, both physical and emotional, is what separates romantic love relationships from all other relationships.
2. You have nothing meaningful to say to one another.
Your conversations revolve around the pragmatics of running a home, taking care of kids, going to work and paying bills.
3. One or both of you are having an emotional affair.
Your spouse should be your primary confidante for communication about both happy and difficult matters. If you are reaching out first to a friend — especially of your spouse’s gender — you may be emotionally detaching from your marriage.
4. You are playing the blame game.
Arguments should be about communication and improvement of the relationship. They should never be about inflicting pain. Use of blaming language — “You always,” “You make me feel,” “It’s your fault,” etc. — inevitably incites counter-blame and hurt feelings.
5. You are physically in one another’s presence, but there is no real engagement.
You have essentially disconnected and become roommates who simply accept the fact that you live together.
6. You distract from your own feelings by focusing on the needs and problems of others.
And most commonly the “others” are your children. Yes, your children do deserve to have your attention and love, but not to the exclusion of spending time with your spouse and fixing what’s wrong in your marriage.
7. You are delaying or avoiding getting help to fix things in your marriage.
You know things aren’t right, but you continue sweeping the problems under the rug and won’t examine your relationship in the context of the question, “What does an unhappy marriage look like?” The result is that you don’t get the timely help you need to turn things around.
8. You fantasize about a life without your spouse.
Your daydreams of happiness don’t include your spouse. This psychological detachment is a way of convincing yourself you really don’t care so that there is less pain when the final separation happens.
9. Your lives have different directions.
If you are not communicating, you can’t align your goals. If you aren’t regularly communicating about the things that are most important to each of you, you’ll eventually begin noticing conflicting differences in your perspectives toward life and your goals.
Your faith and politics may suddenly be starkly misaligned. Your ideas for the future of your marriage and family may not resemble anything you co-created in the early days of your marriage. And differences like these can be at the root of a miserable marriage.