You’re unhappy in your marriage and it’s been that way for a long time. You’re stuck in the stages of a dying marriage, but uncertain about where you stand and what you can do about it. You’re thinking, “Gosh, my marriage is making me depressed” and wondering if you’re stuck forever.
To recognize the signs of a dying marriage is to take a long, hard look at a relationship that’s closest to your heart and a life you’ve built with someone you once loved dearly and perhaps still do. To dismantle a marriage is to let go of a part of your life that held you up and formed a major part of your identity.
None of this is easy. After all, who wants to nitpick their way through their marriage, looking for signs that you’re going through a dying marriage. No one even wants to associate the word ‘dying’ with their marriage. But sometimes, we need to do difficult things for our peace of mind.
We thought you could use some expert help. And so, we asked emotional wellness and mindfulness coach Pooja Priyamvada (certified in Psychological and Mental Health First Aid from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of Sydney), who specializes in counseling for extramarital affairs, breakups, separation, grief and loss, to name a few, on identifying some of the stages of a dying marriage.
5 Major Signs Of A Dead Marriage
Before we get deep into the stages of a dying marriage, let’s take a quick look at some signs your marriage is over. Maybe you’ve already caught a glimpse of these signs but are unwilling to accept them as relationship red flags. Maybe you just don’t want to admit that these are glaring signs of a dying marriage.
We get it – it’s exhausting to work through your marriage with a fine-tooth comb, looking for fault lines and cracks. But it’s also imperative to see our most intimate relationships as they really are. So, take a deep breath, and let’s take a look at signs of a dying marriage:
1. One or both of you is always digging up the past
No one comes into a marriage or a relationship with a completely clean slate. We’ve all got our share of emotional baggage and we’ve all brought up past errors and insults in a fight. It’s just one of the weapons we use in relationships.
But, if the past has encroached upon your present relationship so much so that you can no longer envision a future together, that’s definitely one of the signs your marriage is over. If everything you say to one another is a passive-aggressive allusion to past mistakes etc., well then, maybe it’s time to take a break.
2. There has been infidelity
Let’s be clear – infidelity doesn’t always spell doom for a relationship. Marriages can survive it, in fact, there may be cases where healing from infidelity makes a marriage stronger. But these aren’t exactly the norm.
If there is infidelity in your marriage from one or both sides, it’s probably because something is missing, or one of you or bored/unhappy with the marriage. While this is something that can be worked out, it could also be one of the signs of a dying marriage. Whether you choose to revive it or not is entirely up to you.
3. Fights for no reason
The healthiest of relationships have fights and disagreements. But one of the biggest differences in healthy vs unhealthy relationships or marriages is that fights become spiteful and bitter in the latter. Unhealthy fights occur for absolutely no reason other than a need to bring our partner down.
Think about it. Have there been recurrent fights simply because you wanted to be mean and hurt your partner? Was there any reason for any of the fights? Well then, you’re fighting for no reason and that is one of the signs your marriage is over.
4. Verbal and/or physical abuse
Repeat after me: Abuse is not okay. And you do not have to take it. Also, not all abuse is the physical kind that leaves visible marks and scars on you. Emotional and verbal abuse is just as scarring and painful as physical abuse. And it is important that we recognize this.
Related Reading: 5 Signs Of Emotional Abuse You Should Watch Out For, Warns Therapist
If any form of abuse has crept into your marriage, there is no need to stay and try to forgive or mend it. Abuse is a sign that you need to walk out and get to a safe space as soon as possible, turning your back on your dying, abusive marriage.
5. You’re lonely in your marriage
This is such a subtle, insidious sign of a dying marriage that it tends to be overlooked all the time. We’re not talking about being on your own and giving each other healthy and much-needed space in a marriage. This is loneliness at its worst because even though you’ve joined your life to someone else’s in every way possible, you’re still lonely.
Being lonely in a marriage is when you carry the burden of the relationship on your own. Be it raising kids or planning family vacations, it all comes down to your solitary self. That’s not okay and it is a sign of a dying marriage.
9 Stages Of A Dying Marriage
Pooja says, “It all begins with a disconnect, discomfort, and not finding any connection with the partner. Sometimes the connection is never established in the first place. Also, abuse of any kind is a clear first sign that this relationship is going downhill. Lack of communication is also a deal-breaker and sets the tone of the things to come in such a situation.”
Related Reading: 15 Subtle Yet Strong Signs Your Marriage Will End In Divorce
So, we’ve got a pretty clear idea of the signs of a dying marriage. The stages of a dying marriage run a little deeper. So, let’s take a look at the various stages of a dying marriage and what they mean.
1. Lack of communication
Pooja says, “A partner is supposed to be someone with whom you can talk about anything – good, bad or ugly. If this aspect is missing in the marriage or was earlier there but has faded away over time, things are often miscommunicated or not communicated at all. Most answers are monosyllabic, which could indicate that the relationship has become weaker in one of its core strength areas.”
Communication problems in relationships are not uncommon. But this is the first stage of a dying marriage because communication is where both problems and solutions begin. If you’re not talking at all, if you’re constantly afraid of being misunderstood every time you speak, or you’re too tired to even try and communicate, do you even have a marriage left?
“My marriage of 12 years was unraveling and we couldn’t even talk about what was driving us apart,” says Mandy, “I didn’t know how to articulate my unhappiness to my husband, and he didn’t know how to ask me about it. The lack of communication was driving us crazy and killed any chance of reconciliation. How could we reconcile when we didn’t know how to talk to one another? It felt like a dead-end relationship.”
Pooja says, “Often, people idealize their partners. They think their real-life partner is like the ideal partners in films, novels, and dreams, but real-life partners come with flaws, disappointments, and drawbacks. Often, the clash of these expectations leads to disillusionment and people feel they got stuck with the wrong person or someone they had imagined to be an entirely different person.”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all dwell in our fantasies, especially our romantic fantasies? Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, real-life relationships are a little more complex and need more work than your foot sliding effortlessly into a glass slipper.
Related Reading: What To Do When You Realize Your Relationship Is A Lie
Maybe you thought your partner was the person of your dreams, someone you could really open up to and be vulnerable with. Or maybe things were different before marriage when you were dating and life seemed to be all roses and rainbows.
Disillusionment is a cold cross to bear in a romantic relationship. It’s also potent enough to drive a marriage to dissolution because one or both partners feel that they no longer recognize each other at all. The disappointment at realizing that a spouse is not your dream person, but a real, flesh-and-blood human who makes relationship mistakes and can’t read your mind is definitely one of the stages of a dying marriage.
3. Lack of intimacy
Pooja says, “There’s an old saying that the quality of sex determines the quality of the marriage. While this couldn’t be entirely true, it definitely points toward an important aspect. If a couple lacks intimacy or if their level of intimacy has gone really down, it might indicate several underlying issues. If one doesn’t feel the need or the urge to be intimate with a partner, it is a clear red flag for a dying marriage.”
Intimacy in a marriage can be very different from intimacy while dating. Physical intimacy can become routine or may decrease in frequency because, well, you’re married now. Emotional and intellectual intimacy in relationships, too, could go down because marriage is often erroneously viewed as the pinnacle of romance. And once you’ve reached the pinnacle, why make an effort anymore.
Lack of any or every form of intimacy signals an important stage of a dying marriage. This is when you’re, quite literally, pulling apart from each other, in mind, body and spirit. There is no space in your marriage where you meet each other to share ideas, laughter or touch, and perhaps you’re also uncertain of how to reach out to one another since communication is already uncomfortable.
“I’d been married to my wife for 7 years. We hadn’t known each other very long before getting married. Perhaps that was why, a few years into the marriage, we found ourselves viewing each other almost like pieces of furniture. Familiar, but utterly taken for granted. We couldn’t remember any of the reasons we’d gotten together or form any sort of attachment,” says Bryan.”
Related Reading: 7 Fundamentals Of Commitment In A Marriage
Pooja explains why this happens, “Often, people reach a stage with long-term partners where they almost become like any other lifeless fixture in each other’s lives. They simply don’t care about their partner’s life, behavior, or anything else. A partner becoming a non-entity in your life definitely means the marriage is already on the brink of dying completely.”
There’s something truly sad about a marriage where you’re so detached from your spouse that you barely see them as sentient beings any longer. Their quirks, their likes and dislikes, none of it matters anymore, and neither does the marriage. You could be strangers who just happen to share a home and a certificate stating that you’d once pledged to love each other forever. A marriage without attachment, without joy, is a marriage on the rocks. If indeed you’re going through a dying marriage, this is definitely one of the stages you’d experience.
5. You’re past caring or trying to save your marriage
Maybe there was a time when you thought you could fix a dying marriage. Where you and your spouse genuinely cared about making an effort to resurrect your relationship and give yourselves and your marriage another chance. And perhaps now, you’re both past the point of caring, too tired and indifferent to give it another go.
Pooja says, “There can also come a stage where neither partner wants to make an effort to give their relationship another chance. This means they have already given up on each other and their marriage. This is often a point of no return in any marriage and a clear indicator that it is definitely going downhill to its doom.”
Gloomy tidings indeed, but it’s better than remaining in a bad marriage for the kids or simply because you haven’t admitted to yourself yet that there’s nothing left for you in this marriage any longer. Again, it can be quite terrifying to reach that moment where you realize that a major part of your life and heart is finished.
This is, as Pooja says, a turning point in the stages of a dying marriage since there is little chance of one or both of you suddenly changing your minds and deciding you want to make things work after all.
6. There is no trust between you
Trust issues are sneaky little things that can creep up on the best and healthiest of relationships. Building trust in a relationship is hard enough, rebuilding trust once it’s been shattered is even more difficult. Which is probably why, once trust is lost in a marriage, it stands out as a glaring sign of a dying marriage.
“Trust in my marriage wasn’t just about being faithful to each other,” says Ella. “It was also about being able to count on one another and being honest about everything that mattered. Toward the end of my marriage, all of it was gone and serious trust issues. There was infidelity, yes, but even before that, there was this sense that I couldn’t trust him to show up for me.”
To fix a dying marriage, there needs to be some amount of trust left between you and your partner. At the very least, the trust that this is a marriage worth fixing, that there is room to make things better, make yourselves into better partners. Without that, you’ll be sitting and asking yourself, “What are the hardest years of marriage? Am I living them right now?” Going through a dying marriage means a devastating loss of trust, the kind you can’t come back from.
7. Your priorities have shifted
There’s no law stating that partners in a marriage (or out of it) must always think and act exactly the same, or even value all the same things. It is rather important, however, that they value their marriage and partnership approximately the same amount, or very nearly the same amount. Once those scales tip, they tend to keep tipping and sending everything off balance.
Related Reading: How To Break Up With Someone Who Loves You
One of the stages of a dying marriage is that priorities have shifted for one or both partners. Maybe you’ve become someone who values your space and independence over and above your spouse. Maybe their work has been taking precedence over the marriage for years now. Or maybe one of you wants to remain in your hometown forever, while the other wants to spread their wings and live in new places (listen, all those country songs could be true!).
Every intimate relationship comes with its share of compromise. But the question always remains, who must compromise more and is there a perfect compromise balance to be achieved? Are there things you should not compromise on in a relationship? These are all tough questions, but it’s safe to say that if you’ve grown apart to the extent that your individual needs rule your life far more than your marriage, you’re going through a dying marriage.
8. You have a sudden moment of clarity
Not to paint too morbid a picture, but in most cases, marriage dies a slow and gradual death. But within the stages of a dying marriage, there is that ‘aha!’ moment. A ‘eureka!’ moment, only maybe not quite as euphoric. That moment where you know with absolute certainty that you’re done with this marriage, or it’s done with you, or both! it’s time for at least a marriage separation.
It could be a great big moment when you first confront your spouse’s infidelity. Or, you could be watching them butter their toast at breakfast one morning and know very clearly that this is not the face you want to be sharing breakfast with for the rest of your life. Clarity comes to us at truly strange moments.
Chloe said, “Our marriage had been vaguely unhappy for a while. I could never put my finger on it. There was no abuse, and at the time, we weren’t aware of any infidelity. I just remember thinking, “My marriage is making me depressed.” And then, one day, the ball dropped.
“We were watching TV together and he insisted he wasn’t sitting on the remote, but he was. It sounds ridiculous, but I felt like years of resentment came to the single focal point of he always had the remote but pretended he didn’t!”
As we said, the stages of a dying marriage don’t always make sense or come with a warning. These are moments where you’ll have reached the end of your tether and will want nothing more than to be free of this marriage and asking yourself if you should get a divorce.
9. You give up on your marriage and move on
What are the hardest years of marriage? Possibly when you know there’s something wrong but are too tired or afraid to do anything about it or question your marriage too much, lest you see the cracks a little too closely. But there is another stage. It’s when you finally decide to stop trying to fix your dying marriage, give up and take your life back.
Related Reading: Divorce Counseling: Benefits Of Pre And Post-Divorce Therapy
You’ve finally given in to the signs your marriage is over, and you’ve taken the difficult but concrete step of uncoupling yourself and step away from a relationship that wasn’t working for you. This is the final step in the stages of a dying marriage.
‘Giving up’ rarely sounds like a positive thing. Why would you consider quitting the most important relationship of your life (or so we’re told) positive in any way? But you know this isn’t working, and you’re ready to accept and get on with your life.
When you’re in the stages of a dying marriage, there will be feelings of vague unease, a general feeling that things are not what they should be. And then will come clarity and the firmness to take a decision and actually do something about it. Maybe you’ll try and fix your dying marriage initially, but then realize it’s not working, and maybe not worth it. Or maybe you’ll seek professional help, in which case Bonobology’s panel of experienced therapists are always ready to help.
We’re so often told that marriage is the be-all and end-all of relationships. Acknowledging that a relationship of such personal and social significance is at an end will never be easy. If you are going through a dying marriage, we hope you recognize it and have the courage to know when it’s time to walk away from the relationship.