Being able to identify the unhappy marriage signs and see them clearly for what they are can be hard. That’s because a majority, if not all, of marriages go through several rough patches where couples struggle to reconcile their differences. If you’ve been married long enough, you’d have experienced it firsthand.
The urge to pack your bags and leave. Storming out in the middle of an argument because you can’t bear to look at your spouse’s face another minute. The residual anger that spills over in the form of irritation and snapping at each other over the smallest of things.
Does that mean you’re living in an unhappy marriage? In such moments of unpleasantness, it can feel that way. But as long as one of you can reach out and that’s enough for the other to come around, and together you can find a way to work past your issues, these don’t qualify as unhappy marriage signs.
Then, what does? How do you tell an unhappy marriage apart from a happy one? And what if you’re in an unhappy marriage but can’t leave? We’ve got some signs you need to look out for.
18 Top Unhappy Marriage Signs You Need To Know
Marriage is undoubtedly one of the most complex relationships to maintain. The honeymoon phase inevitably comes to an end. From can’t-keep-your-hands-off-each-other days you graduate to a more settled, rhythmic pace of life.
As you try to juggle the responsibilities of work and home, keeping the spark alive and strengthening your connection can become a struggle. Unless both partners make conscious efforts on this front, you can find yourself at a tipping point that can cause your union to disintegrate.
Often, this disintegration is so slow that most couples don’t even realize it until they find themselves stuck in a desperately unhappy marriage. Even at this stage, facing the reality of the situation and recognizing the unhappy marriage signs can be scary. Signs of a bad husband or signs of a bad wife could be staring you in the face but it takes more than that to acknowledge that your marriage isn’t what you thought it was.
However, if you are not happy in your marriage, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re staring divorce in the face. As long as both partners have the will to make it work, it is possible to turn things around from this dead-end too.
Irrespective of whether you want to get out of an unhappy marriage or try to improve the quality of your relationship, understanding and acknowledging the unhappy marriage signs is the first order of business. Here are the top tell-tale indicators you must keep an eye out for:
1. Lack of communication
Stunted communication can be both the underlying cause and one of the major symptoms of an unhappy marriage. Counselor and life coach, Dr Neelu Khana, who specializes in handling marital discords and dysfunctional families, says, “One of the unmissable unhappy marriage signs is not being able to see eye-to-eye due to different perspectives and wavelengths.
“Communication between partners can get obstructed due to two reasons – failure to understand what the partner is trying to say or choosing to not engage in conversation out of fear of arguments and fights.
“In certain, desperately unhappy marriages, lack of communication could also be due to repeated abuse following which one partner chooses to become withdrawn and not connect with the other.”
If you’re stuck in a rut thinking, ‘I’m unhappy in my relationship but don’t want to break up’, it could be a result of a communication breakdown. The obvious solution would be to try and have a conversation, but fear of conflict keeps you apart.
Related Reading: Should You Stay In An Unhappy Marriage With Kids?
2. Imbalance of power in the relationship
Marriage therapist and author of the book Ghosted and Breadcrumbed: Stop Falling for Unavailable Men and Get Smart about Healthy Relationships Marni Feuerman, in her writings, links unhappy marriage to a power struggle in the relationship.
If you, your partner or both of you tend to invalidate each other’s feelings and concerns with a view to gain an upper hand in arguments as well as your relationship, it’s an indicator that you’re living in an unhappy marriage.
This hunger for one-upmanship is unhealthy and goes against the paradigm of marriage being a partnership of equals. When one spouse dismisses the other’s concerns, they are essentially making that partner feel like a lesser person.
That leads to unhappiness and resentment to seep into the relationship and is definitely one of the signs of a loveless marriage. Mind you, the best of relationships have power struggles, but when the imbalance is stronger than mutual respect and efforts towards equality, it’s one of the signs you married the wrong person.
3. Not spending quality time together
“A lack of desire to spend quality time together is also among the unhappy marriage signs as it indicates that a couple has started growing apart. They have become used to their loneliness, which in turn, makes them discontent and unhappy with their marital life,” Dr Neelu says.
Shay and Marina, for instance, who have been married for 15 years don’t remember when was the last time they had a date night or did anything together that didn’t involve children, families or social obligations, all major signs a couple is unhappy.
Over time, they became so out of touch that Marina couldn’t shake off the feeling that she is in an unhappy marriage but can’t leave. “It was like we were two strangers who shared a roof, our circumstance forcing our hand. Given a choice, I think both of us would have taken an out,” she says.
This deep-seated unhappiness began reflecting in every aspect of their life soon, and they decided to give their marriage one last shot with couple’s therapy. Their therapist mandated that they go out as a couple at least once every two weeks and spend half an hour every day out on a walk together talking only about themselves.
Slowly but surely, the ice began to thaw and they found a way to reach out and connect as romantic partners and not just live as two adults sharing the burdens of life.
Related Reading: In An Unhappy Marriage But It Was Better While We Were Dating
4. Shirking responsibilities
Dr Neelu says that unhappiness in marriage also manifests as an unwillingness to shoulder the responsibilities of the house and children. Given that most couples bicker over whose turn it is to do the dishes or who would take the kids to their playdates, are most marriages unhappy?
Well, not quite. Trying to pass the buck of domestic responsibilities or picking up slack because your spouse didn’t do what they were supposed to every once in a while is rather normal in most marriages.
Yes, it leads to bickering and arguments. But eventually, both partners come around and accept that they need to do their bit to keep their marital life functional.
What sets an unhappy marriage apart from a normal, functional one, in this case, is that the coming around part just doesn’t happen. Typically, one partner becomes so disconnected and withdrawn that they refuse to participate in the marriage anymore.
It’s a classic ‘not my monkeys, not my circus’ mindset that stems from having given up on some level. In such cases, either one or both partners could well be waiting for the opportune moment to get out of an unhappy marriage. If one partner continues to refuse to shoulder responsibilities, it’s a sign you married the wrong person. Remember, no relationship works unless both all parties pull their weight.
5. You entertain thoughts of divorce
Like we said before, every marriage has moments where at least one of the spouses is overcome with the urge to just pack up their bags and leave. However, these thoughts are fleeting. Often, a result of flaring tempers.
When you’re in an unhappy marriage but can’t leave, these thoughts about divorce take a more permanent place in your headspace. You don’t just want to pack up your bags and leave in a fit of rage not knowing where you’d go or what you’d do next.
But you make elaborate plans about how you will pick up the pieces of your life and start over. If you’ve ever looked up or reached out to a divorce lawyer to know your options or calculated your savings and assessed your assets to see if you can start over, it’s a sign that you want to get out of an unhappy marriage.
6. Comparison with other spouses
Dr Neelu says, “You are not happy in your marriage when you constantly compare your spouse with others. This, in turn, creates feelings of insecurity, inferiority complex and jealousy, which can further aggravate problems in an already precarious marital bond.”
Do you find yourself achingly comparing how your best friend’s husband pampers her with breakfast in bed every Sunday morning with how yours doesn’t even know where the spatulas are? It is a sign that you are not happy with the quality of your marital bond.
7. Your sexual chemistry is gone
While every individual has different sex drives and your libido can be affected by myriad factors such as age, health and other stresses, a sudden dip in your sex life is among the unhappy marriage signs.
“If you go from having sex a couple of times a week to once every couple of months to not at all, without any clear reasons for the change, it could be because you’re living in an unhappy marriage. Since physical as well as emotional intimacy are the two components that make the bond between romantic partners unique, this change can further amplify feelings of frustration and unhappiness in the marriage,” Dr Neelu says.
It’s easy to assume physical intimacy isn’t all that big a deal and a marriage has other aspects to focus on. But sexual chemistry is a strong binding factor and a continuing lack of attraction is one of the glaring signs a couple is unhappy. Ignoring it as unimportant or burying it under feelings of ‘I’m in an unhappy relationship but have a child’ will only increase your resentment and impact you both as a partner and a parent.
8. You feel alone all the time
Joan, a marketing professional fresh out of a desperately unhappy marriage, says, “I was married for a decade, out of which I spent the last 4 years living and feeling as if I was alone and all on my own. My husband and I could be sitting on the couch, watching TV, and yet, he’d feel so distant.
“We stopped engaging in conversations. Our interactions eventually became limited to discussing the essentials. It was, as if, we were reading out to-do lists stuck on the refrigerator to each other, with the other replying in monosyllables.
“Ultimately, I decided that I had had enough and wanted to get out of the unhappy marriage. I asked for a divorce and he happily complied.”
Related Reading: 7 Reasons To Breakup Early Rather Than Be In An Unhappy Marriage
9. Affection is missing from your marriage
Intimacy between partners isn’t just about sex. The little gestures of affection – a peck on the cheek, a kiss on the forehead before saying each other goodbye for the day, holding hands while driving, giving each other a shoulder rub at the end of a long day – also go a long way in making spouses feel loved, valued and cherished.
However, when you’re living in an unhappy marriage, these displays of affection dissipate into thin air over time. You may not realize it as it happens. When you sit back and think, you’d see that the time when you engaged with each other affectionately seems to belong to another era now.
Again, affection seems like a small cog in the marriage machinery, but trust us, it is an essential one. Lack of affection leads to nagging doubts where you think, ‘I’m unhappy in my relationship but don’t want to break up’, but something is missing.
10. Being overly critical of each other
“Nothing I ever do is good enough for my wife. If I get her flowers, they are the wrong kind. If I do the dishes, she does them again saying I didn’t do them right. Even when we’re making love, she constantly finds faults with my moves.
“At one point, she told me she had a problem with the way I was breathing. It was too loud and annoyed her, she said. She doles out unfiltered criticism, often in front of others. It has turned me into a man with low self-esteem, a broken shell of a person I used to be,” says Jack.
He recognizes that he is stuck in an unhappy marriage but doesn’t know how to correct course. She doesn’t see the error of her ways. Perhaps, on some level, she is unhappy in the marriage too. The only thing they have in common anymore is the thought, ‘I am unhappy in my relationship but can’t leave.’
The two stopped communicating long back. Now, Jack says that he doesn’t know how to reach out and have a conversation without all hell breaking loose. This is a deeply toxic situation to be stuck in and needs to be addressed either open conversation or professional help.
11. You have become different people
“Different personalities with a different outlook toward everything can add to the challenges in an unhappy marriage,” Dr Neelu says. Often, in such relationships, partners grow so out of sync that they no longer recognize, understand or connect with each other.
This growing chasm drives them further apart, leaving them trapped in an unhappy relationship with no visible way out, with loveless marriage signs all over.
Kayla and Steven had been married for 7 years. They had always been opposites in terms of personality, but soon it was evident they had morphed into people who were evolving in different directions. “There are signs a guy is unhappy in his relationship, or a girl for that matter,” Kayla says. “Steven and I were moving in completely different ways and there was little hope of reconciliation.”
The couple have a 4-year-old daughter and Kayla did not want to leave the marriage immediately. “We were in an unhappy relationship but had a child, and that was important to us.”
12. There are physical unhappy marriage signs
Unhappiness may be a state of mind but it can manifest as physical symptoms too. In an unhappy marriage, both partners often have a great degree of pent-up anger, unresolved issues, unsaid things, which leaves them feeling anxious, vulnerable and ill-at-ease.
In a desperately unhappy marriage where these issues go unaddressed for far too long, people can start experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches, diarrhea, dizziness, nausea, or severe pain in the neck or back.
These physical manifestations of unhappy marriage signs are the result of mounting stress from a less than satisfying personal life.
13. Blame game reigns supreme
Issues of some kind or the other crop up in all marriages from time to time. However, when you are not happy in your marriage, the ability to address issues the right way takes a hit.
When one partner broaches an issue or tries to initiate conversation, the other automatically goes on the offensive. The focus, then, shifts to defending your own actions and shifting the blame of any and every problem onto your partner.
14. You don’t confide in one another
Becky got fired from work after the pandemic hit. The stress over how to make the next mortgage payment or afford the kid’s private school education sent her into a panic tailspin. She spent sleepless nights wondering how they were going to pull through.
Yet, she couldn’t bring herself to reach out to her husband, who was right next to her throughout. “I had a full-blown panic attack in the middle of the night. Even then, it was my best friend that I reached out to over a video call to get this weight off my shoulder while my husband was sleeping right next to me.”
It was another week before she finally broke the news to him. This hesitation, coupled with communication hurdles, is among the most tell-tale unhappy marriage signs.
15. Inability to cope with external stresses
“When two partners are living in an unhappy marriage, they have a harder time coping with external stresses such as medical issues, diseases, ill-health of children, financial constraints. Because the marriage is not on solid ground, these events can deal a severe blow that the spouses may no longer be equipped to handle. As a result, these stressors can further affect the marriage more adversely,” says Dr Neelu.
This happens because when you’re in an unhappy marriage but can’t leave, you forget how to function as a team. When adversity strikes, you start operating as two individuals who may be trying to steer the domestic ship in opposite directions, resulting in its undoing.
Related Reading: 11 Things You Can Do If You Are Not Happy In A Marriage
16. You feel abandoned
“My wife is a great mom, so much so that her entire life revolves around our two adopted children. I think it started out as a way of compensating for the fact that we haven’t given birth to them, and then, just became a part of her person. While I admire her for it, I feel like I’ve been left in the dust,” says Stacey.
Stacey’s feelings of abandonment are further augmented by the fact that she severed ties with her family to marry the lover of her life, Paula, because they were against same-sex marriage. Now, with the children being the center of Paula’s world, she feels like she has no one to turn to. Needless to say, that leaves her feeling like their union has been reduced to a desperately unhappy marriage.
17. You avoid each other
In unhappy marriages, partners often find themselves walking on eggshells around each other. The fear of tempers flaring, getting into yet another argument, hearing or saying hurtful things to one another causes them to be wary of each other’s presence.
As a result, you start avoiding each other as far as possible. If you are happy putting in yet another late night at work rather than rush home to have dinner with your spouse or if you plan all your errands for Sunday morning so that you have an excuse to get out of the house, it’s an indication that you are not happy in your marriage.
18. History of cheating in marriage
For all that you seek but are not getting in your marriage, either you or your partner may have cheated on the other. “Our marriage was stuck in troubled waters for quite some time. Rather than deal with our issues, we kept sweeping them under the carpet. This led to our arguments and fights becoming more and more volatile.
“Things got out of hand one evening, and my husband hit me. Even then, I couldn’t muster the courage to get out of an unhappy marriage. Even though he apologized profusely, I began resenting him for it.
“I ended up touching base with an ex. Over time, the old spark was reignited. We started texting, which then led to late-night sexting sessions, and ultimately, led us to sleep with each other. It was just the one time. After that, I pulled the plug and consigned him back to the block zone.
In hindsight, I think the affair was my way to getting back at my husband and leveling the playing field. However, two wrongs don’t make a right. We didn’t take the right measures at the right time, and that cost us our marriage,” says Ahlaya.
Again, there are always signs of a bad husband or signs of a bad wife. Although ‘bad’ is different in every marriage, it’s worth it to keep on the lookout. If you spot these unhappy marriage signs in your life, it is important to take cognizance and get to the root of your underlying issues. There on, it is up to you and your spouse to decide whether you want to get out of an unhappy marriage or stay and try to make it work.
In case you choose the latter, it is imperative to get the right support and guidance to help break unhealthy patterns and replace them with more holistic practices. Going into therapy can be immensely helpful. For that, the right help is only a click away.
Don’t blame yourself too much, most unhappy marriage signs are rooted in behavior from both sides. Talk it out if possible, or then seek help. Good luck!