Every relationship goes through rough patches. Sometimes, rough patches can stretch into rough months, even rough years. If you feel you’re currently in the middle of a lengthy rough patch and you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s a good time to stop and evaluate what you want from your marriage. At what point do you take a step back and evaluate where you are through an objective lens? Sometimes it takes more than perspective, sometimes you need to look for the red flags.
Here are the 23 possible signs that you could be in a loveless marriage. Be honest with yourself and do a rigorous inventory of your emotions. Although this exercise is difficult, it is far, far easier than staying in a relationship where you are putting nothing in and getting nothing out. If you feel like you identify with more than one of them (or several), open a dialogue with your partner, look for a couples counselor, and reach out for additional support:
1. You can’t fill the silence.
If you begin to realize that during dinner, long car rides, evenings on the sofa, any time spent together, all passes in silence and neither of you makes the effort to fill it with quality conversation - this is the sign of a problem. It’s unrealistic to expect great, easy, flowing dialogues anytime you two spend an hour together, but the complete reverse isn’t symbolic of a healthy and happy marriage.
2. You’re preoccupied with other people’s issues.
A great replacement for looking directly at our own problems is looking directly at other people’s problems. If you are actively seeking out opportunities to tuck into some hot gossip with close friends or family, trying to insert yourself in their drama or their solution, then you need to take a step back and ask yourself why you’re devoting so much of your time to these distractions.
3. You have sex less than once a month.
Sure, none of us are having the same insanely exciting and toe-curling sex that we did at the beginning of our courtships - but abstaining completely takes your foot off the gas. Sex is a physical expression of the love you pledged to each other in your vows, so if you’ve put your sex life on the back burner for too long (even if you’re still practicing the other forms of your love like friendship, listening, laughing, etc) it’s time to re-prioritize intimacy.
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4. You feel antsy.
If you’re experiencing an itchiness, like just being in your skin is like wearing a too-tight wool sweater in 90 degree weather, you might be repressing some emotions. Your subconscious is trying to tell you something that you’re not ready to hear (or to admit for yourself). Feelings of restlessness could be a signal to you that you’re ignoring something that demands your attention.
5. You’re pulling away from friends and family.
It’s likely you’ve cancelled more than one dinner last-minute with your best friend - simply because you don’t want to face them. Even when we’re able to excuse away certain doubts in our own minds, it’s difficult to keep them from people who love us: they’ll read it all over your face. So track how you behave when you’re around your social circle. Are you evading questions? Offering up half-true answers? Changing topics? Or simply steering conversation away from you at all? If you feel like you’re not being entirely forthright with your closest friends, you’re afraid of looking in the mirror and finding out what you already know: that there is a problem you can no longer ignore.
6. Everything they do or say gets on your nerves.
Part of marriage is getting annoyed by your partner - it’s practically the price for entry. But it’s another thing entirely when every time they make a noise, ask a question, snore in bed, or load the dishwasher (wrong), it feels like your skin is crawling. If you notice enough of these annoyances in a row (say, 2 weeks straight) you may be in danger of entering the red zone.
7. One of you has cheated.
Although there are many examples of couples who work through infidelity and come out the other side, it’s still a big red flag. Why? Because it shows that the bond of trust between you two is vulnerable. At one point, whether it was recent or not, your partner decided to betray your trust. If it has been broken before, logic follows that it could be broken again. And even if you’ve ‘put it behind you,’ it’s likely at least one of you is still holding onto resentments.
8. You’re fantasizing about divorce.
If you have an elaborate fantasy that involves you sitting next to a ruthless divorce lawyer and slashing your partner’s savings, assets, and 401K - you’ve got a serious case of divorce daydreams. It doesn’t even have to be quite so sinister: it could be as simple as thinking obsessively about free time, plan-less evenings, late nights with friends, and so on. If the post-divorce life is starting to look more attractive than mending the rifts between you and your partner, that’s a signal you can’t afford to ignore.
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9. You can’t remember the last time you had date night.
A dry spell is a month or so where - for a myriad of reasons, like lack of babysitter, tight budget, home renovation projects, packed social calendar, sheer exhaustion, to name a few - you and your partner don’t get dressed up, make a reservation somewhere overpriced, and enjoy a good old fashioned date night. However, if you’ve experienced a succession of dry spells and your date night calendar resembles the Saharan desert, this has gone beyond what is acceptable and you can no longer look the other way.
10. It doesn’t feel fun anymore.
Relationships are a lot of work - and anyone who’s been married for any amount of time can attest - but we work at it because it’s fun. Because we enjoy each other, and the relationship brings light and laughter to our lives. But if the fun has stopped, the laughter has died down, and the light is dimming… then what’s the point of all that work?
11. Only one of you is committed to working on it.
If getting your partner to set foot in the couple’s therapy office feels like pulling teeth, then you’re likely feeling pretty alone in your effort to salvage your relationship. Or conversely, if they keep giving you relationship books to read that pile up, untouched, on your nightstand - they could be feeling the effects as well. It’s never fun to feel like the balance is way off between you two, and when one person is invested - and one isn’t - it’s the quickest way to throw off your chances at success.
12. You keep having the same fight.
If you feel like the fights you and your partner are having are playing on a loop, repeating over and over, then it’s a sign of a deeper problem. Some arguments are expected, even healthy, because they can let the steam off issues that have been building for a while. But if you are unable to resolve a certain issue and it keeps coming up again and again - it’s likely a more fundamental difference between you, and might be a signal that you have more than just the fight to work out.
13. You aren’t fighting anymore.
Although having the same fight again and again is a sign of trouble, it’s equally unhealthy if you’ve completely given up arguing altogether. A couple that has stopped fighting has stopped looking ahead. They aren’t thinking about the future, trying to forge one together that meets both their needs, they are simply trying to exist (read: survive) in the present. If you and your partner have thrown in the metaphorical towel, you might want to open an honest dialogue about why the arguments between you have ceased.
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14. You’re close to having an emotional affair.
Even if you aren’t comfortable acting on your feelings (and moving into a physical affair) you feel very attracted to a person - or people - outside your relationship. You might be leaning on this person for support, divulging lots of intimate details, and deepening the connection you feel with this person. Your partner couldn’t accuse you of any inappropriate behavior, but you know you can’t be honest with yourself about how you feel about this person. That’s a strong sign you need to seriously evaluate your commitment.
15. You’re experiencing contempt.
Contempt is the most toxic emotion of Dr. John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The other three are criticism, stonewalling, and defensiveness which all contribute, he argues, to the demise of a marriage. But if you are feeling contempt towards your partner, you’ve escalated beyond just “rude” or “mean” tactics. You’re resorting to things like mocking them, being overly sarcastic, mimicking their actions or scoffing and rolling your eyes. Once you stoop to these behaviors, it’s increasingly difficult to come back from that place and resume a healthy relationship.
16. You’re both pointing the finger.
80% of couples who end up in couple’s therapy say that their issues are largely their partner’s fault, but the only ones that will make it through will be the ones who are able to recognize they bear some responsibility in their problems, too. If you find that you and your partner are both unable to clean up your side of the street or admit that you have room for improvement, then you’re both likely facing a rough road ahead. Without acknowledging problems, they cannot be fixed.
17. You can’t stop criticizing.
It’s one thing to nag your partner to get a haircut or fold laundry right when the dryer’s done, but it’s another entirely to attack their sense of self. If you feel like the compulsion to nitpick has become involuntary, this is a signal that you are trying to create distance between yourself and your partner. Putting them down is a short-term strategy - they’ll either feel resentment come to a boiling point, or turn the tables on you. Neither option is conducive to a resolution.
18. You’re both defensive… about everything.
You and your partner know everything about each other, and that includes knowing how to push all your buttons (and where they are). So it also gives you both unfettered access to all of your dirty secrets, biggest regrets, and deepest insecurities. That keeps both of you on your toes, refuting every accusation fired at you by your partner. This defensiveness will only keep growing until there’s a space the size of the Grand Canyon between you.
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19. You can’t focus.
If you are forgetting simple things, not able to pay attention at work, or never really feeling fully “present,” you’re suffering from obsession-itis. When domestic issues grow until they demand all of your attention it’s officially gone beyond the realm of ‘normal issues.’ So look around: if you are behind on projects at work and your home is littered with stacks of unpaid bills, you may need to take an honest assessment of where you are in your relationship.
20. You’ve stopped making plans.
If you and your partner aren’t making any plans for the future, it’s a sign you’ve stopped looking ahead. And a marriage without a future isn’t a marriage. If you’ve stopped getting excited about the future, mapping trips over the next season, not talking about the holidays… you’re actively avoiding talking about the future. Keep an eye on how you and your partner broach topics or events that lie in the future. If they’re more than 2 weeks out and you both hedge around the subject, making non-committal chit-chat, then you’re looking at a red flag.
21. You can’t break the narrative.
We form narratives around ourselves (“I’m always late,” “I’m not a morning person) and we form narratives around our relationships (“Nothing between us is easy,” “We can’t stop fighting”). Narratives, once formed, take some effort to undo. It’s possible, but it takes effort on both sides. However, if you realize that you’re unable to reverse a narrative - especially a negative one - around your relationship, it’s a problematic sign.
22. You’re fighting in public.
We’ve all been at those dinner parties where spouses shoot passive-aggressive comments at each other from across the dining table to the point where the other guests practically lose their appetite. You don’t want to be those people. No one wants to be those people. But it’s a slippery slope from fighting a lot to fighting in public - because anger can blind couples. It can blind them to social niceties, norms, and expectations. And if you think you’re in danger of potentially hurling insults at your partner in front of others, you might want to do some soul-searching before accepting an invite to a dinner party.
23. You feel more like yourself when you’re apart.
Of all the red flags on this list, this one is perhaps the most detrimental to a happy relationship. When you spend long enough in an unhappy relationship, you might become a person you don’t really recognize. You feel like a bitter, sad, exhausted, frustrated, and unhappy version of yourself. It gets to the point you don’t even recognize yourself when you look in the mirror. And although you try to change while you’re in the presence of your partner, it gets to the point where the environment between you is so toxic that you feel unable to break free. The only way you can feel more like “you” is by getting away from them. That’s a sign that you cannot ignore, because your personal happiness is too paramount to your identity. So if you get really honest with yourself and realize that this is speaking to you, you cannot turn the other cheek.
If one or more of these red flags felt like they were directed at you, it might be a wise idea to seek help or at the very least, start an honest conversation with your partner. Although this sounds like a sobering prospect, it’s one you must undergo to find out whether or not there is still hope in your marriage. No one deserves to stay in a loveless relationship, certainly not you, and certainly not your partner. Finding out sooner rather than later is the most decent thing to do. If you find it helpful, bring this list to your partner and ask them to flag the ones that they resonate with as well. Then you can start a more specific conversation around the pain points you’re both feeling right now.
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