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How to tell if you're in a bad marriage

How Do You Know You’re in a Bad Marriage?

So, you had a fight. All couples fight now and then. So, you can’t remember the last time you had sex. You have young kids and a full-time job, and you’re exhausted. So, you don’t talk about anything but work and the kids. What is there to say that hasn’t been said already? Is all this normal, or does it mean you might be in a bad marriage?

For all the bliss and pixie dust that locked you into saying “yes,” you know that marriage isn’t a fairy tale. It’s hard work—boring at times, lonely at times, even briefly regretful at times.

But you’ve known enough couples happy in their lifetime marriages to know that the work is worth it. Marriage fulfills, heals, teaches, and gives life.

And yet, you’ve had this inner voice nagging you for a long time. Something’s not right. Why am I having doubts? And why am I so unhappy? Why do I feel so unloved? Who is this person I’m living with? How will I survive ‘forever’ like this?

You know better than to say anything to any of your friends and neighbors because all they see is a happy couple. Everything looks great from the outside, so saying anything would just rock the boat.

But they don’t see your life on the inside. They don’t feel the little blows of disrespect and sarcasm. They don’t see the physical and emotional distance that has become your norm.

Besides, your husband doesn’t even know that you’re struggling inside and wondering if you’re in a bad marriage. Would saying something make him angry, hurt him, make him not trust you?

Where to Turn for Support

If this is your first marriage, you have no prior experience for comparison.

If your parents were divorced or had a bad marriage, you have that negative modeling rooted in your psyche.


Should You or Shouldn’t You Divorce? Watch our free video class for ways to understand yourself.


How, then, are you supposed to figure out if your marriage is just going through a predictable phase or is actually a bad marriage?

Thankfully the internet has infinite choices for reading up on relationship problems and how to deal with them.

But, in the long run, it’s that same inner voice that’s making you question your feelings that’s also going to lead you to answers.

That’s not to say you have to find those answers on your own. At a time when your self-doubt is mounting, you need to have reliable sources of wisdom and guidance.

That may be your best friend who knows you better than you know yourself. It may be a therapist or divorce coach capable of listening for critical cues and giving you feedback on what’s “normal” and what’s not.

What’s important when you’re questioning yourself and your marriage is that you seek the help of someone with expertise and wisdom.

Can this person look beyond the veneer of your life and reach into the deeply planted seeds of discontent?

Can this person help you discern the difference between a bad marriage and a marriage that simply needs help?

A Word of Caution: Talking to Your Parents

One suggestion worth considering: You may have a close relationship with one or both of your parents. But unloading your marital concerns on them can actually work against you.

The fact that they’re from a different generation than you means they made decisions and life choices in a different context.

And the fact that you’re their daughter means they will instinctively side with you to protect you at all costs.

That alliance may feel good, but it won’t help you examine yourself and your marriage objectively. And it can also cause your parents to worry about you and/or view your spouse differently.

So how do you figure out if you’re just in a rut or actually in a bad marriage? Isn’t there a spectrum of “good and bad” for marriage? “Wonderful, great, good, OK, needs some work, all about the kids, unsatisfied, unhappy, miserable, afraid”?

There are definitely predictable signs to look out for. But no single sign is going to point to divorce. (You didn’t think it would be that simple, did you?)

You may want to start your query with a legitimate marriage quiz from a reputable source. Knowing the right questions to ask is a huge step toward satisfying that unsettled inner voice.

Below are several signs that your marriage may not be as happy as it should be.

(I’m being careful not to use the term “bad marriage” here because most marriages—even deeply happy ones—experience some of these symptoms.)

  • You’re not having sex anymore, or only infrequently. 

Physical intimacy is one of the exclusive gifts of marriage. It elevates your relationship above all others. And it’s an essential part of the connection between spouses.

Is one of you avoiding sex? If so, why? Are you exhausted from raising kids and working a full-time job? Do you not feel good about yourself and therefore don’t feel sexual?

Do you and your spouse discuss your sex life openly, or do you keep your desires and dissatisfaction to yourself?

Have you experienced sexual abuse, either from your spouse or from someone else?

There can be a lot of reasons for a decrease in sex. But an honest examination of and discussion about those reasons is essential to restoring this important part of your marriage.

  • There has been an infidelity.

Does having an affair mean you will divorce? Not necessarily.

Believe it or not, affairs can happen in a happy, “good” marriage just as they can happen in a bad marriage.

So, as heart-shattering as an affair is, it doesn’t necessarily point to divorce. It may be the impetus needed to learn the skills necessary for communicating needs, wants, complaints, and love in a healthy way.

  • You fight all the time. 

Living that way is exhausting. The volley of shouting, blame, and criticism can make you walk on eggshells and wonder why you’re even together.

  • You have stopped fighting altogether. 

Fighting, however, isn’t bad in and of itself.

It’s how you fight, when you fight, and especially why you fight that matter.

If you’ve muted your interactions in an effort to avoid the altercations, you may have decided you don’t have anything worth fighting for. 

  • You don’t feel heard. 

Marriage is supposed to be that safe haven where you can bare your soul and at least feel heard on a heart level.

Couples don’t have to agree on everything in order to listen from a place of love and concern for one another person’s highest good.

Not feeling heard—or feeling you just get “blah blah” lip service—is an important sign to pay attention to.

Likewise, are you listening to your spouse or shutting him out?

  • You don’t feel respected. 

Couples can go through tough times but still feel and demonstrate respect for one another.

When sarcasm, negative body language, interruption, control, and other disrespectful behaviors creep in, it’s time to pay attention.

  • You daydream about life without your spouse. 

Having the occasional thought of “What would my life be like if I hadn’t married?” isn’t unusual. Nor is wondering what it would be like to be one of your single friends.

But fantasizing about life without your spouse or with someone else points to deeper issues that need to be addressed.

Confiding in a therapist can help you determine if, for example, an underlying issue like depression may be affecting your perspectives.

  • One of you has an addiction. 

Addiction can’t survive without an enabling environment.

If one of you is an active addict, your marriage is inevitably riddled with codependency.

And, if your marriage is going to survive, you will both need to get help.

  • There is abuse. 

As with addiction, abuse can’t continue without an underlying dynamic to support it.

Domestic abuse is not something you can figure out or solve on your own.

If you and/or your children are being abused, it is imperative that you seek professional help and safety immediately.

  • The Four Horsemen come riding in. 

No one has done more research on the predictability of divorce than John Gottman.

If your marriage is being visited by what he calls The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling—pay attention. These are definite signs of an unhealthy marriage pointed in the wrong direction.

No one walks into a marriage with a perfect formula for making it work. But everyone who walks into marriage does so with a moving truck of history, experience, and learned behaviors.

Some issues, like addiction and abuse, demand immediate action and professional help.

Other issues, however, aren’t always so obvious.

If you and your spouse don’t have the communication skills to discuss them in a healthy way, that’s part of the issue. Communication is the issue.

You’re the only one who can decide if your marriage is worth saving. No one else can look at your life and tell you you’re in a “bad marriage.”

It’s your intuition, your desire, your choices, and your commitment that will ultimately direct you.

It really does come down to YOUR inner voice.

Listen to it.

Notes

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”

 

To illustrate if having an affair means divorce

Does Having an Affair Mean You Will Divorce?

Having an affair—or being on the forsaken side of one—changes you. It changes your marriage, your family, your life. It makes you question everything—your marriage vows, your happiness, your ability to trust, even your own trustworthiness. And it certainly makes you question your future.

Even if you regret your choice to have an affair, you know things will never be the same. (And likewise for your husband if he was the one who had the affair.) You know you can’t pretend it didn’t happen.

There is only a handful of choices once a spouse has had an affair:

  • The straying spouse confesses the affair.
  • The other spouse finds out.
  • The affair is kept a secret, but the straying spouse (and his/her affair partner) always knows and remembers.

And, regarding the destiny of the marriage, there are only two choices:

  • Stay married.
  • Divorce.

How those choices play out is another story. But, without question, the very act of having an affair brings all these possibilities to the fore. And, while you may have been the one to choose the affair, you won’t be the only one to choose its consequences.

While there are several ways to know if divorce is the only option, infidelity in and of itself isn’t one of them. Although cheating is behind 20-40% of divorces, that doesn’t mean that cheating necessarily has to lead to divorce.

Statistics on infidelity and divorce are plentiful and complex. And if the range in numbers seems less than tight, there’s good reason. Infidelity is largely self-reported. It also has a spectrum of definitions, ranging from emotional to one-night-stand to all-in.

Straying from one’s marriage vows has long been a vice quickly attributed to men. “Why did you get divorced? Did he have an affair?” Assumptions abound—often to the point where cheated-on-wives would rather stay in troubled marriages and turn a blind eye.

When Children Are Involved

There is also the issue of children. Regardless of how an affair is revealed, children factor into the consequences. Perhaps that is largely why, when men have affairs, their wives are more likely to stick it out than when the opposite is true.

There is another reason that factors into the picture, however, and that’s why each gender is inclined to stray.

While men are, in general, more capable of separating their emotions from sex, women aren’t. A man may betray his wife by having an affair that is “just sex.” And he will, of course, break her heart and harm his marriage.

But scorned wives, at least statistically, are more likely to want to work on and save their marriages.

Scorned husbands, on the other hand, aren’t so tolerant—at least statistically.

Perhaps that’s because a woman having an affair is usually motivated by a yearning for emotional connection. She feels dissatisfied in her marriage and doesn’t receive an equitable effort to make things work.

So, when she strays, she takes more than her body to the tryst. She takes her heart.

And men don’t like it.

While having an affair doesn’t equate to pulling the “go to jail, go directly to jail” card in Monopoly, it is a red flag. And it’s how you and your husband respond to that red flag that will determine the destiny of your marriage. “Go to court, go directly to court”? Or “go to counseling, go directly to counseling”?

When a marriage has been shaken by infidelity, choices have to be made. None are easy. All are painful. And all have lifetime consequences.

When having an affair does lead to divorce, it’s usually because of one or more of the following reasons:

  • The cheated-on-spouse simply isn’t able to trust again.

The process of rebuilding the cornerstone of marriage is a long, humbling, arduous one. And it requires commitment and compassion from both parties.

Transparency from the cheating spouse, a willingness to forgive from the betrayed spouse. The seemingly disparate objectives have to miraculously work in synchronicity. And there needs to be enough love in the foundation, however ironic that may sound.

  • There are underlying issues that made the marriage vulnerable to an affair.

As mentioned above, women who have affairs are usually hungering for an emotional connection. Sex may become part of the infidelity, but usually there is an underlying, unresolved discontent with their marriages.

Men, on the other hand, are usually more dissatisfied with their wives’ dissatisfaction. This makes it easy for them to disregard the need to work on themselves or their marriages.

But one thing is undeniable: An affair will expose the issues and leave both partners standing at a fork in the road of their union. Do we work on this, or do we go our separate ways? Should I or shouldn’t I divorce?

  • One spouse refuses to get help.

Delving into oneself is always a springboard toward personal growth. But there is only so much one can do alone when it comes to repairing a marriage. And never is that more true than when an affair has sounded the Reveille on a troubled marriage.

Whether you are the one who has had the affair or been cheated on, getting professional help is a great step. But your spouse’s willingness to participateindividually and as a couplewill determine the ability of your marriage to survive.

  • One or both of you is just done.

It happens. Sometimes there is just too much water under the bridge, regardless of who did what. There’s too much anger over the infidelity. There’s too much anger over what led to the infidelity. The infidelity was a way to sabotage and exit the marriage.

There are a lot of reasons that can lead to that sense of unequivocal finality.

You may not hear the whispers or feel the nudges leading up to your “aha moment.” But, when you look back, you see it all so clearly.

Sex became a chore. Communication became bitter and stressful. Envisioning your future went by the wayside—or began to include someone other than your spouse. You lost respect for one another. You flat-out stopped enjoying the company of your spouse. And on and on and on.

You may even wonder how you didn’t see it until now. But that voice is always there, telling you that something isn’t right and urging you to address it.

Having an affair can be a slamming of the door or a cry for help.

There are plenty of couples who will tell you that, despite their recommendation against infidelity, it was precisely an infidelity that saved their marriage. They made the choice to get to work on behalf of the vows they had once made. And they brought their marriage up from the ashes.

Likewise, there are plenty of couples who stay together, but with a wound that never fully heals.

And finally, there are those who decide the infidelity was the final straw. Perhaps they can’t bear the thought of living in its shadow. Perhaps they resolve to leave and learn.

But none are ever the same.

 

SAS women are those amazing ladies you meet who are entirely committed to navigating divorce—on their own terms. If you are considering or dealing with divorce, you are invited to experience SAS for Women firsthand and schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation. Whether you work further with us or not, we’ll help you understand your next, black-and-white steps for walking into your brave unknown—with compassion and integrity.

*This piece was written for SAS for Women, an all-women website. At SAS we respect same-sex marriages; however, for the sake of simplicity in this article, we refer to your spouse as a male.