Unhappy couple sitting on a couch contemplating the signs of a bad marriage.

Do You Know The 12 Signs Of A Bad Marriage?

It’s never just one thing. And it’s rarely obvious until it’s too late – or at least until a lot of damage has been done. The signs of a bad marriage aren’t loners. They inevitably run in numbers, overlapping and bleeding into each other, making it difficult to distinguish “normal” from “bad.”

When you start questioning your marriage (as all spouses do at some point), you won’t always be afforded the luxury of clear-cut definitions: This means good. This means not-so-good. This means bad. And this means divorce.

After all, there is always a certain amount of “settling into” marriage. 

Romance isn’t hot and heavy on a debilitating, non-stop basis. You can actually think without the mind-numbing fog of infatuation.

And who doesn’t experience some boredom, fatigue, and irritation in any long-term relationship?

It’s no wonder, really, that couples often don’t realize their marriage is in trouble until they’re trying to save it. It’s like having flashbacks to eating fast food and being a couch potato while you’re in the middle of a heart attack.

But, if you can remain aware of the signs of a bad marriage, you can avoid a lot of that pain.

Recognizing where your marriage registers on a scale from euphoria to euthanasia isn’t a definitive, formulaic process. 

Have we just gotten lazy in our marriage? Am I unhappy in my marriage or unhappy within myself? Is our marriage unhealthy or completely toxic? 

What exactly constitutes “bad”?

And can our marriage be saved?

If you subscribe to the adage that nothing stands still, even relationships, then recognizing the direction in which your marriage is headed becomes easier.

Marriage isn’t a status quo, no-news-is-good-news operation. You’re either moving deeper into love and intimacy or further away from them.

So, with all the ways that your marriage can be imperfect, how do you recognize the signs of a bad marriage?

Here is a list of the 12 “biggies” when it comes to recognizing a bad marriage.

  1. There is little to no sex.


    Sex is never the issue…until it becomes the issue.

    It’s natural for the frequency and duration of sex to decline after the early stages of marriage.

    Life, children, jobs, stress, fatigue, health, satisfaction with other forms of intimacy – they all influence your sex life.

    But, when there is no or very little sex because of disinterest, anger, repulsion, retribution, etc., there’s a problem.

    Sex is that one thing that most distinguishes a platonic relationship from an intimate relationship.

    And the absence of sex in a marriage can lead to other problems and signs of a bad marriage.

  2. You fight constantly.


    If every encounter with your spouse is plagued by quick tempers and the rehashing of unresolved issues, you can bet something bigger is going on.

    Fighting in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. Done in a healthy way, fighting can actually be a means for a relationship to grow and become stronger.

    The question is: Do you resolve your disagreements in a respectful way and move forward? Or do you cling to old stuff as fodder for automated reactions when fighting?

  3. You never fight.

    The absence of fighting can signal a distancing in your marriage.

    It literally delivers the message that one or both of you have stopped caring or don’t believe you have anything worth fighting for.

  4. You go out of your way to avoid one another.


    Intimacy isn’t just about sex. It’s about spending time together — and how you spend that time.

    Think back to your dating days when you couldn’t get enough time with one another.

    While time alone is healthy for any relationship, the deliberate avoidance of a partner is a big clue that there is trouble in paradise.

  5. Your health is suffering for no medical reason.


    What does a bad marriage have to do with a paper cut?

    Everything, actually.

    Living in an unhealthy marriage affects more than just your happiness. It also negatively affects your health.

    From the slowing of wound healing to heightened cardiac risk factors, an unhealthy marriage can make for an unhealthy body.

  6. One or both of you start fantasizing about life without the other.


    Fantasizing or daydreaming provides a temporary escape from the stress of real life.

    If those daydreams don’t include your spouse as one of the two main characters, your marriage could be on a slippery slope.

  7. One or both of you is reaching out to someone outside your marriage for emotional connection.


    Having close friends outside your marriage isn’t the issue.

    Turning to someone other than your spouse for emotional connection that belongs in your marriage is.

    One of the more subtle signs of a bad marriage is making someone else – even “just a friend” – your go-to confidante.

    Ask yourself, “Whom do I want to talk to first when something exciting (or upsetting) happens?”

    If it’s not your spouse, it’s time to examine why.

  8. One or both of you are involved in an affair, whether emotional or sexual.


    Infidelity is survivable in a marriage. But that survival comes with a hefty price tag that many are willing to pay because they are hoping to build a more fulfilling marriage.

    You both have to be willing to put your marriage (even more than the affair) under a microscope.

    Affairs are, in the most hurtful, violating way, messengers of unexamined truths.

    Yes, the cheating spouse is responsible for choosing infidelity as a “solution” to unmet needs.

    But both partners carry responsibility for the marriage and how it arrived at such a vulnerable place.

  9. One of you is very controlling.


    Control goes hand-in-hand with submission and codependency.

    If one spouse is trying to control what the other does, where the other goes, how the other speaks, etc….red flag.

    Inequality within a relationship is one of the top reasons for relationship failure.

    And it needs to be taken seriously. Control in one area insidiously becomes control in others – from social connections to jobs, money, and even sex.

  10. There is addiction.


    Addiction isn’t limited to substance abuse. It can involve gambling, sex, pornography, and even control.

    If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction, please reach out for help immediately. Don’t try to do this alone.

  11. There is abuse.

    As with addiction, abuse – physical, mental, emotional, sexual, financial – warrants intervention.

    If you or anyone in your home is being abused, please get help immediately.

  12. Your communication has nosedived into criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling.


    The work of John Gottman has had such a profound influence in the area of marriage and relationships.

    Perhaps his biggest contribution to the field of marriage/couples’ therapy has been The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

    While this statistically spot-on predictor of marriage survivability isn’t biblical in nature, it does have biblical impact.

    If your marriage is at the point where your communication is reeking with criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling, it’s in trouble.

    Big trouble.

    Of all the signs of a bad marriage, these four are the real death blow. They signal little to no hope because all respect for the other person has been eroded.

If this list makes you uncomfortable, it should.

If it makes you take a hard look at your marriage, it should.

When you acknowledge that nothing stands still but is always in motion, you can approach your marriage in a new way.

One simple question can help keep you both accountable and your marriage on track:

Will this choice – of thought, word, or action – draw us closer to intimacy…or make us drift a little further apart?

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a life and divorce coach. I help people, just like you, who are struggling with an unhappy or even miserable marriage. For immediate help, you can download your FREE copy of “Contemplating Divorce? Here’s What You Need To Know.” And if you want to learn more about working with me personally, you can book an introductory 30-minute private coaching session with me.

Looking for more ideas for what to do about your unhappy marriage? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Unhappy Marriage.

Dr. Karen Finn

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