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16 Signs Your Marriage Is Over According to Experts

The concept of romantic love is deeply woven into the tapestry of our society. 

As young children, we are introduced to the notion of fairy tales, magic, and happy endings…

  • Early on, we meet Cinderella, in rags and down on her luck, and watch as the Fairy Godmother transforms her life in an enchanted instant. 
  • We learn that a few “Bippity, Boppity, Boom’s” can help win over Prince Charming’s heart. 
  • We meet Sleeping Beauty and see that “true love’s kiss” can break any bad spell. 
  • We learn that the impossible is possible, as we see Prince Philip revive Snow White after a run in with a poisonous apple.   

Unfortunately, the stories end there and we are left to assume that they all lived happily ever after

We grow up with these lessons in hand and conclude that we will inevitably find our Prince Charming and Cinderellas too. 

Unfortunately, the brothers Grimm and Walt Disney did not provide us with any guidance about what to do when the magic in a relationship fails. 

  • What happens when we find out that love cannot truly conquer all? 
  • What direction do we go when we fail to find our own happily ever after? 
  • How do we know when it is finally The End?

The fact of the matter is that while marriage can be a fairy tale for some, it can be a horror story for others. 

Some couples can easily navigate the poisonous apples and evil stepmothers of the world, while other couples are torn apart from them. 

Some couples grow closer in marriage, while others grow further apart. 

Some individuals are lucky enough to marry their best friend, while others find out that their partner was never really a friend at all. 

Whether obstacles originate from within the marriage, or external to it, there are always some telltale signs that can indicate that a marriage is over. 

If you suspect that your love story will conclude with “The End”, rather than “happily ever after”, read on to see if any of the following signs apply to you and your marriage.

Sign #1: Communication Has Broken Down

Spouses Having Communication Issues

The key to any successful relationship is open and healthy communication

Couples must be able to clearly communicate their wants and needs to their partner, along with their personal fears, hopes, wishes, and dreams. 

Some people erroneously assume that communication is only about talking and articulating your thoughts and feelings. 

However, an equally important component of communication is about listening and understanding what your spouse is really trying to say. 

Moreover, listening does not always automatically mean that a person is truly hearing what their partner has to say. 

Communication is only successful when couples know how to talk, listen, and hear each other. 

Sign #2: Physical Intimacy Is Lacking

Lack of Physical Intimacy

Physical intimacy is a critical piece to any relationship and fosters closeness, connection, and a sense of belonging between couples. 

Physical intimacy is a powerful way for couples to give, show, and receive love and can be accomplished in a variety of ways. 

It can be initiated from:

  • A gentle touch,
  • A strong embrace,
  • Or simply by holding hands

Physical intimacy can also be ignited from lust, passionate kissing, or exotic sexual encounters

When physical intimacy is lacking or absent in a marriage, it is indicative that there is a lack of connection and bonding between spouses. 

The absence of physical connection can make partners feel unattractive, unloved, or inadequate to each other. 

Additionally, if a person’s physical needs are not being fulfilled from the relationship, it may prompt one or both partners to seek physical gratification somewhere else.

Sign #3: The Absence of Respect

Husband Being Disrespectful to Wife

Respect is a key building block to any relationship and should always be mutual and shared. 

Respect can be conveyed in a variety of ways, through both words and actions. 

Respect should be present in a marriage at all times, even when couples are arguing or disagreeing with each other. 

When respect is absent in a marriage, it shows a lack of reverence and admiration for one another. 

A lack of respect is evident when individuals take action without considering the consequences, or fail to take their partner’s feelings into account. 

A lack of respect is conveyed through:

  • Put downs
  • Expletives
  • Mocking
  • condescending words and actions

It can make one feel unheard, invalidated, and erodes confidence and self-esteem. 

When spouses lose respect for each other, or fail to take each other’s thoughts and feelings into consideration without remorse, it is a good indication that the marriage may be over

Sign #4: Being on “Different Pages” With Important Decisions

Married Couple on Opposite Pages

It is extremely rare for married couples to agree on everything. 

In fact, some disagreement is actually healthy for a marriage. 

A couple may disagree about what to have for dinner or where to go on their next vacation. 

These conflicts usually resolve themselves through compromise or when one party acquiesces to the other. 

However, when there is a disagreement about significant life decisions, it can signal trouble. 

When couples disagree on topics such as where to live, what or how to spend their money, or whether to have children, it leaves spouses on opposite pages

If one spouse wants to live on the west coast, while the other wants to settle in the east, it puts spouses at an impasse. 

Similarly, if one spouse wants to have children while the other one does not, it leaves little room for compromise. 

These decisions have to do with types of lifestyle, which is necessary for personal fulfillment. 

If both partners cannot obtain fulfillment from these types of decisions, the marriage is not going to work on either coast.

Sign #5: Noticeable Lack of Emotional Intimacy

Lack of Emotional Intimacy

Emotional intimacy is another crucial component to marriage and results when partners are willing to share their innermost selves

A connection is formed through emotional vulnerability and can only flourish and grow with ongoing trust

Couples must trust each other to treat their innermost thoughts with reverence and respect, while still showing unconditional love and acceptance. 

Couples need to feel safe in order to openly share without fear of judgment. 

Emotional intimacy promotes understanding and connection on a deeper level and allows spouses to understand the true inner workings of their partner. 

If emotional intimacy is lacking in a marriage, it portrays a lack of trust and where there is no trust, there is no marriage. 

Sign #6: Miscommunications Are Common

Miscommunications in Marriage

Miscommunication occurs when individuals misread each other’s signs

In baseball, a pitcher must pay attention to his catcher in order to accurately read the signs. 

If the pitcher misreads the signs, it is probable that the ball will end up beyond the catcher’s reach. 

Marriages can be like that too; if partners continually misread each other’s verbal and nonverbal signs of communication, they risk dropping the ball. 

One spouse may conclude that their partner’s actions are nefarious, when they are in fact completely benign.

If communication is already rocky, it is likely that the couple will have difficulty clarifying these miscommunications. Furthermore, if communication is already broken down beyond repair, individuals may not even try to explain or defend themselves. 

When this happens, the couple metaphorically strikes out and loses the World Series.  

Sign #7: You’re Fighting “Below the Belt”

Below the Belt Marriage Fight

In professional boxing matches, hitting “below the belt” is against the rules and will result in an immediate disqualification. 

Hitting below the belt will temporarily physically incapacitate one’s opponent, thus giving the aggressor an unfair power advantage and unearned leverage

This concept can also be applicable to relationships and marriages. 

No matter how angry or upset one gets, the unspoken rule is that you should never hit your partner “below the belt.” 

In troubled marriages, spouses often forget or blatantly disregard this concept. They will purposely hit “below the belt” with the intent of causing the maximum amount of emotional harm. 

When the vast majority of marital fights are strategically designed to hit “below the belt” without apology, remorse, or with increased satisfaction, the marriage is over.

Sign #8: Being Emotionally “Checked Out”

Emotionally Checked Out Marriage

When you hear the phrase “checking out”, most people immediately think about checking out of a hotel, or checking out groceries in the supermarket.  

In essence, you think about leaving one place and heading towards another

When one “checks out” of a relationship, it signifies that they have emotionally left the marriage

It also indicates that a mental shift of disengagement has occurred, whether the person is aware of it or not. 

When one is emotionally checked out of their marriage, they are no longer invested and lose the will to even try. 

If you find that you or your spouse are emotionally depleted and blindly walking through life, the marriage is already over.

Sign #9: Feeling a Lack of Enthusiasm About the Future

Unenthusiastic About Marriage

Marital vows are designed to make one consider the future. 

“For richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do you part.” 

When couples say “I do”, they sign on for the long haul with faith, optimism, and excitement in hand. 

People excitedly wonder about the type of houses they will live in, what their future children may look like, and the types of locations that they will travel. 

However life unfolds, there should always be some degree of excitement about the future

If you or your spouse find yourselves less than enthusiastic about your future together, it is likely that you are with the wrong person. 

Furthermore, when you envision your future, your spouse should automatically be a part of that vision

If your spouse is absent and nowhere to be found in your daydreams of the future, it is time to wake up and end the marriage. 

Sign #10: Communication is Non-Existent

Upset Couple Not Communicating

Communication can break down to the point where there is no communication at all. 

Couples can be living in the same house and sit together side by side without ever exchanging a single word. 

When this occurs, couples are no longer on the same page.

They are no longer privy to the mundane or significant details of their partner’s lives.

This lack of sharing serves to widen the divide between them. 

Sometimes silence occurs because spouses have nothing in common and nothing to say to each other. 

Other times, silence can transpire because individuals may be avoiding a fight, or feeling that their words or actions are falling on deaf ears.

In other instances, silence may be used as a tactic to avoid communication or to punish their partner, commonly known as the “silent treatment.” 

In this situation, silence is used as a weapon to wield power over their partner

For whatever reason, if your marriage has gone silent, it is time to leave.    

Sign #11: Practicing Unilateral Decision Making

Unilateral Decision Making Marriage

Marriages are based on the premise of equal partnership, that two halves come together to make a whole

In theory, this principle should apply to important decisions in the marriage, whether it be related to:

  • Financial
  • Household
  • Career
  • Family matters

Both spouses should have equal opportunity to present their viewpoints and concerns before working together to find a favorable outcome. 

Making decisions is not always easy and can entail a lot of compromise. 

In a troubled marriage, partners stop consulting with each other, on decisions both big and small. 

Individuals begin to make unilateral decisions without conferring with their partner, which may ultimately result in a long-term impact.  When this occurs, the two halves are no longer equal. 

If you find that you or your partner are making decisions independently of each other, it may be indicative that the two halves no longer make a whole.

Sign #12: One Time or Habitual Infidelity

Husband Cheating On Wife

If spouses are no longer communicating with each other, they may begin to confide in someone else

If they feel unheard, physically or emotionally, they may stray from the marriage to find someone who will listen.   

When it comes to relationships, there are two types of infidelity, physical and emotional. 

Physical infidelity occurs when individuals engage in a physical relationship outside of the marriage, whereas emotional infidelity arises when people develop a close and intimate emotional bond with someone other than their spouse. 

Infidelity normally occurs when a marriage is already in trouble

At this point, spouses are upset, angry, and feeling misunderstood, making them vulnerable to outside influences. 

A person may find themselves either actively or inactively searching for solace and a safe haven in the form of someone else.

An individual who is feeling lonely, unattractive, and unloved will crave physical touch and the opportunity to feel sexy and wanted. 

If this individual comes across a friend or a stranger who can fulfill these needs, physical infidelity is likely to occur. 

Similarly, if a person lacks emotional intimacy in their relationship, they will become desperate for the opportunity to emotionally connect with someone. 

If they happen to find this in an outside party, emotional intimacy will begin to build and develop. 

To perpetuate and protect infidelity, spouses will become deceitful and begin to keep secrets to hide their new relationships. 

Most often, individuals can only hide an outside relationship for so long before their spouse finds out. 

Discovering that your spouse has been unfaithful is a traumatic and life-changing experience for most. 

This person must come to accept that their partner was disloyal and decide whether they can forgive and move on from the deception and betrayal.  

Infidelity is extremely hard to move on from, whether it occurs only once or whether it has been happening for a long period of time.

Infidelity is a major land mine in a marriage and one that some couples can never recover from.

Sign #13: The Presence of Destructive Addictions

Addiction Problems in Marriage

Addiction is a disease and a powerful one at that. 

Once a person gets entangled in the trap of addiction, it is very difficult to escape

Abstinence and recovery takes a lot of hard work, support, and resolve

There are many types of addictions including:

  • Alcohol
  • Drugs
  • Gambling
  • Shopping
  • And many more

Each of these addictions are different in nature, but they all have one thing in common; they erode trust and create havoc in a relationship. 

Deceit and lying are necessary to perpetuate and protect an addiction. 

An alcoholic will hide their beverage of choice and consume it in secret, while a drug addict will lie to get money for their next “fix”. 

A gambler will try to obtain cash from anyone or any place for their next ante, while a shopping addict will frantically hide receipts and empty Amazon boxes before their spouse gets home. 

Not only do addictions have the power to single-handedly implode one’s life, they also have the distinct potential to blow up a marriage. 

Marriages are delicate and built on the type of trust that takes years to build and mere seconds to destroy. 

Addictions are callous and unforgiving and takes a lot of commitment, hard work, and support to physically and emotionally recover from. 

If the spouse with the addiction lacks the desire to change, or is unwilling to put forth the effort to make the changes, the marriage will immediately be put into jeopardy. 

Similarly, if their spouse decides that they cannot or do not want to support their spouse through their recovery and potential relapses, the marriage becomes another casualty of the addiction.

Sign #14:  The Relationship Is Abusive

Emotionally Abusive Marriage

There are several different kinds of abuse, including

  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Sexual abuse 

If any type of abuse is occurring in your relationship, you need to strongly consider why you remain in the marriage.  

Spouses should never be fearful of their partner, fear for their own safety, or put up with abuse of any kind. 

All types of abuse are hazardous, but if an abusive relationship threatens your safety, you need to get out of it immediately. 

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse occurs when one spouse physically hurts their partner, whether they put their hands directly on them, throw objects towards them, or push them into other items. 

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse occurs when one partner uses their words, games, or psychological strategies to dominate or control their partner

Although the wounds of emotional abuse are invisible on the outside, they can be stronger and more intense than the visible scars of physical abuse

Words have the distinct power to hurt and once they are said, they can never be taken back or unheard. 

Emotional abuse entails the use of words and actions to control and berate their partner. 

Some weapons in their arsenal include:

  • Name calling
  • Cursing
  • Put downs
  • Passive aggressive forms of communication

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse occurs when one partner forces their spouse to engage in sexual activity against their will

Sexual abuse shows a lack of respect and the type of dominance that can cause both physical and emotional harm. 

The bottom line is that any type of abuse is unacceptable

If you are the victim of abuse or domestic violence in your marriage and your spouse is unwilling to obtain help, the marriage needs to end immediately.

Sign #15: You Have an Exit Strategy

Having an Exit Strategy In Marriage

When a marriage is robust and strong, partners are a “we” rather than an “I.” 

A strong marital team will work together, no matter what types of obstacles stand in their way. 

Despite the situations or circumstances, they are fully invested and unified in the trenches of life. 

In contrast, individuals in a strained marriage act as an “I” rather than a “we” and may either fantasize or have a legitimate exit strategy

A person may keep a separate bank account or may stash some money under their mattress for later, with the hopes of accumulating enough to be independent and free of their partner. 

Others may be secretly calculating their plans and biding their time to execute them. 

When a person continually fantasizes about, or has an actual exit strategy to leave the marriage, the final exit needs to be made.

Sign #16: You’re Losing Yourself

Losing Yourself in Marriage

Although marriage joins two individuals into a union, both individuals should continue to independently grow, learn, and develop within this union. 

A person benefits from the love and support of their partner as they continue to grow and mature. 

A union must never overshadow the individuals within it. 

In a troubled relationship, individuals begin to lose themselves. 

An individual may abandon their own morals or values to please or be accepted by their partner. 

Another person may give up their wishes and dreams because their partner’s dreams overshadow their own. 

When individuals stray from their own path, either for or in spite of their partner, it is time to end the marriage.    

Wrapping Up the Signs Your Marriage Is Over

As we mature from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood, we begin to question the simplistic magic of fairy tales and happy endings. 

We become more cynical and jaded after enduring our own heartbreak and loss. 

The reality is that we cannot summon a fairy godmother whenever we need her, or reverse a bad spell when we encounter the poisonous apples of the world. 

However, you can always control the love that you have for yourself. 

If your marriage makes you dislike, disrespect, or even hate yourself, it is time to pen the last chapter in your story. 

While it is true that not every love story will end in a “happily ever after”, take comfort in the fact that where one story ends, another story always begins. 

Photo of author

Tracy Smith, LPC, NCC, ACS

Tracy Smith, LPC, NCC, ACS is a Licensed Professional Counselor in New Jersey, a Nationally Certified Counselor, an Approved Clinical Supervisor, and a mental health freelance writer. Tracy has fourteen years of clinical and supervisory experience in a variety of mental health settings and levels of care.

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