I often say that no two marriages are ever going to be exactly the same but after speaking to thousands of couples I always get asked about signs a marriage cannot be saved – and signs that it can.
Now, I will say this first of all. I firmly believe that any marriage can be saved and these signs should be taken as guidance and nothing more. I don’t personally believe there’s any single sign which signifies a marriage is well and truly over by itself – but being able to spot signs of rocky waters can help you keep it that way.
If you do spot these signs, it’s important to remember that all couples face some problems from time to time (despite how any marriage might look to the outside world). Marriage takes work and that goes whether you see these signs or not.
The Common Signs Your Marriage Is Over
Note: These are general signs. Every marriage is unique so you’ll need to take these signs within the context of your own marriage. If you want to look at your marriage (and how to get it back on track) take a moment to take the marriage assessment quiz.
Let’s start with some of the obvious ones first. There are commonly touted as signs that there’s no way to save your marriage:
- You’ve lost respect for each other.
- Constant abuse.
- Continued affairs.
- Constant fighting.
- Daydreaming about your life without them.
- A lack of physical contact.
Clearly, none of these are signs that things are going great and if they’re all constant and sustained it might well be time to cut bait and get out of dodge.
But none of these can’t be overcome. I don’t agree with some of the ‘conventional wisdom that gets thrown around here. To me, these are signs that you’ve both got some work to do if you want to right the ship.
The only sign here which you can’t come back from is physical abuse. If you’re dealing with physical violence that’s the one sign a marriage can’t be saved in my book. While there are marriages that have come back from this too, at that point you should get the hell out and now and deal with the potential of fixing things way down the line with some professional help. This has already crossed the line in the sand territory.
Single or sporadic instances of fighting or daydreaming is obviously not a sign of your marriage’s imminent demise. It’s mostly just a sign that you’re human and married couples mostly don’t have sex every day, especially if they’re trying to balance that around family and kids to take care of.
You’re looking for the more consistent patterns here. If there’s little to no physical or romantic intimacy and you’re constantly at each other’s throats (in a non-physical romance way) then we might be starting to see some signs of trouble.
Just remember. these are not always as easy to spot actually happening as they are to understand in writing.
The Subtle Signs To Watch Out For
Some signs are a little harder to spot at first glance. They’re going to sound obvious written in front of you but they can be incredibly difficult to spot in your relationship.
The Things You Used to Love…
We all have little quirks and eccentricities. What at first can seem weird eventually become familiar but the problem arises if they become annoying.
I knew a man who every single day he got home, he would instantly take the coins from his pocket and sort them in neat piles on the table. It would only take a moment or two but this action was so consistent both his first and second wife couldn’t miss it. In his first marriage, the wife grew to hate the sight of him sorting out these piles of coins every single day.
In his second, his wife used to love the sound of him getting home and she’d even place a few coins in his jacket from time to time so he could keep this little ritual going.
It’s easy (and perfectly normal) to forget the small habits when you’re spending a life together but the problem really shows up when they actively annoy you.
Lumping the Small in With the Big
There’s a great term for this from John Gottman who calls this ‘kitchen sinking’. If every small blunder is lumped in as an example of a person’s “major flaws” this is an example of kitchen sinking.
For example, if you’re facing financial problems and your spouse wants to spend money and you don’t agree you could:
Constructfully criticize: “I think we should try and cut back on our spending for a while“.
Kitchen sink: “You’re also so selfish and immature. I can’t believe you want to waste money like this“.
When smaller problems get rolled into bigger issues it can be a hard problem to spot, especially when it becomes the norm.
A Growing Gap of Silence
This one can be harder to spot than you might think at first. It rarely happens immediately but slowly and consistently, your lines of communication can wear down until there’s almost nothing less.
I often see people telling each-other (and themselves) that they do this to “keep the peace”. It’s one thing to allow each other to remain calm and order your thoughts rather than letting fly with emotions calling the shots – but there’s a point where this just becomes avoidance. Sometimes an argument or fight is just better left ignored but if this is a consistent pattern then the avoidance isn’t doing either of you any good.
This growing gap of silence is only going to add to the tension and wear down your connection and intimacy even further. This isn’t something that is going to magically vanish overnight.
Should I Save my Marriage or Move On?
No one, but you, can answer that question. Several factors must be considered while contemplating a divorce. First, the severity of an issue or all problems should be assessed. There are many issues that are deemed unacceptable, and unforgivable. Then again, what is acceptable or forgivable becomes subjective, and people have different thresholds for their own assessments. One of the deciding factors pertaining to if you should work on your marriage and try to save it, or simply move on, can be the weighing of fault. If one spouse is at no fault whatsoever, and it is the other who is solely responsible for all the rifts, then it is futile to try and save the marriage. If both spouses are at fault, which could be to varying degrees, then there is a possibility of the two partners addressing the problems and reconciling. This is usually what most counselors, or therapists, and family & friends recommend.
If you are unable to live with your spouse, if you want a life beyond your current immediate world, if you strongly wish for a completely different way of living, if you are totally detached from the relation, and if you do not have any positive reason to hope, or cling on to whatever little is precious, then moving on becomes the only rational choice. There are many related considerations too, most of which should be weighed upon before deciding to divorce or move on. From kids, if you have, to financial matters, family & friends to other important affairs, everything becomes important when choosing to end a marriage, or otherwise.
Can my Marriage be Saved?
This depends entirely on both spouses and facilitating factors. Many couples have successfully saved their marriages. There are instances wherein divorced couples have remarried. Unless one or both spouses are completely against the idea of salvaging the marriage, there are ways to improve the relation, and it can be saved. Both spouses should make an effort, that is unless only one is at fault entirely. There should be a support system in place, whether of friends or family, ideally both. Several changes may be necessary o save a marriage, and these are not limited to addressing the issues. Job change, moving to another place, counseling, giving up substance abuse, personal growth and development, a different approach towards each other, and many such transformations can save a marriage.
If a spouse does not feel any motivation to work on the marriage, due to one or many reasons, then divorce becomes inevitable, and perhaps only a matter of time.
It is necessary to spot the top signs of a marriage at the brink of breaking down as soon as possible. A couple would find it infinitely easier to address issues before they become severe problems. This is why it is always better to constantly work on improving a relationship. There is a natural tendency for most relationships to deteriorate over time, and this is not limited to a marriage, as it applies to friendship as well.