The Glaring Signs Your Marriage Is Unhappy (& What Happy Couples Do Differently)

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Signs Of An Unhappy Marriage & What People In Happy, Healthy Relationships Do Differently

When someone wonders how an unhappy marriage affects them, there are often more questions than actual answers.

Therapists are trained to read between the lines of what seem to be ordinary marriage problems, to watch and listen for signs that something painful may be lurking beneath the surface.

RELATED: 11 Signs You're In An Unhappy Marriage

No matter what your marriage looks like, you know that you and your partner have developed relational habits unique to your relationship. And you feel the effects of those habits, both emotionally and physically.

To fully be aware of the effects of an unhappy marriage, it helps to give its antithesis — a healthy marriage — a closer look.

The habits of happily married couples probably won’t surprise you. Many are the very practices you envisioned for your lives before you walked down the aisle.

Some of the biggies include:

  • They focus more on what’s right than what’s wrong.
  • They make trust and forgiveness the norm.
  • They go to bed at the same time.
  • They touch, hold hands and show physical signs of affection.
  • They cultivate common interests.
  • They are proud to be seen with one another.

This probably sounds more like a list from your dating days than from a decade into marriage. But these habits are important to hold in your mind when you're wondering how an unhappy marriage affects you. 

You need to know that they aren’t merely ideals, unattainable except for those charming old couples who have been married since, well, forever.

The benefits of marriage for happy couples expand way beyond emotional — they experience significant health benefits, too, such as:

  • They may be less likely to die of cancer. Marriage can also be as protective as chemotherapy in cancer care.
  • They are less likely to die from heart disease and stroke.
  • They recover from surgery better.
  • They live longer.
  • They have better health habits and encourage and support them in one another.

If you're wondering to yourself, "Why am I unhappy? Is my marriage over?", you probably already have some concerns about the ways you and your spouse relate.

Compared to the above habits of happily married couples in a good marriage, the habits of unhappily married couples are practically the opposite.

  • They constantly criticize and find fault. "Having a bad day" gets replaced with character assassination and total lack of respect.
  • There is contempt as well as a feeling of disgust. If trust has been violated by one or both partners, there is no forgiveness and no healing.
  • They avoid one another. They may intentionally go to bed at different times and/or in different rooms. They may also use work and other responsibilities as an excuse to be "anywhere but here".
  • They don’t touch or show physical signs of affection. Anyone who has ever been infatuated or in love knows the electricity that can jump off even the slightest graze from the other. Likewise, when there is unhappiness in a relationship, physical touch can be repelling.
  • They don’t have sex or the frequency drops to fewer than ten times per year. It’s not even the frequency itself that matters as much as the agreement between the spouses as to what is enough.
  • They don’t spend time together or enjoy one another’s company. They withdraw into their own activities or, worse yet, into the company of others they enjoy more than one another.
  • One or both partners are unwilling to get help. If a marriage is going to survive, let alone thrive, both partners have to be willing to examine and work on their own stuff. Thinking that counseling belongs to the other person because "they did whatever…is always/never (whatever)…does/doesn’t (whatever)" sets the marriage up to fail.

RELATED: 7 Tips On How To Perk Up An Unhappy Marriage

In couples/marriage counseling, we treat marriage as its own entity. And it’s the marriage — not individual interests — that is our primary “patient.”

Perhaps one of the biggest differences between happy and unhappy marriages is the presence (or absence) of what John Gottman calls the magic ratio

In happy marriages, the ratio of positive to negative interactions is 5:1. And there are specific kinds of interactions that he uses as predictors of marital stability or probable divorce.

In unhappy marriages, there are far more negative interactions than positive ones.

So, how does an unhappy marriage affect you if you recognize more than a few of the signs and habits of one? You will probably come up with some answers on your own, as you will be feeling the effects, emotionally and physically.

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Here are 13 ways an unhappy marriage affects you and your life.

  1. You feel unhappy or chronically bad.
  2. You feel exhausted and drained of energy.
  3. You feel especially vulnerable.
  4. Your self-esteem is in the gutter.
  5. You feel anxious and/or depressed.
  6. You have difficulty concentrating.
  7. You have frequent and/or lasting headaches.
  8. You have GI problems (diarrhea, constipation, nausea).
  9. You have unexplained back and/or neck pain.
  10. You can’t sleep.
  11. You get sick more easily and more frequently and don’t seem to fully recover.
  12. You don’t feel heard or understood. (Your spouse probably feels the same.)
  13. You may be fantasizing about life without your spouse or life with someone else.

What you may not be aware of are some of the less obvious physical effects that come from being in an unhappy marriage:

  1. You may take longer to heal from simple wounds. Couples that argue a lot have shown a decrease in pro-inflammatory proteins at wound sites. And those changes, if prolonged, are linked to heart disease, cancer, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, and depression.
  2. You may have increased stress levels (and increased stress hormone output), and therefore an increased risk of heart disease, immunosuppression, and depression.
  3. You may experience greater inflammation throughout your body.
  4. You may have changes in your appetite and eating habits.
  5. You may not live as long as you would if you were in a happy marriage.

These aren't necessarily signs your marriage is over but it does mean that there are problems that need to be brought to the table and discussed. And it's just as important to ask, "What should I do if I'm in an unhappy marriage?" 

The average unhappy couple waits too long to get help. But some couples recognize the signs and decide they want to save their marriages.

And, for them, their unhappiness is often a wake-up call that starts them on the path to the happiness they’ve always wanted.

RELATED: How To Stay In An Unhappy Marriage Without Totally Falling Apart

Dr. Jerry Duberstein is a couples therapist and his partner, Mary Ellen Goggin, is a relationship guide. They offer private couples retreats, couples counseling and coaching (telephone, Skype, or in person) in the quaint seaport, Portsmouth, NH. To learn more schedule a 1/2 hour complimentary consultation.​

This article was originally published at The Free & Connected blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.