8 Red Flags That Mean Your Relationship Is Failing (And How To Fix Each One)

Your relationship might be broken, but it's not over yet.

Couple sitting back to back in chairs going through relationship issues but sharing ear buds cottonbro studio | Canva

Being in an unhappy marriage can leave you feeling stuck and desperate to figure out how to fix a relationship you once cherished. Here's the good news: you can learn how to save your marriage without resorting to leaving.

Constantly asking yourself, "Why am I unhappy? Is my marriage over?" is a struggle, but you don't want to leave, so how do you fix it?

Married life is not devoid of marriage problems, but once you identify them, you'll find solutions.


RELATED: 9 Things You Can Do To Fix A Broken Relationship

Here are 8 red flags that mean your relationship is failing (and how to fix each one).

1. Civilized talking feels impossible

You may feel the two of you are replaying the same argument, with no lasting solution ever established. Active listening, empathy, and understanding are not an option because you feel so much at odds with one another.


If you feel like you are in an unhappy marriage and want to work to repair it, the best advice I can give is to begin overcommunicating to change the narrative.

As a married couple, you and your partner need to commit to working together to let go of the past — previous assumptions — to begin building a new future. Over-communication and over-clarification can help.

However, the most powerful tool you have for resolving conflicts is listening to what is being said and working towards finding a mutual understanding. Everyday issues that couples argue about have a root from where they stem. It may be an emotion, a clash of values, expectations, or beliefs, or a difference in goals.

For example, you nag your partner because they don't take out the trash when it's full — it just piles up until you do it.


Are you truly upset about the garbage, or do you feel taken advantage of and neglected? So, overcommunicating clarifies the issue and works towards finding a compromise that makes you both feel better.

For example, you would say, "I’ve noticed a pattern that frequently happens. When the trash is full — and piling up even higher — you don’t take it out. Even though we’ve agreed that taking out the trash is your job, I do it for you in these situations. When this happens, I feel angry and taken advantage of. What I’d like you to do differently is take out the trash when it’s full and before it piles up. What I expect of myself in the future is to let you know my feelings rather than doing the job for you."

Working with a couple's counselor can be an asset to improving marital communication. Gottman method or Imago-trained therapists are skilled at this.

A therapist can help you work together to create a new tone and discover how to safely and effectively communicate with each other. Effective communication is hard.


But, the longer your marriage is filled with poor communication, the more resentments there will be to repair.

2. You aren't talking at all

Talking and sharing with your spouse is a way to maintain closeness. If you haven't been talking to your partner, you two are in a state of disconnection.

The gap between you needs to be closed — and that is the purpose of speaking — to reconnect.

The first step is to think about the love for your spouse. What attracted them to you in the first place? What ten qualities do you love about them now? Foster the love for your partner, and use that love as a motivator to take the next steps.

Ideally, both of you should be willing to work towards reconnecting. If your efforts to share are met with negativity or contempt, it’s difficult to continue, no matter how much you love them. You two need to figure out how to work as teammates.


Changing communication styles in a longstanding relationship isn’t easy and will take time and effort. But the effort is worth it.

Here are some other tips to make talking easier:

First, limit distractions. Then, choose to make your spouse and what they say a priority. Yes, it takes effort. And no, you may not be interested in the thing they are excited about. However, it makes your spouse feel like a priority. Such active listening will be returned.

Make more one-on-one time media-free. Conversations are not always free-flowing, even less so when you have a phone with endless entertainment.

If you or your partner have something they feel is important or passionate about, turn the T.V. off! Television in the background is just an invitation to tune out, avoid the conversation, or send the message that your partner is not important — all of which limits communication and pushes your partner further away.


Making changes in the relationship by yourself, while difficult is possible.

Mahatma Gandhi said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." Be unfailing kind, loving, positive, and constantly express thanks. You may be surprised at the results.

3. Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling are present

According to relationship expert John Gottman, these are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in a marriage.

If these are present in your relationship, you can keep your marriage from becoming the Apocalypse.

Criticism in a relationship isn't an automatic sign of impending doom, but if the criticism is left unchecked, it can lead to contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.


Work to change how you communicate in your relationship, focusing on the action and how it made you feel. Don't make assumptions about what motivated your partner to do certain things.

Also, refrain from tit for tat on who has it more difficult. You know how you feel and what you are thinking. You can only assume you know your partner, but you probably have it wrong. You can work together to come up with solutions both parties can accept.

Contempt is fueled by long-lasting negative thoughts about your partner, and it is the single most significant predictor of divorce.

Instead of stewing on what irritates you about your partner, try building a culture of appreciation. Remind yourself of your partner's positive qualities and find gratitude for positive actions.


Consider making a list of them throughout the day to get you into the habit of noticing the positive and not just the negative.

Defensiveness is a form of self-protection that pushes the blame onto others.

Instead, you can take responsibility for your part in the conflict and offer solutions. It can stop the beginning of a blame cycle and the dispute from escalating.

Arguing when either partner is emotionally charged doesn't lead to a resolution — it will only dig the hole deeper, leading to stonewalling.

If you or your partner feel emotionally overwhelmed during a conversation, allow for a 20-minute (or more) break to reset.

Taking a break allows each of you to cool off to take inventory of where you are and what is important. Then, you can come back together in a manner that may lead to progress and resolution.


RELATED: How To Fix A Broken Relationship In 7 Steps (Before It's Too Late!)

4. You no longer are intimate

Intimacy in marriage strengthens trust between you two and improves marital satisfaction. When you are no longer intimate, it's a sign of trouble.

To get intimacy back in your marriage, you can turn towards each other in a loving, respectful way that can help rebuild connection — focus on your partner and show them empathy instead of aggression, defensiveness, or being distant.

According to Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW, emotional intimacy leads to physical intimacy. If you and your partner do not have an emotional connection, it will be challenging to generate an intimate one.


As a team, work towards explaining your emotions in a positive need, not what your partner needs for you. Emotions are powerful and challenging until they become so large you can’t help but notice it.

You can’t expect someone else to comfort and support you emotionally when you can't process or communicate them yourself. Working on emotional attunement can help deepen the connection between yourself and your partner.

Here are some other ideas to help you connect with your partner:

Agree to be in bed, with no electronic distractions, for 30 minutes each night before bedtime. Use this time to connect, focusing on how you felt about what happened more than just recounting what happened.


Increase intimacy by holding hands, kissing, and going on more dates. Pause working on the marriage for a moment and work towards enjoying each other’s company again.

Schedule intimate time together, and in time it will feel less programmed and lead to more spontaneous encounters.

Talk about it with your partner — what works, what doesn't, and what you want to try. It's hard when it's not the norm, but allowing yourself to talk lets you explore new areas about each other and improves intimacy and communication.

5. You spend more time apart than together

Quality time with your partner helps keep you two connected and growing together instead of apart.


Distance does not always make the heart grow fonder. Spending less quality time together or entire days without your partner signifies a relationship is drifting apart. You now have the opportunity to build your relationship back up by getting to know your partner again.

Quality time together doesn't mean existing in the same room. It means connecting and enjoying time spent together.

Making your partner a priority is essential for the bit of time you have to spend together. It means focusing on the person in front of you. No cellphones, no work, and no children (I recommend a babysitter to help with this last one).

So, how do you start spending quality time again? Schedule time together and pick an activity to do together, as distraction-free as possible.


You don't know what to do? Have each partner list five things that qualify as quality time and schedule a time to make it happen.

Don’t have time for this? Well, that means your marriage may not be a priority.

Quality time is not always easy to make happen. It requires juggling schedules. It may be a more significant investment because it requires paying a babysitter. You might need to set aside some things to make the time.

Whatever the obstacles, you and your partner must choose to make it happen because, without quality time, your marriage may not be any more than roommates living together.

6. You're ignoring your intuition

Your intuition knows the facts and how you feel, whereas your mind can rationalize away from the truth. If you're in an unhappy marriage and stick it out, you might be ignoring your intuition.


The first step is to quiet the mental chatter. And there can be a lot of chatter!

Analyzing your marriage to put in the effort to stay and repair it or to walk away and build a life apart is a difficult decision. It can be even harder to figure out where you stand if you are stuck with reoccurring, obsessive thoughts that may be fueled by anger, resentment, or fear.

Meditation is an excellent tool to heighten your awareness and foster a sense of inner peace. Meditation is surprisingly easy when you realize your mind will wander.

If your mind wanders, it doesn't mean you fail. It means you return to your breath and continue meditating.


There are many styles of meditation, and you will find one that's right for you. Online guided meditations, meditation retreats, or joining a class at a local yoga studio are great ways to help you get started.

Your intuition is a compass to guide you in the direction you need to go. However, if you don't listen to its gentle nudge or ignore it, you may run into more internal resistance than you want.

Everyone has the gift of intuition — you may need some practice.

RELATED: How To Solve Problems In Your Relationship Without Breaking Up

7. You rely on your partner to fix things but not yourself

It can feel overwhelming when you ask how to fix an unhappy marriage. You may not know where to start, but if you don't take steps to fix your marriage, you may seal its fate.


Take a look at yourself to evaluate your contributions to the relationship. Taking inventory of how you may have hurt your marriage and how you can make amends gets you on track to repairing your relationship.

You can begin by visualizing what you want to see in your marriage and what you can control and change. Start by creating a "wish list" of what you want in your marriage, and how to work towards it.

You can't rely on your partner to make changes, nor can you rely on your partner to make the first step. You can control yourself. Taking the first steps in repairing your marriage may inspire your partner to do the same or provide the information you need to move on.

8. You fantasize about a life without your spouse

Fantasizing about a life without your spouse means you’re mentally detaching from your relationship and sending the signal that you don’t care. If you're not ready to pull the plug on the marriage, you can still reconnect to it.


Fantasies are seductive because it’s often the best reality can offer. The negative aspects and consequences of specific actions are only explored when you take a step back and weigh it against fact.

Fantasies can help us establish our goals and provide motivation to attain them if we explore all sides of the story. Having the occasional fantasy isn’t a problem, but when it becomes frequent or changes your choices, this is a sign something in your life needs to be examined.

If you're fantasizing about being single, take a moment to explore if it's a fantasy that should be checked or acted upon.

Susan Pease Gadous, co-author of The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists, and Rebels, suggests exploring the fantasy further by adding a bit of reality.


Look at housing options, the costs of living alone, and what it's like to re-enter the dating scene, and then see how you feel.

"It'll give you another layer of reality, which can then help you know what the right next step is. If excitement or relief is your prominent emotion (rather than fear or apprehension), it may be a sign to acknowledge there are serious problems in your marriage," she states.

Now that you know how to fix a broken marriage without resorting to leaving, it's time to reconnect with your spouse and bring back the love and intimacy you had at the beginning of your relationship.

RELATED: How To Fix A Broken Marriage, According To A Therapist


Jean Tschampa is a co-owner and principal therapist at Life Care Wellness, a group psychotherapy practice. She specializes in wellness, life transition, anxiety, and addiction treatment and is a Board Certified Coach and professional counselor.