15 Signs Of An Unhappy Marriage

You can fix your miserable marriage.

Last updated on Apr 25, 2024

Couple unhappy in their marriage Peopleimages.com - YuriArcurs | Canva

Curious about the signs of an unhappy marriage, especially yours? It happens to many people. How could your life have changed so dramatically? It wasn’t that long ago you were enjoying dreams of happily ever after. And somehow now, after such a beautiful beginning, you’re wondering about simply figuring out how to survive an unhappy marriage. Somewhere between then and now, you’ve lost the shared dreams along with the ones that were just yours.


The love that once kept both of you bathed in feel-good hormones that made everything okay and helped you work together to find solutions to every challenge has disappeared. And now you’re unhappy — really, dreadfully unhappy. Are you wondering how to save a marriage and rebuild what you had before everything went wrong? Before you can take the necessary steps, you need to know what makes a marriage unhappy. There are so many things that can make marriages unhappy. And if you're constantly thinking to yourself, "Why am I so unhappy? Is my marriage over?", it's time to take action and there is only so much that marriage advice on the internet can do for you.  And just like no two people are exactly alike, the reasons why your marriage is unhappy will be unique to you.


RELATED: 11 Tiny Bad Habits That Destroy Even The Strongest Marriage

Here are 15 signs of an unhappy marriage:

1. Infidelity

It doesn’t matter if the infidelity is physical or emotional, it hurts. And it hurts everyone involved — not just the betrayed and the betrayer. It’s the unhealed pain of infidelity that causes unhappiness.

2. Abuse

Abuse in a marriage isn’t only physical. It can be mental, emotional, and/or intimate too. And when someone is the victim of abuse by their spouse, it’s impossible to be happily married. (I consider this to be a marriage deal breaker.)

3. Anger issues

When a spouse has an anger issue or disorder, no one is happy. The spouse with the anger issue struggles to deal with their fury and its side effects. The other spouse and the rest of the family walk on eggshells to avoid triggering an anger event.


4. Indifference

When one or both spouses feel as if they are unimportant to the one person who committed to loving them no matter what, hurt is the natural result. Living with this pain saps the joy from every day.

5. Substance abuse

When a spouse struggles with active addiction, their behavior is erratic at best and completely destructive at worst. Relationships require dependability and security to work long-term. Active substance abuse prevents marriages from being fulfilling for either spouse.

6. Lying and gaslighting

Good marriages are based on trust. Without trust, there’s a zero percent chance for a happy marriage.

7. Lost intimacy

Can a marriage survive without intimacy? Maybe. Some practice a spiritual or Josephite marriage in which both spouses choose to abstain from intimate activity. But, for most people, physical and emotional intimacy are vital parts of a meaningful and happy marriage.


RELATED: 4 Subtle Signs You're Falling Into A Loveless Marriage

8. Control

When one spouse consistently tries to control or dominate the other, there’s a feeling of one spouse being superior to the other. At a minimum, the spouse being controlled is miserable. But the one doing the dominating is usually just as unhappy.

9. Growing apart

When spouses don’t make the effort and take the time to talk about their hopes, dreams, and experiences, they take a chance that they will grow in different directions. And when they have little if anything in common, it’s natural for them to feel unhappy together.

10. Parenting

Parenting is tough. And when spouses disagree on how to parent, they are in constant conflict. Should an unhappy couple stay together because of a child or children? Maybe. Researchers found that most couples who are unhappy when their first child is born often feel fulfilled a decade later. (Notice that only says the first child.)


11. Fantasizing about life without their spouse

If a spouse persistently dreams about life without their mate, then there’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

12. Not fighting anymore

If spouses don’t even care enough to argue, then they’ve disengaged. And they’re just going through the motions of being married.



13. Unmet needs

When spouses refuse to meet each other’s needs, the teamwork, compassion, and care necessary for a happy marriage aren’t present.


14. Unwillingness to get help or work on the marriage

It happens to virtually every marriage, things go awry at some point. Happily, married couples choose to work to fix things when they recognize their marriage feels a bit off. Unhappily married couples don’t.

RELATED: Before You Try To "Fix" Your Marriage, Take These 4 Steps

15. Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and/or stonewalling

John Gottman, Ph.D. calls these behaviors The Four Horsemen. Just as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse depicts the end of times in the New Testament, Dr. Gottman has found that these four communication styles can predict divorce. This is a long list of what makes an unhappy marriage. Maybe you see what’s making you wonder about surviving an unhappy marriage on this list. Maybe you don’t. The point here is for you to gain more clarity about why you’re unhappily married and the above are signs your marriage is over.

What’s the personal cost of staying in a difficult marriage? Living in an unhappy marriage is a big deal. It impacts your entire life because being unhappily married affects you physically, mentally, and emotionally. Some of the ways it impacts you physically include:

  • Weakens your immune system
  • Wounds take longer to heal
  • Increases your blood pressure
  • Increases your cholesterol
  • You’re more prone to gain weight
  • This puts you at increased risk for heart disease, cancer, arthritis, type-2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and arterial calcification
  • Causes digestive disorders
  • Causes hormone imbalance
  • Causes poor sleep
  • Shrinks your brain
  • Kills brain cells and halts new brain cell growth

Some of the ways it impacts you mentally include:

  • Decreases your attention span
  • Causes memory problems
  • This puts you at greater risk for mental illnesses of all kinds
  • Makes it hard for you to think and make decisions
  • Increases your risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s

And some of the ways it can affect you emotionally include:

  • Increases your risk for depression
  • Causes you to experience more anger
  • Increases general feelings of anxiety
  • Increases mood swings
  • Increases impatience with yourself and others

Is learning how to fix a broken marriage and survive an unhappy marriage possible? Absolutely! But is this really how you want to live? Can you see yourself as anything but miserable if your relationship goal is simply surviving an unhappy marriage? To thrive and be happy in a good marriage that benefits both of you, something must change. There are 3 options for change: Your spouse could change, your marriage could change, or you could change.

The truth is you can only control one of these. And that’s you. So, if you’re going to thrive and be happy, then you must change. But how should you change? There’s no quick fix to turning an unhappy marriage around. Just as your marriage didn’t become unhappy in the blink of an eye, fixing it won’t happen quickly either. But the good news is, there are 4 ways to help you fix a broken marriage and make the necessary changes to turn your relationship around.


How you can save your marriage:

1. Practice compassion

Being compassionate means you accept that you and your spouse have both been doing the best you can given the circumstances and the knowledge you each possess. Neither of you is perfect, so practicing forgiveness goes along with being compassionate.

2. Practice self-care

When you’re struggling with an unhappy marriage, feeling depressed is a pretty natural response. One way to pull yourself out of the inertia of the situational depression of being unhappily married is to take care of your health and your appearance. It also means doing things that make you happy.



3. Invest in honest conversations with your spouse

Taking the time to honestly, compassionately, and responsibly talk about how you’re each feeling can create opportunities for healing, planning for your future together and even falling in love again.


4. Ask for help

Most people try to solve their problems on their own. But the behaviors and thoughts that led to being unhappily married won’t be the ones that will help you turn it around. For that, you’ll need new ideas. Granted you can get tips from Googling and reading articles like this one, but there’s no substitute for talking with a trustworthy person to help you gain a new perspective. These are just high-level ideas to help you create more happiness and begin to thrive instead of just surviving your unhappy marriage.

But, choosing to stay and put in the hard work to change yourself isn’t your only option. Is divorce better than an unhappy marriage? Maybe. Maybe not. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Do people who divorce eventually find happiness again? Yes, the majority of them do. But, the happiness they find is often after letting go of everything they thought they knew about happiness in the first place. Simply surviving a divorce takes a lot of hard work. It takes even more work to thrive on the other side of it. Is it doable? Absolutely.

But, surviving an unhappy marriage is possible, but it will only lead to misery. Accepting that your marriage is unhappy and that you need to just deal with it won’t work for you long-term. You deserve to be happy. You have options. You just need to muster the courage to make the necessary changes and know that you can pursue your dreams again. You don’t have to settle for living in an unhappy marriage.


If you think you may be experiencing depression or anxiety as a result of ongoing emotional abuse, you are not alone.

Domestic abuse can happen to anyone and is not a reflection of who you are or anything you've done wrong.

If you feel as though you may be in danger, there is support available 24/7/365 through the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 1-800-799-7233. If you’re unable to speak safely, text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474, or log onto The Hotline.

RELATED: 10 Specific Times You Should Stay In An Unhappy Marriage

Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce and life coach. Her writing on marriage, divorce, and co-parenting has appeared on MSN, Yahoo, Psych Central, Huffington Post, Prevention, and The Good Men Project, among others.