5 Signs Of An Unhappy Marriage — 2 Of Which Mean It's Probably Time To Leave

A guide for the times you feel paralyzed by indecision, wondering if your misery is bad enough to justify divorce.

Last updated on Aug 17, 2023

woman looking at husband who is sitting down in the distance with disappointment and desperation RDNE stock project via Canva 

When it comes to answering the question "Should I get a divorce?", there are so many factors to consider — not the least of which is the nature and degree of your unhappiness. Throw in children, finances, the length of your marriage, religion, and other influences, and your decision just gets much tougher.

You should know by now that married life is neither perfect nor easy. Many couples find themselves in an unhappy marriage. When you feel paralyzed by a seemingly impossible decision, it’s only natural to want a superpower force to swoop in with the answer.


But we all know that rarely happens.

When faced with the decision on whether to stay in your miserable marriage or get a divorce, you are likely to get more questions than answers. Even ‘Glinda the Good Witch’ would point her starred wand at your feet and remind you that the answer lies within you. In other words, you got yourself into this marriage. You have to do the painful work of deciding whether and how to stay in it. Help is always available for those who seek it but only you can decide to accept it.


There are, however, certain circumstances that demand that you divorce.

Every marriage is as unique as the partners entering into it. Each spouse comes to the altar with a life history full of experiences that either strengthen or weaken a marriage. Marriage becomes the stage on which those strengths prove their worth and those weaknesses rear their ugly heads. It is both a sanctuary and a healing ground. But it is always a place to learn and grow.

RELATED: The Simple Way To Decide If You Should Get Divorced Or Not

As you take stock of your unhappiness, it’s important to remember that all love relationships navigate through predictable stages.


John Gottman consolidates the journey through love into three stages. Other sources expand to five, seven, or even 12 stages of love. The "aha!" moment in all of these explanations of love’s course is that too many people give up too early. They stop at the disillusionment stage — right when reality sets in. This is the time in a marriage when the hormonal veil of "He’s so perfect!" and "She’s an angel!" evaporates. And now the real fun begins... or at least the real work.

There are many signs of an unhappy marriage. You may have a few or you may have many. But chances are, you have at least one. No relationship survives unscathed. Stretch marks, after all, are a sign of growth. So, when deciding whether staying in your miserable marriage or getting a divorce is the best route for your relationship, try to filter the signs of discontent through that reality check.

RELATED: Why You Should Get Divorced At Least Once

Five signs your marriage is unhappy — two of which mean it's time to leave

1. Sex has all but disappeared.

This is important because intimacy is what distinguishes romantic love from all other relationships. Even the lack of visible affection — hugs, kisses, and hand-holding — can be a sign that something is very wrong.


2. You fantasize about a happy life with someone else.

The mental escape into a fantasy of happiness that doesn’t include your spouse is the start of emotional detachment. Even if you don’t have a specific person in mind, the fact that you have excluded your spouse is telling. It’s a way of starting the numbing process so that the pain of possible separation in the future won’t be as great.

3. You don’t feel heard and/or you don’t listen.

We all hunger to be heard at a deep, soulful level. Feeling heard is equivalent to feeling validated. Feeling validated is equivalent to feeling valued. And feeling valued is equivalent to feeling loved. Indifference or disregard is like stripping away of that value and, ultimately, of love.

RELATED: Should I Get A Divorce? How To Answer The Painful Question Once & For All

4. There is abuse.

This sign of marital unhappiness stands apart from all the others because it requires immediate intervention and separation. If you are being abused — physically, verbally, emotionally, sexually — you need to get help. Even if your abuser refuses to get help, you need to secure safety for yourself, your children, and any pets you may have. There is no amount of your "being better" that is going to make an abuser a better spouse. Abuse is a cycle with deep psychological roots, and it needs the help of trained professionals.


5. There is addiction.

Regardless of the source of the addiction — alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling — you run the risk of co-dependency if you stay. Even if you do stay, you will both need to get help for your individual roles so that you can lead a healthy life without enabling the addict. Since addiction is often interwoven with violence and other forms of abuse, it is a valid ground for separation or divorce.

These are not necessarily signs that your marriage is over.

Well, not exactly, but they do mean that something needs to be done to fix the rift between you so you can find happiness as a couple, again.

The majority of reasons for divorce due to marital unhappiness center around communication and unmet expectations. Couples don’t know how to express their feelings and needs, so they detach or act out. You have to believe that "if you knew better, you would do better." That is both logic and wisdom that comes with maturity. But couples rarely invest the time to "know better" before getting married. After all, they are both "perfect" in one another’s eyes so, therefore, their marriage will always be perfect… or so they hope.

There is no magic formula for helping you to know if you need to stay in your miserable marriage or divorce. But, if you haven’t examined the source of your unhappiness and how you reached that point, then you have work to do. Research has shown that people who report unhappiness at some point in their marriage almost always end up happy if they stick it out. In other words, unhappiness is rarely permanent.


RELATED: 8 Revealing Questions To Ask Yourself If You're Considering Divorce

The deciding factor is first deciding that the unhappiness is temporary and approachable.

The next step is using unhappiness as a springboard for growth, no matter how inconvenient that may be at the time.

When you and your partner decided to marry, did you both already assume that you knew all you needed to know about communication and relationships? If so, go easy on yourself — most of us had the same thoughts. But use this wake-up call as a motivation to get counseling and invest in the dynamics of a healthy marriage.


Think about how different your marriage would look if you both knew effective ways to express your concerns, needs, wants, and love. Think about what your parenting skills would look like if your marital skills were better. What kind of relationship modeling and stability would you provide your children if you were better spouses before you brought them into the world?

Ultimately, the only way to know if you need to stay in your miserable marriage or get divorced is by examining what you have done to save it. No one said that would be easy. But the real reason you married in the first place is that, deep down, you knew it would be worth it.

RELATED: 9 Critical Questions You Must Ask Before Filing For Divorce

Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce and life coach. Her writing on marriage and divorce has appeared on MSN, Yahoo! & eHarmony among others.