When you feel that your marriage is dying, you’re likely experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions. Loneliness, disappointment, anger, regret, and deep unhappiness are all signs that your relationship is in crisis, and may in fact, be at the risk of ending. There are typically 6 distinct stages of a dying marriage, each of which can be reversed with the right therapeutic interventions. Even if your marriage seems at its end and you’re considering a separation, know that you can fix it with therapy and a willingness to repair what’s broken.
6 Stages Of A Dying Marriage
1. Feeling Lonely And Unhappy
The first stage of a dying marriage typically involves a prolonged period of unhappiness and loneliness. You may not be able to pinpoint the specific issues that are causing you to feel this way at first. But you’ll recognize your unhappiness and loneliness are symptoms of a relationship that is weakening.
A loss of emotional connection is likely behind your feelings of unhappiness. The emotional bond which at one time held you together deteriorated over time. Staying emotionally connected is often a struggle for married couples who do not make a concerted effort to make time for each other. Children, careers, and other daily stresses leave less time for you and your spouse to stay close and connected. Recognizing the importance of prioritizing time with your spouse is the first step in reclaiming a lost emotional connection.
2. Lack of Intimacy
Emotional and physical intimacy are two vital components of a healthy marriage. A lack of intimacy is a distinct sign of a dying marriage. Couples often describe this phase as being stuck in a sexless or loveless marriage. It’s important to note that the frequency of sexual intimacy fluctuates in most long-term relationships.
Even if your sex life has cooled off, it is still possible for couples to maintain connection through emotional and physical intimacy. There’s wide variance to what counts as intimacy and is couple-dependent. Losing interest in intimacy of any sort with your partner is a strong indicator that you may be heading toward the end of your marriage.
3. Poor Communication
Poor communication is one of the most common sources of marital conflict, and there’s a wide range of ways this dynamic manifests itself. Some couples seem to talk at each other instead of speaking with each other. Other couples withhold or are unable to express their needs in any meaningful way. Others still can’t seem to have a conversation which doesn’t escalate into a fight.
If you and your partner are stuck in poor communication patterns, you will not be able to sustain a healthy relationship. However, breaking out of that cycle and learning to communicate effectively is possible. This usually involves learning practical communication skills and putting them into practice.
4. Conflict Escalation
Poor communication often leads to conflict escalation. What starts out as a simple disagreement can quickly escalate into a major conflict. If this happens, many couples start bringing in unrelated issues into the escalation. They’ll use one fight as an opportunity to air out other grievances. Before long, the escalation strays from the original topic and devolves into a bitter game of blame, shame, and hurt.
Conflicts and issues are impossible to resolve when tensions mount and emotions run amok. At the same time, it’s difficult to de-escalate and regain calm and composure. This is when working with a neutral third party is helpful. A couples therapist can help facilitate difficult discussions and advise you on how to heal resentment in your marriage.
5. Disengagement And Apathy
When couples lose connection with each other, they leave the door open to wider disengagement, and even apathy. Similarly, if the remaining connection a couple still has is rooted in conflict, it becomes easier to stop caring about the other person and the relationship as a whole. If you don’t seem to care about your partner’s needs, opinions, or presence in your life, your marriage likely won’t survive without intervention.
6. Considering Divorce
For some couples, separation is the next logical step. If they’ve been stuck in an unhappy marriage and are unwilling or unable to rebuild their relationship, divorce may be the right option. But it’s important to note that some couples who consider divorce may be able to fix their relationship by learning and applying some essential relationship skills.
I’ve worked with plenty of clients on the verge of divorce who were convinced they are simply not compatible. But we were able to determine, through the therapeutic process, that their marriage was failing because they lacked the skills that would allow their relationship to thrive.
Therapy Can Help
If you feel your relationship is in limbo or on the brink of breaking up, it’s worth considering couples counseling. A trained couples therapist can help you determine if your marriage can be fixed with therapy, or if you have indeed reached the end.
Many couples are stuck in a cycle of trying to make things work but not making any substantial progress. This prolongs the life of the marriage but doesn’t make the relationship any better. It’s usually better to confront the reality of reaching the end instead of continuing to live with the status quo for decades but without real happiness. Working with a marriage therapist will help you find a resolution for your marriage and allow you to take the next step in life with more confidence.