11 Signs Your Marriage Can't Be Saved

A couple in conflict sitting on a couch.

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Marriage can be a blessing, but it can also break your heart—especially if you think you've reached the end of the road. There's no easy path to the decision to divorce, and the journey through uncoupling is different for everyone. If you're contemplating this difficult decision, you need to determine if your relationship is so toxic that it's truly time to end it.

At this point, you may have already tried marriage counseling or made attempts to work things out with your partner and are mentally and emotionally exhausted. You might be asking yourself, how much more effort should I—or even can I—put in?

Sometimes it's worth saving a relationship and sometimes it isn't. Only you know the answer to the question of whether you should get a divorce or you're better off staying married. Below are 11 factors to consider.

Signs Your Marriage Can't Be Saved

There are some marriage concerns that are absolute deal-breakers, like abuse. However, there are other signs that are not so clear. Each of these issues should still be taken seriously if you are wondering whether or not your marriage can be saved.

A 2013 study in Couple Family Psychology found the top three “final straws” for why couples got divorced were infidelity, domestic violence, and substance abuse.

Divorce is hard, but for many, it's harder and more painful to live disconnected and disengaged emotionally from your partner. Indeed, the toll negative relationships take on physical health can be huge.

Some research suggests that chronically negative or abusive relationships can even shorten your lifespan.

Abuse

An abusive relationship is likely unsalvageable and needs to end. Abuse is never acceptable and no one deserves it or should have to live with it. It's important to seek support if you are dealing with abuse in your marriage.

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Keep in mind that abuse is not always physical and can come in other forms including emotional abuse and verbal abuse.

Lack of Affection or Intimacy

While couples may go through periods of more and less intimacy throughout their marriage, a sexless marriage could be a sign that there are underlying issues that need to be resolved.

Bigamy

If your partner led you to believe you two were the only people in your marriage, but then you find out that's not the case—you've been deceived and understandably would be alarmed. On top of that, bigamy is illegal.

Criminal Behavior

Finding out your partner has a criminal background can be challenging to get past, especially if the crime is very severe. Not only is there a sense of trust that's been uprooted, but you may even question if you know your partner as well as you thought you did.

Constant Criticism

Is your partner always putting you down? This could be bad for your health. One 2020 Health Psychology study found that negative relationship quality after five years—specifically involving criticism received from a partner—was linked to an older adult's risk of mortality.

Criticism is also one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which clinical psychologists Drs. John and Julie Gottman use to predict the end of a marriage. Stonewalling, defensiveness, and contempt are the other red flags to consider.

Untreated Addiction

It can be extremely difficult to be in a relationship with someone who won't seek treatment for—or plainly denies—their addiction. The addiction may also contribute to job loss, therefore impacting finances, or be the root of more arguments between partners.

Shifting Priorities

If at one point you both wanted children or to move permanently to another country but now one of you has changed your mind, you may be at an impasse. Similarly, if your goals and outlooks on life are no longer aligned, you may find that logistically the marriage can't be sustained.

Cheating

Infidelity can be extremely difficult to experience. While cheating has been shown to oftentimes lead to divorce or separation, it doesn't always mean it will. There are some important things to consider to determine if your marriage can survive infidelity.

Financial Problems

Perhaps your partner brought significant debt into the relationship and wasn't upfront about it or now consistently overspends. Either way, financial worries can create serious conflict in a marriage.

Inability to Compromise

Compromising is essential to a healthy relationship. If your marriage is completely one-sided and your partner struggles to meet you in the middle, you could be in a toxic relationship.

Lack of Empathy or Remorse

A partner who won't apologize, take responsibility for their mistakes, or won't try to understand what you're feeling can be very frustrating to be with. You may feel like you're always putting more into the partnership and are left feeling like your needs aren't being addressed.

A Word From Verywell

It's a difficult and heavy choice to jump ship and end your marriage, but when you're fighting a losing battle or are feeling trapped and powerless in a relationship that could ultimately cause you harm, don't wait for a sign out of the blue to tell you to stay or to leave. 

When it's time to leave a bad relationship, chances are you'll know—you'll feel it in your gut. If you're still wavering, ask yourself what's still good about your marriage and what isn't. Particularly if you're experiencing abuse, remember that you don't deserve to live like this. 

Listen to your inner voice and don't let a fear of the unknown keep you in a difficult and potentially dangerous situation. Professional counseling can help you make it through this painful journey out of a dysfunctional relationship.

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  2. Bookwala J, Gaugler T. Relationship quality and 5-year mortality risk. Health Psychology. 2020;39(8):633-641. doi:10.1037/hea0000883

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