10 Signs Your Marriage Is in Trouble

Red Flags and Next Steps

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Every marital relationship is unique and each one faces its own challenges. However, there are common signs of a struggling marriage.

Although it may be tempting to ignore these issues and hope they go away on their own, it's often more helpful to have an open, honest, and respectful talk with your spouse about the problems in your marriage. It's important that both you and your spouse feel heard, supported, and secure within the relationship.

This article covers common warning signs of struggling in marriage, how you can seek help, and the resources that are available.

Warning Signs of a Struggling Marriage

Every relationship will have its ups and downs, but there are some signs that you will want to look at closely to determine if they are the result of something that is not working well in your marriage. Here are 10 common signs that a marriage is struggling.

You're Always Criticizing Each Other

Sure, a little constructive criticism can be a good thing. But you'll want to be conscious of whether your criticism is actually helpful or if it's negative or even hostile. 

Research shows that hostile criticism is a strong predictor of marital dissatisfaction. Of course, expressing your feelings to your partner is healthy if something they did triggers you. But what you say and how you say it matters.

Hostile Criticism
  • I can't believe you left your dirty laundry on the floor. You're so messy and annoying.

  • You hang out with your stupid friends more than you hang out with me. You're so selfish.

Constructive Criticism
  • I feel stressed when I see your dirty laundry on the bedroom floor. Can you help me out?

  • I feel unloved when we don't make time for each other. Can we talk about changing that?

By putting the emphasis on how you feel, you're being constructive and staying open to fixing the issue together. Giving hostile criticism, on the other hand, may make it more likely that your partner will respond to you with hostility as well.

Lack of Intimacy

Marriages thrive on healthy expressions of intimacy—and that doesn't always mean sex. Plenty of married couples don't engage in sex regularly, and it's not always a sign of an underlying problem. Health issues, life changes, and busy schedules can all contribute to a lack of sex. People who identify as asexual may not have sex with their partners at all.

However, intimacy doesn't have to mean sex. Holding hands, writing love notes, or even cooking together can all be acts of intimacy that simply send the message to your partner that you love them and want to spend time with them.

If your relationship lacks the types of intimacy that you find important, there could be emotional distance between you and your partner—particularly if you find that you don't want to engage in intimate acts with them (or they with you).

You Constantly Have the Same Argument

Arguments happen in every marriage, even healthy ones. In fact, research suggests that couples who argue effectively are 10 times more likely to have a happy relationship than those who sweep difficult issues under the rug.

But if your time together is plagued by endless reruns of the same argument and there is no resolution, chances are there's a major disconnect between the two of you. You may even start avoiding each other to avoid another argument.

Though avoiding an argument can seem like the best solution in the short term, in the long run it won't serve your relationship. You may need to do some soul-searching (by yourself and with your partner) to truly understand what is causing the same old argument.

You Aren't Communicating

It can be easy for married couples to fall into a habit of only discussing the children, finances, or work matters. But it's important to feel like your partner listens to you and understands your point of view.

Without healthy communication, day-to-day frustrations and concerns can turn into bottled up resentments. It can be much harder down the line to address pent-up feelings than to work through them while they're happening.

You Don't Enjoy Spending Time Together

Spending time alone is healthy, even when you're married. However, if you find yourself avoiding spending time with your partner or even making up excuses not to be with them, there are likely deeper reasons you feel this way.

Ask yourself why you don't want to spend time with your spouse. Do you argue whenever you spend too much time together? Have you grown apart? Identifying the reasons you don't want to be around them can help you uncover the deeper issues in your relationship.

You Are Keeping Secrets or Lying to Your Spouse

You have the right to keep some things private, for the sole reason that you want to. However, if you are keeping secrets from your spouse because you know the information would negatively affect them (for instance, if you went on a date with another person), then you may be in a struggling marriage.

If you're constantly lying to your spouse, investigate why you're doing this. Are you unhappy in the relationship but afraid of how they'd respond if you told them? Do you not trust them with certain pieces of information?

Keeping secrets only plants seeds of distrust in a relationship. Once that trust is broken, it is hard to repair.

There Is a Lack of Trust

Maybe you suspect your spouse of lying, or you're always suspicious of their behavior. While you may be tempted to check their text messages or email, unfortunately, feeling the need to do so may indicate there's already deeper relationship issues that need to be addressed.

A lack of trust often leads to emotional instability within the relationship—you and your partner may not feel safe around each other.

You Are Having an Affair

It’s perfectly normal to find someone other than your partner attractive, according to relationship experts. After all, entering a relationship doesn’t switch off your normal biological functioning.

However, if you constantly have sexual thoughts about another person and you take action on those thoughts, it signals a deeper issue with your current relationship. It may be that you're missing something from your spouse—like intimacy, affection, or attention—that you are hoping to get from someone else.

Some affairs are simply about sex, whereas others are about receiving emotional intimacy from someone else.

While it might feel good in the moment to have another person meet your needs, it's often a distraction from addressing issues within your marriage.

You're Emotionally Relying on Another Person

While it's healthy to have emotional bonds outside of your relationship, it may be a sign of a struggling marriage if you are constantly venting about your partner to your child or your best friend, for instance—especially when you're not addressing these issues with your partner in a setting where you both could actually work on them.

If you find you're dumping the negative emotions about your marriage onto someone else, it may be a sign that your marriage isn't as strong as it could be.

While everyone complains from time to time, depending on someone else to fix your marriage for you won't work. Instead, try spending this time working through the issues with your spouse.

There Is Abuse

No matter what, abuse is never OK—whether the abuse is physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual. It's important to seek help right away if you are living in a home where domestic violence takes place. If you can, try to create a safety plan and get to a safe space, such as a friend's or family member's home.

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.

Seeking Help

In many cases, there are plenty of ways that you and your spouse can develop the skills needed to succeed in your marriage.

Work on Communication

It may be helpful to set aside some time each day (or as often as you can throughout the week) to communicate with your spouse. Make sure this time is reserved for sharing feelings. Try not to dismiss what your spouse is saying, but really listen to them. They should do the same for you.

Prioritizing listening and responding to each other's concerns can help each person feel appreciated and valued within the relationship. It can also prevent minor issues from turning into bigger ones.

Set Boundaries

Healthy relationships have boundaries. While some people think that boundaries create more distance or separation, try to think of boundaries as creating clear expectations for your relationship.

An example of some healthy relationship boundaries might include:

  • Giving each other space to have your own identities
  • No yelling at each other during arguments
  • Respecting each other's quiet time during work

Counseling or Therapy

Enlisting the help of a professional can be immensely helpful, especially if you and your spouse feel as if you're running in circles, with the same issues arising.

A marriage therapist or counselor can be an ally to your marriage. Rather than taking sides, they will help you and your partner gain perspective and develop the communication skills needed to change the patterns that keep you stuck.

With their help, you and your partner can identify and change unhealthy patterns and rediscover feelings of love.

On the other hand, a therapist can also help you realize if your marriage is out of alignment for you. Perhaps you and your spouse have grown apart, and one or both of you decides that they do not want to be in the marriage any longer.

Though this can be incredibly difficult, a therapist can help guide you through next steps while teaching you how to cope with this major life change as adaptively as possible.

A Word From Verywell

Even happy marriages go through challenging times. If your marriage is struggling, know that there are resources available to you and your spouse if you are both willing to work on the relationship. Getting the support of a marriage therapist or counselor can help you work through challenging times or come to the conclusion to end the relationship.

Even if your spouse isn't open to going to therapy, you can see a therapist or counselor by yourself and receive the support you need to heal.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Sheri Stritof
Sheri Stritof has written about marriage and relationships for 20+ years. She's the co-author of The Everything Great Marriage Book.