How do you know if your marriage is over? These six signs of the end of a relationship will help you see yourself – and your spouse – more clearly. You may not be headed for divorce court, so take heart! Even the healthiest relationships hit rock bottom sometimes.
I was inspired to write this article by a reader’s comment. “My husband and I have been together since high school and got married 12 years ago,” said Jessie on How to Know if Your Husband Still Loves You. “We’ve always been comfortable together, but over the past couple years I’ve been getting the feeling he no longer wants to be with me. Our relationship is just one of convenience. All of the signs he doesn’t love me are there, and he says a lot of very very hurtful things to me. He tries to make me feel like a horrible person and he attacks the things I say and do. After he says all these mean things to me he wants me to act as though everything is alright. He says I need to smile and be happy etc. but I’m feeling like I could crawl up in a ball and die. Are these signs your marriage is over? I think so but it would help to get an outside opinion.”
According to marriage expert John Gottman, expressing contempt is one of the signs your marriage is over. Jessie’s husband does this by trying to make her feel like a horrible personal and by saying hurtful things to her.
6 Signs Your Marriage is Over
These warning signs your marriage is over are from relationship counselors and marriage therapists.
While you’re reading through these thoughts, remember that you are the expert on your relationship. You know your husband better than anyone, you know yourself, and you know how your marriage has changed through the years. Don’t let a relationship article take away all your hope for a happy, healthy marriage! Millions of relationships get pulled from the brink of divorce court every year by couples who are committed to rebuilding their marriages.
1. Your husband treats you with contempt
Contempt is the biggest red flag – the most troubling warning sign that your marriage is over – according to Dr. John Gottman and his four decades of marriage research.
“When we communicate in this state, we are truly mean,” writes Ellie Lisitsa in The Four Horsemen: Contempt on The Gottman Institute’s blog about strengthening relationships. “Treating others with disrespect and mocking them with sarcasm are forms of contempt. So are hostile humor, name-calling, mimicking, and/or body language such as eye-rolling and sneering. In whatever form, contempt is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust. It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message that you’re disgusted with him or her.”
The reason contempt is such a powerful predictor of divorce is because it is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts. Contempt is issued in the form of an attack from a position of relative superiority. Words and actions that are fueled by contempt lead to more conflict and disconnection, rather than to reconciliation.
How do you respond to a husband who speaks to you with contempt? Get help. Talk to a marriage counselor, pastor with counseling experience, or a trusted family friend. Learn how to cope with your feelings and how to set boundaries with your husband.
Contempt isn’t a guaranteed sign your marriage is over, but both you and your husband have to see how your words and actions are affecting your marriage. You both need to be willing to work on your relationship. One of the most troubling warning signs your marriage is over is when both you and your husband refuse to accept responsibility.
If you have a feeling your marriage can’t be saved, read How to Know if Divorce is the Best Decision.
2. You and your husband have stopped trying
Marriage coach Mort Fertel says, “Ironically, communication techniques sometimes give people clarity that they don’t care what their spouse thinks or feels. They ‘understand it’ but it doesn’t matter to them anymore.”
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This is ironic because couples often go to marriage counseling to learn to “communicate better.” They learn how to be honest and open about their feelings, they learn how to listen and speak clearly…and they learn that one or both of them has no interest in trying to save their relationship.
Through their newfound communication skills, they learn that they’re too tired to work on their marriage. They simply don’t care anymore. This type of indifference is one of the most important warning signs your marriage is over.
3. You don’t connect with or even critique your spouse…you criticize
Let’s turn the tables around for a minute. How do you talk to your husband? If you tend to be critical of him, then you’re displaying one of Dr Gottman’s warning signs your marriage is over. Negative or “helpful” feedback can be difficult for husbands to take; criticism will cut him to the core.
“Criticizing your partner is different than offering a critique or voicing a complaint,” writes Lisitsa on Recognizing Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. “The latter two are about specific issues, whereas the former is an ad hominem attack: it is an attack on your husband at the core. In effect, you are dismantling his whole being when you criticize.”
- Here’s an example of a complaint, which isn’t normally a sign your marriage is over: “I was scared when you were running late and didn’t call me. I thought we had agreed that we would do that for each other.”
- And this is an example of a criticism: “You never think about how your behavior is affecting other people. I don’t believe you are that forgetful, you’re just selfish! You never think of others! You never think of me!”
Are you and your husband critical of each other? It’s not a great way to communicate, but it’s not the biggest warning sign your marriage is over.
“If you find that you are your husband are critical of each other, don’t assume your marriage is doomed to fail,” writes Lisitsa. “The problem with criticism is that, when it becomes pervasive, it paves the way for the other, far deadlier [warning signs of unhealthy marriages]. Criticism makes the victim feel assaulted, rejected, and hurt, and often causes the perpetrator and victim to fall into an escalating pattern where the first horseman reappears with greater and greater frequency and intensity.”
When you were first married, you probably felt understood, heard, and connected with your husband. You were polite. You didn’t want to hurt him – and he was sensitive to your feelings. But time passes, and the stress of daily life and kids and jobs and money and house and aging parents and health issues take a toll…and you find that you don’t have the time and patience it takes to be polite. This isn’t necessarily a sign your marriage is over – it just means you need to make time and effort to communicate with love and respect.
4. Your slide into your marriage commitment, and you tend to “cycle”
“Sliding Into Marriage” and “Premarital Cycling” are two signs your marriage is over or may be ending, according to Dr. Jeff Larson. He is a relationship expert on premarital predictors of marital happiness, and he shared these two signs of unhealthy relationships on his article 3 Warning Signs That Predict Divorce Early in a Relationship….
Sliding Into Marriage. Couples often have low levels of commitment and end up sliding into marriage instead of making a very conscious and clear decision to be committed to their future spouse. This frequently happens when couples live together, but aren’t officially married yet. The issue is that when this “sliding” occurs, there is less initial commitment and willingness to stick it out when things get tough, which is essential to any marriage. In other words, if you slide into your marriage you may be more likely to slide right on out. A low commitment level is a warning sign your marriage is over (or that it never really began).
Premarital Cycling. Dating, then breaking up, then getting back together before marriage predicts lower marital quality and stability. This is common in relationships, but it doesn’t mean it’s good for them. This kind of instability early on sets a precedent for how open partners can be with each other. i.e. “If I talk about this with him/her, he/she will get overwhelmed because last time I brought something like this up, he/she needed a break from me. I’ll just keep it to myself.” This is a dangerous pattern to fall into. It’s important to feel safe and secure in a marriage for it to stay healthy and have longevity.
On a related note, what are your goals as a couple? Do you have a compatible vision for your future? If you want a four million dollar home with an ocean view and your husband wants a wee cottage in the forest, then you both may feel less committed to your marriage. Why? Because you want different things in life. If your husband wants six children and you’d rather be childfree, then you may have to work harder on overcoming the signs your marriage is over. To keep your marriage strong, you need to agree on your vision as a couple or family – and put each other first.
5. You’re not connecting emotionally, spiritually, or physically
The good news is that physical and emotional disconnection in a relationship is not one of the major signs your marriage is over! The bad news is that disconnection can lead to more serious problems down the road. The less you connect as a couple, the less healthy your relationship is…and the higher the chances your marriage is slowly ending.
If you’re struggling with these signs your marriage is over, remember that all married couples are forced to deal with difficulties. Many couples have to face the decision to stay married or consider getting a divorce because their problems are bigger than they care to handle.
Don’t fall into the trap of believing you only have two options: staying married and staying unhappy, or getting a divorce and getting happy again. If you’re feeling scared and sad because of these warning signs your marriage is over, then perhaps you’re ready to go beyond that false choice (“Do I divorce so that I can find happiness again, or do I keep the family together and remain unhappy?”).
Perhaps you’re ready to do the work it takes to save your marriage. According to the Couples Institute, you’d be be surprised to learn that most unhappy marriages become happy again, if couples can stick it out. While some divorces are necessary, many marriages can be repaired.
“It may be difficult to face the issues that you and your spouse are struggling with, but research suggests that couples who can manage to stay together usually end up happier down the road than couples who divorce,” writes Dr. Deborah Hecker on Should You Divorce or Save Your Marriage? “If partners choose to invest in their relationship and make needed changes instead of repeating their mistakes, they might be able to avoid an unnecessary divorce. And if they do finally decide to divorce, their personal work in couples therapy might increase their chance of a successful marriage next time.”
6. You husband cheated and wants to end your marriage
If your husband had an affair and is leaving you, then you’ve gone beyond the typical “signs your marriage is over.” The bad news is that infidelity can damage your relationship beyond repair – especially if your husband leaves you for the other woman.
If your husband had an affair and wants to rebuild your relationship, then crack open the champagne and celebrate! The good news is that marriage infidelity by itself is not a sign your marriage is over. Many couples survive marital unfaithfulness, and many have an even stronger bond because of the cheating.
What’s the difference between infidelity as a sign your marriage is over versus infidelity as a turning point towards a healthier, stronger relationship? You and your husband’s intentions for your future. Cheating in and of itself won’t necessarily end your marriage…it’s how you and your husband clean up after the infidelity that determines if you’ll stay together.
“In my work doing marriage coaching, I have noticed that very often the turning point in a marriage is when a couple hits rock bottom,” says marriage coach Mort Fertel, who offers 7 Secrets to Fixing Your Marriage. “It’s not until they’ve been through the worst that things start to get better.”
Don’t despair if infidelity is a factor in your marriage. Mort says cheating husbands are more likely to build stronger relationships – if they are genuinely sorry and sincere about saving their marriages. However, if your spouse cheated, you and he will need to do some serious work on moving forward in peace, forgiveness, and love.
How to Cope With the Signs Your Marriage is Over
Read 10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage: America’s Love Lab Experts Share Their Strategies for Strengthening Your Relationship by John Gottman. He’s a respectable marriage therapist and researcher, and his insights will help you not only see your relationship differently, but actually change it for the better.
Don’t give up on your marriage yet – it is VERY possible that the best is yet to come! Maybe you’ve hit the natural “rock bottom” life cycle of your relationship…and maybe you just need to start rebuilding your marriage.
In 10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage, the Gottmans provide vital tools – scientifically based and empirically verified – that you can use to regain affection and romance lost through years of ineffective communication. You’ll strengthen your relationship and make it the most fulfilling it can be.
Maybe your marriage is over, or maybe you just need help and relationship advice from a couples therapist, marriage coach, or relationship textbook(s). Struggling with problems in your relationship isn’t one of the warning signs your marriage is over. It just means you’re human, and so is your husband.
May you experience recovery, healing, peace and love in your relationship. May you find life in your marriage, sparks of love in your soul, and sprouts of health in your emotional, physical, and spiritual relationship with your husband. I pray that God revives your marriage and performs a miracle in your relationship with him. May you find practical, healthy ways to deal with these signs your marriage is over – and may they become a ghost of the past.
I also pray for acceptance, wisdom, and guidance for you. May you seek God’s heart in all the decisions you make about your marriage and your future. May you accept His will, His desires, and His guidance for your life. I don’t know what the future holds for you, but God does. I pray that you can rely on Him, turn to Him, and lean on Him – even if you believe you have all the signs your marriage is over. I pray for health, for healing, for restoration in your life. I pray that you find hope and faith, and that you open your heart to any possibility that God might bring you. Be open, be willing to follow His will even if it’s painful. Give your marriage to God, and He will strengthen and uphold you no matter what happens.
If you feel unloved and alone in your relationship, read How to Survive a Loveless Marriage.
Laurie's "She Blossoms" Books
Growing Forward When You Can't Go Back offers hope, encouragement, and strength for women walking through loss. My Blossom Tips are fresh and practical - they stem from my own experiences with a schizophrenic mother, foster homes, a devastating family estrangement, and infertility.
How to Let Go of Someone You Love: Powerful Secrets (and Practical Tips!) for Healing Your Heart is filled with comforting and healthy breakup advice. The Blossom Tips will help you loosen unhealthy attachments to the past, seal your heart with peace, and move forward with joy.
When You Miss Him Like Crazy: 25 Lessons to Move You From Broken to Blossoming After a Breakup will help you refocus your life, re-create yourself, and start living fully again! Your spirit will rise and you'll blossom into who you were created to be.
I welcome your thoughts on these signs your marriage is over. I can’t offer relationship advice or counseling, but you may find it helpful to share what you’re going through. Writing is one of the best ways to gain clarity and insight, and can help you process your feelings and sort through your thoughts. And, your experience will show other women they’re not alone.