When a marriage goes sour, couples may ultimately decide to divorce. In some cases, the marriage can be saved if signs the marriage is dead are identified early on and the couple takes action to bring the marriage back to life.
If your marriage is in trouble, learning about the stages of a dying marriage can be helpful. If you catch yourself in the early stages, there are things you can do to reverse the damage. You may even be able to heal the damage in the later stages.
5 signs of a dead marriage
So, what are the signs your marriage is dying? You may notice some, or perhaps all, of the following:
1. There’s a lack of effort
Marriage takes work, and when two people are committed to staying together for better or for worse, they will make an effort for each other. This means making sacrifices for the sake of the marriage and going out of your way to consider your spouse’s feelings or do nice things for them.
On the other hand, when you notice a marriage dying, one or both partners are likely to have stopped making an effort.
They’ve reached a point where they don’t bother to make sacrifices or put forth an extra effort to make each other happy because they simply don’t care to do the work to make the marriage last.
2. Negativity is the norm
Every marriage has conflict from time to time, and some degree of disagreement is necessary and even healthy. If conflicts are not solved in a healthy fashion, negativity can become commonplace, which eventually leads to marital breakdown.
In fact, marriage counseling expert John Gottman has stated that couples need to have more positive than negative interactions for the marriage to be successful.
When you’re in the stages of a dying marriage, you may notice that instead of working toward a compromise and considering each other’s feelings during disagreements, you’re spending most of your time criticizing each other.
3. You spend little time together
It’s normal for couples to have some separate interests and spend time apart exploring these interests, but they should also desire to spend quality time together. Always being apart is not the norm.
One of the key dead marriage signs is that you and your spouse spend absolutely no time together. You’d rather do anything than spend an evening or weekend with them. Instead, you throw yourself into work, friendships, or outside hobbies.
4. You begin to notice that you’re unhappy
One of the phases of marriage breakdown is the acknowledgment that you’re unhappy. Most marriages begin on a positive note, and you may even go through the honeymoon stage of marital bliss.
When you become aware that you simply aren’t happy in your relationship, you’re experiencing one of the key signs that your marriage is in trouble.
5. There’s no respect
If you start to ask, “Is my marriage dying?” you might also notice that there’s a lack of respect in the relationship. While you used to easily forgive your partner and accept them, flaws and all, now you find that their shortcomings make you lose all respect for them.
You may find yourself being overly critical of your partner’s flaws or even going so far as to belittle them. Perhaps they also do the same to you.
Learn more about signs your partner doesn’t respect you here:
10 stages of a dying marriage
When your marriage is dying, you may notice some of the specific signs above, which suggest it’s time to make some changes.
A dying marriage may also go through the following 10 stages, progressing from early stages to a marriage that is seriously in trouble.
1. The first recognition of being unhappy
The first stage in a potentially dead marriage is coming face-to-face with the fact that you’re no longer happy.
Every relationship has ups and downs, but when a marriage is dying, you’ll find that the unhappy moments outweigh moments of joy, and you finally realize that you simply aren’t happy in your marriage anymore.
Once you make the initial recognition that you’re no longer happy, you may feel as if you’ve lost your spouse. You no longer feel connected to them or safe sharing the most intimate pieces of your life with them, which ultimately leads to loneliness.
3. You’re not communicating
One of the phases of a marriage going sour is a lack of communication. You aren’t sharing details of your lives, discussing your plans, or talking about your needs. Instead, you cut off communication, and you don’t know where each other stands.
4. Lack of intimacy
Intimacy is one of the key components of a healthy marriage. If there is no intimacy between you and your partner, there will be dissatisfaction, as the research shows. This is one of the phases of marriage breakdown.
It’s important to understand that intimacy doesn’t just have to be sexual. While sex is important, there are other forms of intimacy, such as physical touch and emotional closeness, that can also fall by the wayside in a dying marriage.
During this stage, you or your partner may dig up past problems, like an argument that happened years ago or a financial mistake that occurred early in the marriage.
At this point, it’s as if you’re looking for reasons to be upset with each other because there is no positivity left in the marriage.
8. Picking fights for no reason
When your marriage is dying, you or your significant other may start fights for no reason. This can be a form of pushing each other away or intentionally sabotaging the relationship so that you can give yourself permission to walk away.
At this stage of a dying marriage, something happens that gives you clarity, once and for all, that the relationship is over.
Maybe your spouse is hateful toward you in public or at a family function, or perhaps you discover a secret that you just can’t forgive. Whatever it is, you now realize that the marriage is over.
10. Moving on
If you do not take action to make serious changes at one of the earlier stages of a dying marriage, you may eventually reach stage 10, where you and your spouse decide that it’s time to move toward divorce.
At the very least, you may separate for a period because it’s gotten to the point that one or both of you has completely checked out and is not currently willing to fix the marriage.
5 habits for reviving a dying marriage
So, how do you figure out what to do when your marriage is dead?
As hard as it seems, it’s probably time to have a conversation with your spouse about the state of the marriage. Choose a time when both of you are relatively happy and unoccupied and have a difficult conversation.
Share your emotions and perspectives, such as your feeling that you and your spouse are disconnected and no longer sharing happiness and intimacy with each other.
If you recognize signs your marriage is dying, and both you and your spouse are willing to make the changes needed to reverse the damage, you can heal your marriage.
Some of the steps below can be helpful for turning things around when you recognize signs your marriage is dying.
1. Have a weekly meeting
When a marriage is dying, communication can begin to break down, and you may notice you’re not communicating with your spouse at all.
You can correct this problem by sitting down weekly with each other to discuss the state of the marriage.
This is a time to share your feelings, things that have been going well, and areas for improvement. You can also communicate about important issues, such as finances, upcoming plans, or your hopes for the future.
2. Be intentional about physical touch
If your marriage is breaking down, there may be no intimacy, sexual or otherwise, between you and your spouse. While you may not be able to jump into a lively sex life immediately, you can take steps to rebuild intimacy by prioritizing physical touch.
Something as simple as a hug before work in the morning, a kiss before bedtime, and holding hands while watching TV can help you to establish a connection and pave the way for deeper intimacy.
3. Schedule regular date nights
If you’re withdrawing from each other and doing anything but spending time together, your marriage isn’t likely to survive. Commit to scheduling a monthly date night, and spend this time together, doing activities you used to enjoy.
As you proceed through the phases of marriage and into the stage of a dead marriage, you’re likely to find that your partner’s flaws and quirks are no longer cute. You may even come to resent your partner or view them with contempt.
If this sounds like you, try giving your partner the benefit of the doubt. Assume positive intent, and recognize that their flaws are simply a sign of their uniqueness. Rather than approaching them with criticism and contempt when they make a mistake, practice forgiveness.
5. Acknowledge the positive
Positivity is one of the antidotes to a marriage dying. If you and your spouse are in a bad place, try to focus on the positive.
Praise your partner when they do something helpful, and be sure to express your gratitude for their positive qualities. Over time, you may be able to reverse the damaging effects of negativity.
If you notice signs your marriage is dying, you may benefit from reaching out to counseling for help. In some cases, you can resolve marital problems on your own.
Other times, reaching out for professional intervention can give you the additional support you need to heal your marriage. If your marriage is dying, all hope is not lost. There are things you can do to reverse the damage and fall back in love again.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker with a master's degree in social work from The Ohio State University, and she is in the process of completing her dissertation for a Doctorate of Philosophy in Psychology. She has worked in the social work field for 8 years and is currently a professor at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. She writes website content about mental health, addiction, and fitness.
Licensed as both a social worker through Ohio Board of Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage/Family Therapists and school social worker through Ohio Department of Education as well as a personal trainer through American Council on Exercise.