Couple struggling to continue to hold hands as they walk on either side of a small stream.

5 Symptoms Of A Bad Marriage & How To Resolve Them

All marriages encounter bumps along the road. Sometimes, however, these bumps can gradually erode into potholes which are actually symptoms of a bad marriage. It’s the gradual nature of the erosion that can make it difficult to address the bumps before they grow.

Recognizing the symptoms of a bad marriage as early as possible is key to taking proactive steps toward healing and strengthening your relationship. Yet, you can equip yourself with the tools to identify and resolve these challenges which can lead to a deeper connection with your spouse.

1.    Lack of Communication

One of the most glaring symptoms of a bad marriage is the presence of communication issues. These issues appear not only as the absence of conversation but the poor quality of the communications that do occur.

When spouses stop sharing their thoughts and feelings openly, misunderstandings and resentments can and usually do, accumulate. As you might expect, this creates a significant barrier to intimacy and understanding.

The Silence That Speaks Volumes

In many cases, silence can become a wall between partners. That is because the silence represents unshared fears, unexpressed desires, and unresolved conflicts.

To recognize this symptom, you must be attentive to what is said and to is left unsaid.

By encouraging open dialogue about day-to-day experiences, feelings, and thoughts you and your spouse can gradually dismantle this barrier.

Transforming Communication Patterns

Transforming negative communication patterns into constructive conversations is crucial. You will both need to learn to express needs and concerns without blame, listen actively without preparing to retaliate, and acknowledge each other’s perspectives.

Regular, scheduled discussions about both mundane and significant topics can help you re-establish a connection. Ideally, you and your spouse will approach these conversations with an open heart and a willingness to understand rather than to win an argument.

And, yes, sometimes it will be easier than others to transform your communication patterns. Remember, learning new skills often requires a bit of struggle.

The Role of Active Listening

Active listening is a powerful tool in healing communication rifts. It involves fully concentrating on what is being said rather than passively hearing the speaker’s message.

Techniques that can help you become an active listener include mirroring the other person’s words, asking clarifying questions, and expressing empathy. By validating each other’s feelings and experiences, couples can begin to rebuild trust and intimacy.

Seeking Professional Help

If you find trying to bridge the communication gap in your marriage on your own, seeking professional help can be a transformative decision.

Couples therapy offers a structured environment where both partners can explore and understand their communication styles, triggers, and barriers under the guidance of a trained professional. This safe space can facilitate the expression of deep-seated feelings and foster mutual understanding.

If you would prefer to have an intensive, focused experience in couples therapy to resolve your communication challenges, a private, weekend marriage counseling retreat may be a better option.

Regardless of whether you choose to resolve the challenges of a lack of communication in your marriage on your own or with professional help, you can repair the damage done and improve your marriage.

2.    Loss of Trust

Trust is the cornerstone of any thriving marriage, yet it is also among the most vulnerable facets. It can be compromised through infidelity, dishonesty, or even consistent unreliability. And when it is compromised, its loss creates a deep chasm between spouses. Recognizing this symptom of a bad marriage is painful but essential for healing and moving forward.

Rebuilding Trust

Rebuilding broken trust doesn’t happen overnight. The offending spouse must begin by acknowledging the hurt they have caused. Next, they must offer a sincere apology and a commitment to change.

Open and honest communication becomes crucial here—discussing fears, expectations, and setting boundaries. Both partners must be willing to put in the work, showing consistency in their actions and patience in their expectations.

Transparency as a Healing Tool

Transparency is pivotal in regaining lost trust. This means open access to personal devices, transparent financial dealings, and honest discussions about where you are and who you’re with. While it might feel invasive initially, this level of openness acts as a bridge to regaining confidence in each other’s commitment. And when you stop to think about it, you likely had this level of transparency in the beginning of your relationship which is one of the reasons you decided to marry.

The Role of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is required to rebuild trust. It’s not about forgetting the betrayal but about choosing to move forward. Forgiveness is a personal process and requires time and reflection.

When trust is broken, you need to extend forgiveness to your spouse – regardless of whether you broke the trust, or they did. It also needs to be extended toward yourself and your spouse will also need to forgive themselves. You’ve come to this situation together and that means you’ve both played a part in its creation. That is why you must each forgive yourselves.

When you are each able to truly forgive, it is a recognition that moving forward doesn’t mean the absence of pain but the commitment to heal together.

Seeking External Support

Sometimes, the path to rebuilding trust requires guidance from a third party. Couples therapy can provide a neutral ground for addressing issues, facilitating communication, and offering strategies to rebuild trust. Support groups and workshops focused on trust issues can also offer perspectives and coping strategies.

Reestablishing trust is undoubtedly challenging but is also a testament to the strength and resilience of your relationship.

3.    Constant Conflict

Constant conflict in a marriage signals deep-rooted issues that extend beyond surface-level arguments. It’s not the occasional disagreement that defines this symptom of a bad marriage, but rather persistent, unresolved disputes that chip away at the foundation of your relationship.

This perpetual state of conflict can stem from differing values, unmet needs, or unresolved issues from the past, leading to a cycle of frustration and bitterness.

Understanding the Root Causes

To break the cycle, it’s essential to understand the underlying causes of these conflicts. Often, what couples argue about isn’t the real issue. It may not even be an issue or issues from the relationship. It could be a family-of-origin issue that needs to be addressed.

Deep listening and honest self-reflection can reveal underlying concerns and needs that aren’t being addressed.

Learning Healthy Conflict Resolution

Adopting healthy conflict resolution strategies can transform how you navigate disagreements. Techniques such as taking timeouts to cool down, using “I” statements to express feelings without blaming, and focusing on finding solutions rather than winning arguments can be incredibly effective.

Fostering Positive Interactions

Counteracting negative interactions with positive ones is crucial. For every negative interaction during a conflict, strive to have five positive interactions, whether it’s through compliments, gratitude, affection, or acts of kindness. This ratio, suggested by relationship research, can help maintain a healthy balance and reinforce your bond.

Seeking External Guidance

When conflicts become too overwhelming to handle alone, reaching out for professional help can be a wise step. A marriage counselor or therapist can offer unbiased guidance, helping both partners understand each other’s perspectives and develop more effective communication and conflict-resolution skills.

Acknowledging and addressing the pattern of constant conflict is a brave and necessary step toward this symptom of a bad marriage.

4.    Emotional or Physical Distance

Emotional or physical distance within a marriage can manifest subtly, yet it significantly impacts the relationship’s health and vitality. This distance often signals a deeper disconnect, whether due to unresolved conflicts, external stressors, or shifting priorities.

Recognizing the Signs

Identifying emotional or physical distance involves noticing changes in how you and your spouse interact. This might include less frequent conversations, a lack of interest in spending time together, or a decline in physical intimacy. Acknowledging these changes is the first step toward addressing the issue.

Bridging the Gap

To reduce this distance, you must take proactive steps. The first step is initiating open and honest discussions about feelings and needs. Another effective step you can take to start to close the emotional gap is scheduling regular quality time, whether for date nights or shared activities, which can also rekindle closeness.

Rekindling Intimacy

Physical intimacy is a crucial component of a healthy marriage. If this aspect of your relationship has waned, consider exploring new ways to reconnect on this level. This might involve setting aside time for intimacy, discussing each other’s needs and desires, or seeking professional help if physical barriers exist.

Professional Support

Sometimes, the emotional or physical distance might be symptomatic of deeper issues that are difficult to navigate alone. In such cases, seeking support from a marriage counselor and perhaps a personal therapist can provide a structured approach to addressing these challenges, offering strategies to reconnect and rebuild your relationship.

Keep in mind that addressing emotional and physical distance requires commitment and effort from both partners.

5.    Negativity and Criticism

Another of the symptoms of a bad marriage is the pervasive presence of negativity and criticism, which can severely impact the emotional climate of a relationship. This destructive pattern not only erodes mutual respect and affection but also fosters a hostile environment where defensiveness and resentment thrive.

Initiating Positive Change

Transforming a critical dynamic starts with conscious efforts to minimize negative comments and replace them with positive affirmations. Recognizing and appreciating the good in your partner (and yourself) can gradually shift the tone of interactions.

Constructive Communication

Adopting a more constructive approach to communication means focusing on expressing needs and desires positively. Framing concerns without assigning blame (“I” statements work well here too) can encourage a more open and supportive dialogue.

Reinforcing Positivity

Actively seeking and creating positive experiences together can strengthen your relationship’s foundation. This can include shared hobbies, date nights, or simply moments of appreciation and gratitude.

Leveraging Professional Support

If you and your spouse find yourselves struggling to overcome entrenched patterns of negativity and criticism, professional counseling can be invaluable. A therapist can provide strategies and guidance for building a more positive, respectful relationship dynamic.

When you shift your marital environment from hostility to one of compassion, respect, and love, you will pave the way to a flourishing relationship.

Regardless of which or how many of these symptoms of a bad marriage felt familiar to you, know that they can be overcome. With determination and perhaps some professional support, you and your spouse can create a more loving and happy marriage and repair the potholes that have appeared on your road to happily ever after.

Mary Ellen Goggin offers relationship coaching for individuals and collaborates with her partner Dr. Jerry Duberstein to offer private couples retreats. To learn more about working with Mary Ellen, contact her here.

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Mary Ellen Goggin

Mary Ellen is a highly skilled and intuitive relationship guide. She brings over 35 years’ experience with individuals and businesses as a lawyer, mediator, personal coach and educator. She received her J.D. at University of New Hampshire Law School and a Master’s Degree at Harvard University. Mary Ellen co-authored Relationship Transformation: How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too with Jerry Duberstein — and they were married by chapter 3. Mary Ellen brings a unique blend of problem-solving, practicality, and warmth to her work. She’s a highly analytic person, with geeky and monkish tendencies. She’s a daredevil skydiver, a voracious seeker of knowledge, and an indulgent grandmother. Her revolution: helping people become the unapologetic rulers of their inner + outer realms. Read more about the retreats