3 Signs Of An Unhappy Marriage That Don't Necessarily Mean It's Over — And 2 That Do

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unhappy couple

When it comes to answering the question "should I get a divorce?", there are so many factors to consider — not the least of which is the nature and degree of your unhappiness.

Throw in children, finances, length of your marriage, religion, and other influencers, and your decision just got tougher.

You should know by now that married life is neither perfect nor easy. Many couples find themselves in an unhappy marriage.

When you feel paralyzed by a seemingly impossible decision, it’s only natural to want a superpower force to swoop in with the answer.

RELATED: 7 Tips On How To Perk Up An Unhappy Marriage

But, we all know that rarely happens. And when faced with the decision on whether to stay in your miserable marriage or get a divorce, you are likely to get more questions than answers.

(Even Glinda the Good Witch would point her starred wand at your feet and remind you that the answer lies within you.)

In other words, you got yourself into this marriage. You have to do the painful work of deciding whether and how to stay in it.

Help is always available for those who seek it but only you can decide to accept it. (However, there are certain circumstances that demand you to divorce.)

Every marriage is as unique as the partners entering into it. Each spouse comes to the altar with a life history full of experiences that either strengthen or weaken a marriage.

The marriage becomes the stage on which those strengths prove their worth and those weaknesses rear their ugly heads. It is both a sanctuary and a healing ground. But, it is always a place to learn and grow.

As you take stock of your unhappiness, it’s important to remember that all love relationships navigate through predictable stages.

John Gottman consolidates the journey through love into three stages. Other sources expand to five, seven, or even 12 stages of love.

The "aha!" moment in all of these explanations of love’s course is that too many people give up too early. They stop at the disillusionment stage — right when reality sets in.

This is the time in a marriage when the hormonal veil of "He’s so perfect!" and "She’s an angel!" evaporates. And now the real fun begins...or at least the work.

There are many signs of an unhappy marriage. You may have a few or you may have many. But, chances are, you have at least one.

No relationship survives unscathed. Stretch marks, after all, are a sign of growth.

So, when deciding whether staying in your miserable marriage or getting a divorce is the best route for your relationship, try to filter the signs of discontent through that reality check.

Here are 5 signs you're currently in an unhappy marriage and whether or not that means it's over.

1. Sex has all but disappeared

This is important because intimacy is what distinguishes romantic love from all other relationships.

Even the lack of visible affection — hugs, kisses, and hand-holding — can be a sign that something is very wrong.

2. You fantasize about a happy life with someone else

The mental escape into a fantasy of happiness that doesn’t include your spouse is the start of emotional detachment.

Even if you don’t have a specific person in mind, the fact that you have excluded your spouse is telling. It’s a way of starting the numbing process so that the pain of possible separation in the future won’t be as great.

3. You don’t feel heard and/or you don’t listen

We all hunger to be heard at a deep, soulful level.

Feeling heard is equivalent to feeling validated. Feeling validated is equivalent to feeling valued. And feeling valued is equivalent to feeling loved.

Indifference or disregard is like a stripping away of that value and, ultimately, of love.

4. There is abuse

This sign of marital unhappiness stands apart from all the others because it requires immediate intervention and separation.

If you are being abused — physically, verbally, emotionally, sexually — you need to get help. Even if your abuser refuses to get help, you need to secure safety for yourself, your children, and any pets you may have.

There is no amount of your "being better" that is going to make an abuser a better spouse. Abuse is a cycle with deep psychological roots and it needs the help of trained professionals.

5. There is addiction

Regardless of the source of the addiction — alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling — you run the risk of co-dependency if you stay. Even if you do stay, you will both need to get help for your individual roles so that you can lead a healthy life without enabling the addict.

Since addiction is often interwoven with violence and other forms of abuse, it is a valid ground for separation or divorce.

RELATED: 11 Signs You're In An Unhappy Marriage

These are not signs your marriage is over, not exactly, but they do mean that something needs to be done to fix the rift between you so you can find happiness as a couple, again.

The majority of reasons for divorce due to marital unhappiness center around communication and unmet expectations.

Couples don’t know how to express their feelings and needs, so they detach or act out.

You have to believe that "if you knew better, you would do better." That is both logic and wisdom that comes with maturity.

But, couples rarely invest the time to "know better" before getting married. After all, they are both "perfect" in one another’s eyes so, therefore, their marriage will always be perfect. Or so they hope and hold onto believing.

There is no magic formula for helping you to know if you need to stay in your miserable marriage or divorce. But, if you haven’t examined the source of your unhappiness and how you reached that point, then you have work to do.

Research has shown that people who report unhappiness at some point in their marriage almost always end up happy if they stick it out.

In other words, unhappiness is rarely permanent.

The deciding factor is first deciding that the unhappiness is temporary and approachable. The next step is using unhappiness as a springboard for growth, no matter how inconvenient that may be at the time.

When you and your partner decided to marry, did you both already assume that you knew all you needed to know about communication and relationships? If so, go easy on yourself — most of us do.

But, use this wake-up call as a motivation to get counseling and invest in the dynamics of a healthy marriage.

Think about how different your marriage would look if you both knew effective ways to express your concerns, needs, wants, and love.

Think about what your parenting skills would look like if your marital skills were better.

What kind of relationship modeling and stability would you provide your children if you were first better spouses?

Ultimately, the only way to know if you need to stay in your miserable marriage or get divorced is by examining what you have done to save it. No one said that would be easy.

But, the real reason you married in the first place is that, deep down, you knew it would be worth it.

RELATED: 8 Glaring Signs You're In An Unhappy Marriage (& Headed For Divorce)

Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce and life coach. Her writing on marriage and divorce has appeared on MSN, Yahoo! & eHarmony among others. You can learn more about Karen and her work on her website.

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This article was originally published at Dr. Karen Finn's blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.