You knew the heady early stages of your marriage weren't going to last forever. But when you find yourself stuck in a stagnant, unsatisfying relationship years later, you can't help but wonder: Is this really what I signed up for? Would we both be better off on our own?
If you find yourself in this position, the first thing you have to do is ask yourself if you have the energy to revive the relationship, said Christina Pesoli, a family law attorney and the author of Break Free from the Divortex: Power Through Your Divorce and Launch Your New Life.
"If you do, explore every last avenue to save your marriage, from therapy and mixing up your routine to improving your communication," she said. "But if you’re not willing to invest the energy into it, my advice is to gut it up and get out of the marriage before disaster strikes; people in loveless marriages are at a huge risk for extramarital affairs. And nothing turns a loveless marriage into a house of hate faster than betrayal."
Below, Pesoli and other relationship experts offer seven signs you're in a loveless marriage.
1. You dread date night.
When you're in love, you look forward to dinner with your S.O. and cozy nights in with takeout and Netflix. So if the thought of spending time with your spouse leaves you feeling cold -- or you actively try to duck out of doing things with him or her -- it's a huge red flag, said Pesoli.
"The occasional weekday lunch or special evening with your spouse should be a joy, not a job," she said. "If it seems like a chore, your relationship has probably grown stale. That’s especially true if you’re game to go to lunch with other people like friends and colleagues. When you relegate your significant other to only getting whatever you have left over at the end of the day, your marriage may be in deep trouble."
2. Only one of you is willing to work on the marriage.
You both agreed that your relationship needs a tune-up and yet, you can't help but feel that your spouse has checked out. Making those appointments with a marriage counselor? Your handiwork. Planning a weekly date night? All you again. If you're solely responsible for reviving your marriage, you might be beating a dead horse, said Susan Pease Gadoua, therapist and co-author of The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels.
“It doesn’t work if you’re knocking yourself out trying to get your spouse to counseling, trying to resolve the conflicts, make him or her happy without that being reciprocated," she said. "It’s hard to come to terms that a marriage might be over when you’re so invested in it working, but just as all problems in a relationship are both people’s responsibility, so, too, is the solution."
3. There's nothing happening between the sheets.
Don't underestimate the importance of sex in a relationship. Sure, your sex life isn't going to be insanely hot all the time -- your desire for your spouse (and his or hers for you) ebbs and flows through the years. But if the lack of sex starts to unnerve either of you, it's time to have a discussion, said Micki McWade, a psychotherapist and the author of Getting Up, Getting Over, Getting On: A Twelve Step Guide to Divorce Recovery.
"Physical affection is like a shot of vitamin B12 to a marriage. The first sign of trouble is the absence or infrequency of sex or intimacy," she said. "This may mean different things to different people but having a mutually satisfying sexual relationship is an excellent support for a healthy marital relationship. It makes the little day-to-day nuisances seem less annoying. It's absolutely something worth addressing."
4. You constantly fight in public.
Everyone knows at least one couple who's downright painful to be around: they're constantly bickering, generally dismissive of each other and bring a cloud of negativity to any dinner party they attend. If you're slowly morphing into that couple, you just might be in a loveless marriage. Clearly, you have contempt for one another and nothing's more detrimental to a relationship than that, said Pease Gaduoa.
"When your mate loses respect for you or you lose respect for your mate, it means trouble," she said. "Having utter disregard or even disdain for the other is toxic. Every interaction from the most mundane to the most important will be colored with negative undertones, overt and covert jabs and hurtful exchanges. Because the negativity feeds on itself, it doesn’t take long for lack of basic respect to undermine the marriage. It’s what researcher John Gottman refers to as contempt in marriage and it’s one of his predictors that the relationship will end."
5. Not even love songs can make you change your tune.
If you turn on the radio and all the love songs you hear leave you feeling flat, your relationship may be in dire straits, said Pesoli. It may seem like an insignificant sign of trouble, but it says more about your relationship than you realize, she said.
"The truth is, love songs know how to hit all the right notes," she said. "If you’re even the tiniest bit in love, listening to a really great love song can turn those feelings up to 11. So, if love songs don’t make you weak in the knees for your spouse, that’s a sign that your relationship is out of harmony. And if you find yourself swooning for your college boyfriend or work crush, it’s time for you to get some couples therapy."
6. The same arguments are played out over and over again.
If your constant squabbles about the same old issues are become more and more embittered, it's a sign of a seriously unhappy marriage, said McWade.
"Bickering about minutia is deadly," she said. "A steady or frequent toxic flow between marital partners is a sign that there is underlying and unresolved resentment present which will eventually erode and abrade the marital connection. In my experience, that resentment is usually based on either lack of sex, money habits or both."
7. You look for solutions to your marital problems outside your marriage.
According to Pease Gaduoa, one of the best indicators of whether a marriage is a loveless one -- or whether a couple is just experiencing a rough patch -- is how spouses try to solve their marital issues.
"When you see the solution to whatever problem or disagreement you are having with your spouse as being outside the marriage more often than you see the solution being within the marriage, it's problematic," the therapist said, citing an example of a client who eventually got fed up with his wife's refusal to go out on the weekends with him and the kids.
"At first he gave into her requests, but at one point, he started to fantasize how nice it would be if they lived apart and he could take the kids wherever he wanted to," she recalled. "Then whenever they’d fight, he’d picture the two of them divorced. The fantasies of being apart crept in at other times as well and soon, not a day went by where he didn’t long for his personal freedom. Four years later, he realized the situation really wasn’t going to improve. If he wanted to give his kids a better life, he had to end the marriage. Those fantasies you might be having are more worrisome than you realize."
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