10 Indicators That Your Marital Ship Is Sinking

sinking shipI remember deciding to leave my marriage. After months and months of trying to make it work, I got to a point where I couldn’t stay any longer. It wasn’t my choice to end the marriage, but my partner made it impossible for me to stay. The decision to walk away from something I had been so committed to was torturous because there was a part of me that would not let go of the idea that it could be saved.

I knew the ship was sinking fast, and I tried really hard to scoop out the water, but ultimately I got to a point where I had to jump. With no life raft waiting for me, I chose to plunge into the deep, murky waters of a new life that would be completely different than what I had planned.

People in therapy often ask me how they can know when it’s time to stop trying and give up on saving a marriage. My answer is always the same: There may come a time when you know you can’t stand it any longer. It may coincide with a loss of integrity and a fear of losing yourself in something you intuitively know is not healthy for you. There is no set time frame; it’s different for every person and every unique situation.

It takes a great amount of courage to walk away from a marriage even if you have exhausted all avenues to try and salvage what’s broken. Even when one partner refuses to work on things, the idea of leaving a marriage dead in the water is beyond painful and hard to overcome.

It’s almost always fear and hope that keep people in a terminal marriage for a little too long—the fear of walking away from something too soon, and the hope that it can be resurrected.

The limbo of whether to work on something or walk away can last for weeks, months, or even years. It’s a personal choice that can come only from a place of deep certainty and a readiness to relinquish the fantasy of what could have been.

I have seen many people who don’t technically “leave the marriage” until well after they are divorced. A signature on a page doesn’t define an ending in the same way a marital commitment is much more than a piece of paper.

No one can ever tell you how or when to be done with your marriage, but here are a few indicators that you might be staying in a marriage beyond its expiration date.

  1. Your partner blatantly does and says things that hurt you.
  2. He or she disappears for long periods of time without being “reachable.”
  3. Your partner refuses to end the relationship he or she has been having outside the marriage.
  4. Your partner no longer includes you in his or her daily life.
  5. He or she has moved out of the house into his or her own place.
  6. You constantly find yourself wondering where the person you married has gone.
  7. You rationalize his or her behavior as a “midlife crisis.”
  8. You witness big discrepancies between what your partner says and does.
  9. He or she refuses to go to couples counseling.
  10. Your partner tells you he or she doesn’t love you anymore.

Some of these indicators may be hard to swallow or accept, but if they raise your awareness or give you a bar by which to measure the health of your relationship, perhaps it will be easier to put your marriage to rest.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andra Brosh, PhD

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  • zane

    February 3rd, 2014 at 10:45 AM

    Yep I would say that if any one of these things started happening in my marriage, much less a combination of them, I would pretty much know that there was something pretty serious going on. The thing is, though, that we spend so much time wrapped up in ourselves and the lives of our kids that I think most couples don’t realize that the ship is sinking until they are already more than halfway under water! That’s why I think so many marriages do end in divorce because by the time most of us clue in that there is a problem it is already beyond the point of being able to fix it.

  • Troy Y

    February 4th, 2014 at 3:56 AM

    I have had some friends who will look blankly after they have been served with divorce papers and will say something like they never saw this coming.

    Are you kidding me? I saw it coming, so how were you married to someone and didn’t see the writing on the wall?

  • tz

    February 4th, 2014 at 10:45 AM

    I needed this list before I got married

  • Sarah

    February 5th, 2014 at 3:46 AM

    It’s hard being in this kind of situation coming from the background that I do. I was raised to believe that divorce is a non option, that once you marry it is truly for better or worse, no matter the problems that lie ahead. So I went into my marriage with this mindset not realizing just how valatile things can get very quickly when you are in love far more than your spouse is.

    I have tried talking to my parents about how I think that I made a mistake that this might not be the right situation for me to be in, but they won’t even hear of it, so I think that my support chain might be a little lax if I decided to go through with ending the marriage.

    I guess I was young and naive when I got married and thought that love would overcome everything but it isn’t always enough.

  • Jasmine

    February 6th, 2014 at 3:41 AM

    very timely contribution, as I see lots of couples who make it through the holidays on cruise control, they put their blinders on and hold their nose to make it through another holiday season, and then when you get to this point you just can’t take anymore and you begin to see all of those little signs that you could have been missing before.

  • mike f

    February 7th, 2014 at 1:25 PM

    I agree that it is a good thing to try to make the marriage work when at all possible. But then I see couples who stay together far past the time when they probably should have just called it quits. They don’t know when enough is enough and they end up being miserable and making everyone around them miserable in the process.

  • Christie

    February 10th, 2014 at 4:02 AM

    But marriages ebb and flow, right? So how do you know when the end is really imminent or when you are just going through one of those patches?

  • Dr. Brosh

    February 10th, 2014 at 10:20 AM

    Christie – If any of the issues I listed are part of your relationship presently then look at it as an SOS for marital therapy. This blog was about a sinking marriage not a terminal marriage, so use these indicators as a wake up call to really focus on what’s going on.

  • Oh

    February 16th, 2014 at 12:01 PM

    Well what if they are not well ….should one let it be known of what smells rotten and accept them …. With out there behaviors

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