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Is Your Marriage Dying? Stages of Marital Decline



Most marriages begin with the expectation of Happily Ever After.

We believe that love conquers all problems and that just like in the movies, we will live blissfully happy and we ride into the sunset together.


In reality, marriage is filled with highs and lows, connection and disappointment. And the most beautiful thing that could happen is that we create a bond that evolves over time, shaped and enhanced by shared experiences and challenges.


Unfortunately, not all marriages follow a path of continual growth and deepening connection. Some marriages, enter a phase of decline. The decline can be sudden, if there's an unthinkable event or a betrayal. But for most couples, the loving connection fades slowly and withers away little by little, often unnoticed until it's too late.


Understanding the stages of a dying marriage is crucial. It can help couples recognize the signs of a marriage crisis early on. Awareness gives you the option of timely intervention, which can potentially save the relationship from self destruction.


In this post, we'll delve into the stages of marital decline. We'll look at the tell-tale signs of relationship problems, how communication breaks down, and the emotional emptiness and disconnection. We'll also discuss the importance of a qualified help BEFORE a marriage enters the crisis stage.


Whether you're married or in a long-term relationship, this comprehensive guide will provide valuable insight into the breakdown of a marriage.


Can You Recognize the Signs of a Dying Marriage?

A dying marriage doesn't happen overnight. It's a gradual process that unfolds through various stages. Recognizing these stages early can help prevent a full-blown marriage crisis.

The first step is to be aware of the common signs of a dying marriage. These signs may include:

  • Frequent arguments and unresolved conflicts.

  • Emotional disconnection

  • Lack of intimacy

  • Breakdown in communication

  • Lack of trust

  • Feelings of resentment, anger, disrespect.

  • External stressors that weigh down the relationship

The Denial Stage: Ignoring the Warning Signs

The denial stage is the first stage of a dying marriage.

During this stage, couples often ignore or minimize the problems in their relationship. They may push the problem under the rug or convince themselves that all marriages have ups and downs. However, this denial can prevent couples from addressing the issues at hand. It can lead to a buildup of resentment and frustration, setting the stage for further conflict.

Dr. Gottman, relationship expert tells us that most couples wait 7 years before seeking marriage counseling. That can be a costly mistake.


The Escalation Stage: Increased Tension and Arguments

The escalation stage is characterized by increased tension and arguments. The unresolved issues continue to surface, and the couple have more frequent conflicts.

These conflicts can range from minor disagreements to major fights. The escalation stage takes its toll on both partners and if children are involved, they are also negatively impacted.


The Negotiation Stage: Attempts to Resolve Issues

The negotiation stage happens prior to the escalation stage and again afterwards. Both parties want to be heard and their attempt to be heard and understood too often falls on deaf ears. Sometimes one partner promises to do better but very quickly returns to their old ways. It's in the negotiation stage, that one partner pushes for counseling. They may feel so frustrated and realize they need help and they don't want the relationship to end.

They may try to negotiate changes in behavior, seek compromise, or make promises to improve. However, without understanding and addressing the root cause, and with poor communication and conflict resolution skills, they acomplish very little.


The Resignation Stage: Feeling Hopeless

The resignation stage is marked by a sense of hopelessness or giving up. Couples feel lonely and disappointed. There is a sense of despair and they begin to entertaikn thoughts of leaving. They imagine what it would be like. Ther's a loss of hope for the future of the relationship.


The Detachment Stage: Emotional and Physical Separation Begins

The detachment stage is the final stage of the deat of the marriage or relationship. It's marked by emotional and physical separateness. Couples spend more time alone, or with others and less time together even if they are living in the same home.

This stage is characterized by a emotional disconnection. Feelings of lonliness and isolation are high, even when they are in the presence of the other partner.


The Role of Communication Breakdown

Dr. Gottman speaks of 'negative sentiment override'. When a relationship is in serious trouble, everything a person says tends to be seen in a negative light. Bad feelings run rampant. And communcation has severly deteriorated at this point. The couple can't speak to each other without it triggering an argument so communication is avoided. But effective communication is crucial for understanding a person's needs, resolving conflicts, and emotional intimacy. When communication breaks down, there are many misunderstandings, which leads to resentment, and emotional disconnection.


A breakdown in communication can manifest in various ways. It may involve frequent arguments, difficulty expressing feelings, or an inability to resolve conflicts. It can also involve more subtle signs, such as a lack of open and honest conversation, or a tendency to avoid difficult topics.


The impact of communication breakdown on a marriage can be profound. It can lead to a cycle of conflict and disconnection, making it difficult for couples to resolve their issues and reconnect emotionally.


Identifying Communication Issues

Identifying communication issues is the first step towards improving communication in a marriage. This involves recognizing the patterns of communication that are causing conflict or disconnection.


For example, one partner may have a tendency to criticize or blame, while the other may respond with defensiveness or withdrawal. These patterns have become automatic and people have blind spots regarding their part of the problem, making it difficult for couples to resolve their issues.


Strategies for Improving Communication

Improving communication in a marriage involves being willing to understand your partners perspective. And that involves dissolving some of the old hurts and resentments. No one is willing to listen when they themselves don't feel heard.


Improved communication and conflict resolution rarely happen without a marriage counselor at this point of the relationship crisis. Both parties need to learn new skills and change old patterns. But if they knew how to do that, they would have already done it. And when we feel angry, hopless and resigned, we need someone to breathe hope and life into the relationship.


Seeking Help: Counseling and Therapy

When a marriage is in crisis, seeking professional help is a game changer. Marriage counselors act as interpreters and mediators for each side. They can see and understand the points each side are making and the underlying message or unmet need that are not stated. They're trained to help couples navigate relationship problems and find resolution. They provide a safe space and act as a mediator for mutual understanding.


As a marriage counselor, my ultimate goal is to help couples identify and address the root causes of their issues, provide strategies for conflict resolution, improve communication, and rebuild trust as fast as possible. No one wants to spend endless time and money with a therapist. They want resolution. And fast resolution is my goal for everyone who comes through my doors. It's also important to understand that since everyone in an individual with their own past and their own world view and filter, there are often personal issues that affect the marriage. Understanding and addressing the individual piece, contributes to marriage success.


Conclusion: Healing the Marriage

There are many options for healing a fading or dying marriage or a marriage or relationship in crisis. The first step is making the decsion that the marriage is worth fighting for- or that it is not. Marriage counseling, couples counseling group therapy, workshops and retreats all have value and provide perspective and clarity.


You might be surprised to know that even in the midst of hopelessness or a horrible marriage crisis, couples can reconcile, recover and thrive. Sometimes it has to get so bad that the threat of divorce is the only thing that wakes a person up. I've even seen couples who've already taken the steps towards divorce, rekindle the flame and rebuild their marriage. Where there's a will, there is definitely a way!


Moving Forward

Every situation can be a stepping stone to something better. You deserve a spectacular relationship. If you're ready, take the first step for your happily ever after.

Schedule your free 15 minute phone consult and let's fall in love again.

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