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How to Save a Struggling Marriage From Divorce
Marriage advice

How to Save a Struggling Marriage From Divorce

How do you save a marriage from divorce? Learn the warning signs of a troubled marriage, how to save a struggling marriage, and start healing.

Together Team
January 26, 2022

This post was medically reviewed by Daniel Dashnaw, M.A., M.S., MFT.

When you said “I do,” you never thought you’d be researching struggling marriage advice. While every relationship has its ups and downs, a struggling marriage can make you feel trapped. 

You love your partner, but you are no longer happy with them.

How do you know when a marriage is over?

How do you fix a broken marriage? 

These questions can keep you up at night and haunt you throughout the day, and no matter how hard you try, nothing seems to work. You fall back on old habits, you feel your partner growing distant, and you wonder if what you have left is even salvageable. 

While this is an extremely difficult and painful moment in life, it does not have to be the end of your marriage. 

Learn the warning signs of a troubled marriage, how to deal with a struggling marriage, what stage of marriage is the hardest, and how to save a marriage that is falling apart. 

What Makes for a Struggling Marriage? 

The most common warning signs of a trouble relationship usually center around three elements: 

  1. Intimacy
  2. Vulnerability
  3. Cooperation

Intimacy

Intimacy is more than just showing physical affection. It’s about emotional availability and safety; do you feel comfortable sharing your feelings with your partner, even the uncomfortable or negative ones? 

A lack of intimacy in a marriage can lead to guilt, resentment and even affairs. Fixing intimacy starts with addressing the bigger issues, whether it’s trauma from past relationships, recovering from an affair or a fear of intimacy from one or both partners. 

One research study evaluated the relationship between intimacy and emotional skillfulness in 92 married couples. The researchers found that the ability to identify and express emotions in a healthy way was strongly associated with intimacy safety between married couples.

A common reason why couples have struggling marriages is because they have difficulty identifying, processing, and communication emotion.

Vulnerability

Vulnerability is a necessity for true emotional intimacy. Troubled marriages lack vulnerability because trust has been broken in some way. You may still love your spouse, but you no longer share and accept each other’s feelings like you used to. Being honest with them, or hearing their honest feelings, hurts, so you withdraw. 

In her book Daring Greatly, research professor Brené Brown, Ph.D., explores the power of vulnerability in marriage, parenthood and life. She describes vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” 

Without vulnerability, spouses cease to see the wonder in each other’s inner world. This puts you both at risk of growing apart, feeling disconnected and losing touch with each other. 

Spouses in struggling marriages may put up self-protective walls, and this can make even simple teamwork a challenge.

Cooperation

We all know that cooperation is central to a healthy relationship. You may find yourself wondering how often it is normal to fight in a marriage? The answer varies as the definition of “fight” evolves. Disagreements are natural, but what they revolve around has a major impact on the impact they’ll have on your marriage. 

Being cooperative means that you are willing to hear each other out, regardless of whether you agree with what your spouse is saying. 

Marriage is all about teamwork. Cooperation leads to mutual compromise.

This compromise is never about being right or wrong. It’s finding solutions that leave both of you happy. 

With these three ideas in mind, it can be easier to understand and apply appropriate struggling marriage advice. Before we get there, though, let’s look a bit closer at some of the warning signs of a troubled marriage. 

6 Red Flags of a Struggling Marriage

  1. You’re Overly Critical of One Another

Your spouse should support you and help you grow as a person. At times, this may mean giving feedback you need to recognize unhealthy or unhelpful behaviors. But when you both tend to criticize one another with no resolution in sight, the entire relationship suffers. 

  1. You No Longer Express Physical Affection

Sex isn’t everything in a marriage, but it does play a part in maintaining intimacy. If you or your partner have mismatched libidos or sexual preferences, this can spell trouble down the road. 

When emotional problems begin to block your sexual and physical intimacy, more problems can begin to stem from feeling neglected.

If you wonder how often married couples should have sex, the answer is up to you. However, one study found that couples who had sex at least once a week were happiest. 

  1. You Argue Over the Same Things Constantly 

How many times do you notice a look on your partner’s face and think, “Here we go again”? Fighting about the same problems while never growing closer to a solution is the basis of ‘irreconcilable differences.’ If this sounds like you, it’s time to think about your conflict style. 

If neither person feels heard, respected or valued and even admits disagreements, they cannot grow from their arguments. Fights are not arenas to prove yourself right or partner wrong. Fighting should be a healthy, constructive argument that leads to a deeper love and understanding of each other. 

  1. You Never Argue

It may sound paradoxical to a happy marriage, but no arguments may not always be a good thing. While screaming matches never do anyone good, never bringing up your thoughts or opinions is equally problematic. 

A marriage has to be one long conversation with one another. This means having periods of turbulence when you may not agree or share the same view. If you feel like there’s no point to arguing anymore, it can signify that you’ve emotionally given up. 

When a couple avoids conflict, resentments build. Don’t let your partner think that you’ve psychologically checked-out. Conflict is unavoidable, and you can learn to manage it with skill.


  1. You Think About Being With Other People

Married people still find other adults attractive. That is a fact of life. But if you find yourself daydreaming about what it would be like to be with someone else, this is a sign for immediate intervention. You can’t turn off physical attraction, but you do control your thoughts toward people you see.

In a happy marriage, you don’t harbor fantasies about dating someone else or even having a one-night stand. And struggling marriages often create conditions that result in emotional and physical affairs. 

Fantasizing about others is a red flag that you are not having your needs met by your partner. Ask yourself why you feel the urge to be with another person. Are you really drawn to them, or do you just want them to give you what you aren’t receiving from your spouse? 


  1. They’re No Longer Your Go-To in Life 

Your spouse should not be your whole life, but they should be one of the biggest parts of it. Married couples are happiest when their spouse is also their best friend. If you no longer want to tell your spouse things first, this indicates a loss of intimacy and fulfillment from the relationship. 

Worse, unresolved fights can stop you from rebuilding through positive exchanges. When engagement is kept to a bare minimum just to keep the peace, happiness is ultimately sacrificed for complacency. 

Struggling Marriage Advice You Should Hear 

First and foremost, know that difficult times do not mean your relationship is over.

Marriage has many stages, and the honeymoon phase typically ends after about 2 years. That can vary from couple to couple, of course, but the principle remains the same. 

At some point, you stop seeing your partner as a flawless human being. 

For some people, especially those who married early, this can feel utterly devastating. The person you thought you knew now feels like a stranger. 

You catch glimpses of the one you love here and there, but there is so much more coming up you don’t recognize, and worst of all, don’t know if you can live with. 

When you feel like your marriage is falling apart, the first thing you have to do is put down your guard. It’s scary, uncomfortable and comes with a risk. But it’s the only way you can potentially save what you’re terrified to lose.

Both people must be willing to admit their wrongdoings and commit to loving each other first. This doesn’t mean putting their own needs or feelings aside; it’s not about trading off on emotions to keep the other person happy. 

How to Save a Struggling Marriage From Divorce 

Couples therapy is always a good idea. It’s the best resource for couples no matter how long they’ve been together or what their problems are. 

A marriage counselor can help you both feel validated, seen and understood. You can learn how to communicate better, how to listen better and how to love each other more. 

In many cases, there is no one to blame for a struggling marriage. Both people have their own faults to accept and strengths to help rebuild. In therapy, you can learn how to do this in the least disruptive way possible. Growth as a couple doesn’t happen through unhealthy relationship patterns. 

Whether it’s your attachment style, past pain or your own insecurity, you need to recognize what you are contributing toward your marriage’s issues. The same goes for your partner. 

Ultimately, spouses who want to save their marriage have to choose a future together. This means committing to being married and not just avoiding divorce.

No one is perfect, and that’s okay. The beauty of growing together is knowing that despite your hardships, you can still come through the other side, even closer than before.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Together Team

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