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7 Stages of a Dying Marriage: Recognize the Signs and Save the Marriage

As a relationship coach, I’ve seen tons of marriages on life support. One couple, M and D, came to me as a last-ditch effort before divorcing after 15 years together. The spark was gone. Communication? Dead. Resentments had piled up over the years.

But throughout our coaching, M and D peeled back those layers one by one. At first, I didn’t think there was anything left to save. But they grieved the loss of their old flame, then got real about where things went wrong and how to rebuild. It wasn’t a cakewalk, but slowly, they started reconnecting and remembering why they fell for each other.

After a year of hard work, M and D reignited that fire.. Their marriage found new life, and I realized no marriage is beyond saving if both partners want to revive it.

The topic of dying marriages is so relevant today. In my practice, I see couple after couple who let their relationship erode without realizing it. They don’t know how to nourish their bond through life’s ups and downs or overcome issues before they mushroom into marriage-ending resentments.

It’s also critical to work on marriage problems because of how divorce impacts children in varying degrees. I’ve seen the fallout on kids when marriages crumble. The end of a marriage casts a long shadow over their lives for years.

That’s why I want to share the 7 stages of a dying marriage and equip struggling couples to recognize potential pitfalls. There are always warning signs and ways to revive a dying marriage. But you gotta be watching closely. And you gotta be willing to do whatever it takes to get back on track when things derail.

This article explores how marriages fade gradually. How to spot red flags. Key strategies to breathe new life into a dying relationship. I’ll also give guidance on when it may be time to call it quits for couples at the point of no return. There are no easy fixes, but for many, it’s possible to resurrect a dying marriage if caught in time.

7 Stages of a Dying Marriage

There’s no one-size-fits-all path when a marriage starts circling the drain. Each relationship has its own trajectory based on the couple’s dynamic. However, I’ve observed a similar sequence of events that signal a dying marriage in my practice.

There’s always an imbalanced dynamic – one partner initiates separation, and another struggles to reconnect. For this article, I’ll refer to them as the “rejector” and “rejectee.”

Stage 1: Healthy Relationship

Every strong marriage starts with a solid foundation – both partners understand, support, and communicate with each other. This helps them handle problems down the road. Not all marriages begin this way, but it’s the best starting point and ideal first stage.

Stage 2: Disillusionment

The early excitement in a marriage eventually wears off, and reality sets in. Meeting everyday demands means accepting each other’s flaws and limitations, which can shift the relationship dynamic. Handle this maturely by talking through issues that present growth opportunities.

Me in a Dying Marriage, Pretending Everything is Fine. Meme

Stage 3: Detachment

Unresolved problems over time can make one partner disconnect – acting distant, keeping secrets, and avoiding intimacy (more details in the 11 Warning Signs section below). As tensions build, they pull away further instead of working on the relationship.

Stage 4: Scramble

At this stage, problems boil over that had been hidden before. The rejectee desperately tries to save the marriage but often just pushes the rejector further away.

Stage 5: Split

The rejector wants space to think without pressure or intensity. Physical or emotional separation provides relief from the rejectee’s revival attempts. Divorce may get brought up, but with uncertainty.

Stage 6: Acceptance

After repeatedly being rebuffed, the rejectee realizes the rejector won’t reconcile, and the marriage is damaged beyond repair. The rejectee grieves the impending divorce.

Stage 7: Return

The rejector might resurface to reconnect, but it may be too late if the rejectee has made peace and moved on, not wanting to risk reopening old wounds.

11 Warning Signs that Your Marriage is in Danger

Marriages don’t usually fall apart overnight. There are almost always warning signs foreshadowing trouble ahead. As a marriage progresses into later high-risk stages, these red flags become impossible to ignore.

Smiling through Loneliness and Unhappiness in Marriage. Meme

Here are 11 glaring signals that a marriage may be in danger:

1) Fading Intimacy and Affection

The passion and romance that once bonded the couple fades. The couple no longer enjoys physical intimacy, and date nights diminish along with loving compliments or thoughtful gestures. Emotional neglect breeds resentment on both sides.

2) Lingering Loneliness and Unhappiness

The relationship feels empty, drained of energy and joy. The partners don’t feel supported, understood, or valued by each other. Loneliness festers even when together. Happiness is out of reach.

3) Dwindling Quality Time

The couple stops spending quality time together, pursuing independent interests instead, or finding excuses like work. Communication grows superficial, lacking depth or vulnerability. Worse, there’s an entire lack of communication overall.

4) Avoidance of Conflict and Unresolved Matters

Disagreements never get resolved; they are just buried and avoided. Issues fester under the surface, leading to tension. The partners feel unable to share needs or complaints without sparking fights.

5) Escalating Major Arguments

When conflicts do erupt, they quickly spiral out of control. Yelling, blaming, and bringing up past issues happen. The partners harbor bitterness and contempt.

6) Overarching Negativity

Criticism, judgment, and cynicism override positive feelings between the couple. They see the worst in each other and the relationship, blinded to anything good left.

7) Loss of Shared Interests

The couple no longer enjoys the same activities, hobbies, and social circles. Without shared interests binding them, they move down fragmented paths, lacking understanding of each other’s needs.

8) Erosion of Mutual Respect

Subtle comments and behaviors dismiss each other’s feelings, needs, dreams, or desires. They cut each other down instead of building each other up.

9) External Focus and Neglect

The partners pour energy and attention into work, devices, children, hobbies – anything except each other. They start to feel the emotional withdrawal from the relationship.

10) Presence of Infidelity

Cheating remains one of the most destructive acts against marriage. It obliterates trust and stability, leaving betrayal trauma and lasting scars. It signals the marriage has profoundly broken down.

11) Shattered Promises and Commitments

The partners no longer keep their word or uphold relationship commitments made. Promises feel meaningless as the foundation of loyalty and reliability disintegrates. Broken vows lead to broken bonds.

How to Revive a Dying Marriage?

Renowned relationship researcher Dr. John Gottman identified four negative communication styles he dubbed “The Four Horsemen of Divorce” that predict marital demise.

These toxic patterns show up in all partnerships, but happy couples squash them before they metastasize. In declining marriages, the horsemen run rampant, speeding divorce’s approach.

1) Criticism

Criticism attacks your partner’s personality or character beyond just complaining about a behavior. It communicates contempt and disrespect. Over time, barrage after barrage of criticism leaves your partner feeling assaulted, stupid, inferior, and unloved. It breeds defensiveness and closes them off from sincerely listening.

2) Contempt

Contempt demonstrates total disrespect for your partner – mocking them, rolling your eyes, sarcasm, cynicism. It conveys disgust and superiority as if they are beneath you. Over time, it leaves your partner feeling despised and worthless. It signals moral superiority, which blocks compassion and makes conflict resolution impossible.

3) Defensiveness

Defensiveness protects the self over preserving the relationship. It usually surfaces as excuses, denial of responsibility, whining, sulking, cross-complaining, or passive aggression. The message is, “It’s not my fault. I haven’t done anything wrong.” This blocks self-reflection and addressing issues at hand.

Defensiveness is the Best Defense. Meme

4) Stonewalling

Stonewalling shuts down dialogue through silence, emotional disengagement, distraction, or simply walking away. It conveys “You do not matter to me,” which leaves your partner feeling alone, disregarded, and disrespected. It builds barriers that deteriorate emotional intimacy.

The key to reviving dying marriages lies in eliminating these destructive communication patterns and replacing them with empathy, openness, and positivity.

It requires dropping pride, listening sincerely, validating each other’s experiences even when you disagree, then compromising. With diligent awareness and intentional adjustments, couples can renew stability and trust and possibly fall in love again.

When is it Time to End My Marriage?

Sometimes, you must face reality – it might be time to end your marriage. You’ve tried everything to fix problems, but nothing works. Irreconcilable differences have built up that can’t be resolved. 

The final sign is when one or both partners stop caring at all. Your efforts to improve the relationship disappear into a black hole because the emotional investment has dried up.

In fact, if staying together “for the kids” no longer matters to you over getting a divorce, that’s a clear signal things have entirely broken down. Sticking it out while resentment festers rarely nurtures the kids anyway.

The weight of the word “divorce” often keeps unhappy couples stuck. But humanely ending the marriage might be the only way forward once caring vanishes between you, and splitting up feels like relief rather than dread.


As a relationship coach, I firmly believe in working to save a marriage. But I also understand some reach the point where ending the relationship is healthiest since it can’t be fixed. Divorce always leaves painful scars, yet dragging out an unfixable marriage also causes harm.

The advice in this article is for typical healthy marriages between partners who wed freely in love. Abuse, arranged marriages, and other uncontrolled circumstances are not what we are talking about here. In those cases, safety always comes first.

From over a decade of strengthening couples’ bonds through hard times, I’ve learned every marriage can transform for the better when both partners actively nourish it with empathy and care. But without ongoing effort, even the strongest foundation erodes till nothing remains.

Relationships are like gardens – with consistent care, roots grow deep and can weather droughts. But let the garden untended too long, and all the flowers wither away, leaving only dust where beauty once thrived. The choice lies with the gardeners’ hands.

Please share your thoughts below! And forward this to anyone struggling to resurrect a dying marriage. My mission is to help couples recognize warning signs early and work together to restore the life they envisioned.

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