The 5 Stages Your Marriage Goes Through Before ‘I Don’t’

stages of a dying marriage

A healthy, thriving marriage brings immense blessings. The love and support of an intimate partner through life’s joys and trials are genuinely invaluable. However, even the most robust unions can unravel over time if not correctly cared for.

Unfortunately, roughly half of all marriages in America end in divorce

As Georgia family law attorneys with years of experience helping couples navigate through marital crises, we have witnessed the full trajectory of dying marriages firsthand. There are distinct emotional phases and warning signs as intimacy falters, conflict rises, and spouses may drift apart.

While painful, identifying these stages early and taking proactive steps can dramatically improve the prognosis for reconciliation.

Stage 1: Emotional Disconnection in Marriage

The initial sign your marriage may be in peril is one partner may unconsciously withdraw from the relationship. They stop investing in shared activities, expressing affection openly, or meeting their spouse’s intimacy needs.

Reasons vary, but adults often focus heavily on responsibilities like careers, children, aging parents, and more. Slowly but surely, they disengage from the marriage itself.

All marriages go through ups and downs. But chronic disconnection from your spouse that persists for months or years can starve the relationship.

Major Signs of Disconnection

  • Lack of communication and intimacy.
  • Partners avoid spending quality time together.
  • One spouse feels like their needs are ignored.
  • Frequently short responses.

Disconnection manifests in different ways for each couple. However, emotional distance almost always precedes the deterioration of marriage bonds.

Steps to Counteract Disconnection

Reigniting intimacy before harmful relationship patterns cement. Doing so requires vigilance and vulnerability from both parties.

Consider proactive measures like:

  • Schedule regular date nights each week.
  • Seek counseling to understand core issues.
  • Discuss frustrations openly and without judgment.
  • Institute new intimacy and communication habits.

Disconnection does not mean divorce is inevitable. In fact, most couples can save the marriage if appropriately nurtured in the early phases. But without intervention, the gap often widens as spouses move to the next stage.

Stage 2: Destructive Fighting Stage of a Dying Marriage

When emotional intimacy falters, tension simmers right below the surface. Minor irritations swiftly escalate into arguments. Spouses attack each other’s sensitivities rather than resolve issues rationally. Defensiveness and contempt soon crowd out compassion.

We frequently see couples stuck in destructive conflict cycles that reinforce their negative perceptions. Partners in this phase feel criticized no matter what the other says or does.

Major Signs of Destructive Fighting

  • Bickering excessively over minor issues.
  • Inability to compromise or see a spouse’s perspective.
  • Verbal fights escalate into screaming insults.
  • Issues never get resolved.

At this stage, fights expose painful emotional dynamics rather than stay focused on specific triggers. Partners unintentionally bruise each other’s egos during disagreements. Over time, a dangerous hostility arises that is difficult to overcome.

Steps to Defuse Destructive Fighting

If you wish to avoid further marital deterioration, it is vital to dial down fighting and improve conflict resolution tactics such as:

  1. Establish rules of engagement before arguing.
  2. Learn win-win compromise techniques.
  3. Press pause on rising tensions.
  4. Seek counseling on dispute resolution.

The frequency and intensity of fights reveal how far a couple has traveled down the path of marital demise. Douse flames early before they turn into a blazing inferno.

Stage 3: Lack of Trust and Intimacy

When persistent unhappiness and arguments become the norm, spouses lose faith in their partner’s positive intentions. One may question the other’s truthfulness or loyalty. Protective walls arise as dependence shifts from a mutual to a solitary footing.

Once broken, trust is challenging to restore without vulnerability and effort from both parties.

Major Signs of Broken Trust

  • Monitoring a spouse’s every move.
  • Accusatory language during disputes.
  • Suspicious questions about fidelity.
  • Secretive behaviors around finances.
  • Reluctance to share personal information.

At this crossroads, couples feel unsafe and insecure opening up to each other. They attempt to verify their partner’s activities out of fear rather than love. Couples must repair broken trust before reconciliation can begin.

Steps to Start Rebuilding Trust

  1. Seek counseling to understand core trust issues.
  2. Agree to financial or digital transparency.
  3. Check-in frequently about needs and feelings.
  4. Validate emotions before solving issues.
  5. Institute new trust-building habits.

Shaky relational foundations crumble fast once infidelity or deception exists. However, many couples can reinforce the remaining foundation together through consistent effort.

Stage 4: Marriage Breakdown – Living Separate Lives

As disappointment festers and oversight increases, husbands and wives disentangle previously interwoven lives. They avoid interacting unless necessary and pursue individual interests. Loneliness and isolation mark this sorrowful season as partners recalibrate hopes around the marriage.

Spouses begin mourning their expectations for enduring marital bliss once they reach this stage. They focus energy on protecting personal happiness rather than restoring intimacy.

Major Signs of Separate Lives

  • Develop separate friend groups.
  • Refuse to participate in joint social functions.
  • Sustain diverging hobbies or careers.
  • Become roommates vs intimate partners.
  • Sleep or eat in different rooms.

The path to reconnection narrows as spouses prioritize independence over togetherness. They establish parallel lives permitting minimal collaboration. It grows comfortable to neglect each other’s needs and dreams.

Steps to Overcome Emotional Distance

Partners floating miles apart can slowly row their separate boats back together. But both must actively cooperate to avoid drifting even farther away.

  • Schedule regular marital check-in meetings.
  • Jointly participate in new activities.
  • Explore fresh intimacy and friendship habits.
  • Obtain professional counseling.
  • Discuss visions for improving marriage.

The emotional gulf at this point spans far and wide. Yet glimmers of hope shine for warring spouses willing to rebuild rather than abandon their marriage altogether.

Stage 5: End a Marriage – Making Final Divorce Plans

If previous stages show no progress, one or both disillusioned partners decide they’ve endured enough pain. They initiate concrete steps to dissolve legal ties permanently. This move marks the final phase before a marriage crosses the point of no return.

Very few marriages can be salvaged once the separation ball gets rolling down the hill. The momentum is difficult to stop.

Major Signs of Impending Divorce

  • Initial contact with divorce lawyers.
  • Discussion of asset division specifics.
  • Filing legal paperwork.
  • Opening separate financial accounts.
  • Making long-term solo living arrangements.

These actions signal clearly that a firm decision is cemented in one’s mind. The door stays open a sliver for last-ditch marriage counseling. However, the writing is likely already etched into the wall at this stage.

Final Steps Before Potential Divorce

If you wish to avoid permanent dissolution of marital ties, options still exist to press pause or reconsider. Especially when minor children are involved, Edwards Family Law advises exhausting the following avenues first:

  • Attempt trial separation to gain clarity.
  • Enter emergency marital counseling.
  • Address core issues with clergy, a mediator, or a coach.
  • Negotiate spousal support terms.
  • Consult an attorney about the implications.

No one can guarantee saving your marriage at this point. However, it is wise to cautiously weigh all alternatives before filing official dissolution paperwork.

Hope Emerges from the Ashes in Family Law

It is heartbreaking to watch two beloved partners who once vowed “until death do us part” arrive on the cusp of legal divorce. Sadly, we witness this traumatic transition routinely in our family law practice. Yet we also hold out hope for miraculous reconciliation until the judge’s gavel falls.

Do not abandon hope if you see your marriage reflected in any of the stages described above. Many relationships plagued by disconnection, fighting, distrust, and distance for years can still resurrect with proper care.

Although challenging, take comfort in the fact that you don’t have to travel this journey alone. Our compassionate legal team walks with you each step of the way. We offer grace-filled counsel and empowering wisdom grounded in Georgia law and family justice.

If you have questions or need representation for your marital crisis, contact us today to schedule a consultation.

Author Bio

Regina Edwards is the Owner and Managing Attorney of Edwards Family Law, an Atlanta family law and estate planning law firm she founded in 2005. With more than 21 years of experience practicing law, she is dedicated to representing clients in a wide range of legal matters, including divorce, child custody, child support, legitimation, wills, trusts, probate, and Medicaid planning.

Regina received her Juris Doctor from the Tulane School of Law and is a member of the State Bar of Georgia and the Atlanta Bar Association. She has received numerous accolades for her work, including being named a Rising Star by Super Lawyers for six years, as well as being named among the Pro Bono All Stars by the Georgia Bar Journal in 2019.

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