10 telltale non-verbal signs of unhappy marriage couples

Uncover the silent language of an unhappy marriage as we explore the subtle body signals that speak volumes about relationship distress.

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It’s a no-brainer: Marriage takes hard work and dedication. But when a marriage starts to fall apart, it can be difficult to tell if it’s just going through a rough patch or if it’s time to call it quits.

Fortunately, body language is a great way to spot signs of an unhappy marriage, even if the couple never verbalizes their issues. In this article, we’ll discuss the link between body language, unhappy marriage, and common signs to look out for.

Are communication problems getting in the way of your relationship? Learn how effective communication can help create and maintain a strong bond with your partner.

Non-verbal communication and marriage

Non-verbal communication and marriage

Non-verbal communication plays a crucial role in marriages, as it often reveals underlying emotions and attitudes that may not be explicitly expressed through words. Understanding and interpreting body language can provide valuable insights into the dynamics of a relationship. 

Non-verbal cues account for a significant portion of communication. So this means that your partner’s body language can provide powerful clues about their feelings and satisfaction within the marriage. 1

A marriage is a long-term commitment that requires good communication, and when done right, it provides plenty of benefits. But, if the marriage is not built on trust and mutual respect, you might as well just be single. 2 3

An unhappy marriage can quickly drain the love and respect between the two partners. When this happens, body language can indicate that something is amiss in the relationship.

Discover the hidden messages of body language in relationships. Learn how to interpret nonverbal cues and understand what your partner’s body language reveals about your relationship dynamics.

10 common body language signs of unhappy marriages

10 common body language signs of unhappy marriages

Awareness of the following body language signals is important in understanding and interpreting your partner’s feelings. Here are ten common body language signs of an unhappy marriage:

1. Lack of eye contact and avoidance

Lack of eye contact and avoidance in a marriage can be significant indicators of unhappiness or communication issues. Eye contact is essential to social interaction, as it establishes a sense of connection and understanding. 4

When someone feels uncomfortable or unhappy with the other person, they often avoid eye contact. If you notice that your partner is unwilling to look at you or maintain eye contact, it could indicate an underlying issue in the marriage.

In addition, avoidance, whether it’s physical or emotional, can be a red flag in a marriage. If your partner consistently avoids spending quality time with you, participating in shared activities, or discussing important matters, it may indicate a deeper discontentment. 5

Want to know how to use eye contact to build intimacy in your relationship? Discover powerful techniques to deepen your connection through meaningful gazes. 

2. Closed-off and defensive postures

Closed-off and defensive postures are another sign of unhappiness in a marriage. This can include crossing arms, hunching shoulders, or putting up a wall between the two partners.

These postures are usually a sign that one partner is uncomfortable in the presence of the other. It’s also a way to keep the other partner at arm’s length and protect themselves from emotional or physical harm. 6

3. Decreased physical affection and intimacy

Physical affection and intimacy are essential components of a healthy marriage. If you notice that your partner is no longer giving hugs, compliments, or physical touch, it could indicate that they are unhappy in the relationship.

Of course, it’s also perfectly normal for couples to show less physical affection over time. But, if the lack of physical affection decreases significantly and your partner is no longer interested in physical intimacy, it may be a sign of an unhappy marriage. 7

4. Disengagement during conversations or activities

Doing activities together as a couple is an important part of any marriage. But, if one partner is constantly disengaged or disinterested during conversations or activities, it could be a sign of unhappiness.

If you notice that your partner is no longer engaging in conversations or activities with you, it could indicate they feel disconnected from the marriage. This often happens when one partner has lost interest in the relationship or does not feel their needs are being met.

5. Changes in vocal tone and non-verbal vocal cues

Vocal tone and non-verbal vocal cues can reveal much about one’s emotional state. A change in vocal tone or using certain words could indicate that one partner feels disappointed, frustrated, or unhappy in the marriage. 8

Noticeable changes in vocal tone can include a higher pitch, faster speech, or louder volume. If you notice that your partner is speaking differently than usual and their tone is often negative or critical, it could signify an unhappy marriage.

Using an appropriate tone of voice is one of the key ways to develop healthy communication habits. Discover effective techniques to communicate with respect and clarity.

6. Expressions of anger and other negative behavior

When you’re in an unhappy marriage, it’s natural to feel frustrated or overwhelmed. This can often lead to angry outbursts and other negative behaviors.

Apart from anger, other common signs of an unhappy marriage include sarcasm, criticism, contempt, and passive-aggressive behavior. You might notice your partner complaining more, snapping at you, or refusing to engage in conversations.

7. Stonewalling and negative body language

Stonewalling is a coping mechanism one partner may use to deal with their emotions or avoid conflict in the marriage. It involves shutting down or refusing to engage in conversations and exhibiting negative body language cues.

Negative body language cues associated with stonewalling include avoiding eye contact, folding the arms, and holding back from physical affection. If you notice that your partner is suddenly distancing themselves or using these body language cues, it could indicate they feel overwhelmed or unhappy with the marriage.

8. Excessive fidgeting or restlessness

Excessive fidgeting or restlessness can be a sign of emotional turmoil. When someone feels anxious, tense, or overwhelmed in a marriage, they might exhibit physical signs such as tapping their feet, twiddling their thumbs, and shifting in their seat. 9

If you notice that your partner is constantly restless or fidgety during conversations or activities, it could be a sign of unhappiness in the marriage. This behavior could also indicate they feel uneasy in the relationship or under pressure to make changes.

9. A lack of motivation and enthusiasm

Having relationship goals or motivation — being motivated to pursue intimacy and growth in relationships, is important for a healthy marriage. Something as simple as planning a date night or having a shared hobby can bring some spark back into a relationship. 10

If you notice that your partner is no longer motivated to plan activities or spend time together, it could indicate that they feel unfulfilled in the marriage. There may be underlying issues causing their lack of motivation.

Being motivated to improve your relationship is one thing, but understanding the role of emotional intelligence is key to achieving lasting happiness. Discover how emotional intelligence can transform your relationship.

By watching for these body language signs of an unhappy marriage, you can identify potential issues before they become too big. If you notice these signs in your relationship, consider asking a marriage counselor or relationship expert for advice and guidance.

Master the art of communication in relationships with these essential techniques. Get started today!

  1. Mehrabian, A. (2016). Silent messages: a wealth of information about nonverbal communication (body language). ↩︎

  2. Carstensen, L. L., Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (1995). Emotional behavior in long-term marriage. Psychology and aging, 10(1), 140–149. ↩︎

  3. Holt-Lunstad, J., Birmingham, W., & Jones, B. Q. (2008). Is there something unique about marriage? The relative impact of marital status, relationship quality, and network social support on ambulatory blood pressure and mental health. Annals of behavioral medicine : a publication of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, 35(2), 239–244. ↩︎

  4. Jarick, M., & Bencic, R. (2019). Eye Contact Is a Two-Way Street: Arousal Is Elicited by the Sending and Receiving of Eye Gaze Information. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 1262. doi.org ↩︎

  5. Bodenmann, G., Hilpert, P., Nussbeck, F. W., & Bradbury, T. N. (2014). Enhancement of couples’ communication and dyadic coping by a self-directed approach: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82(4), 580-591. ↩︎

  6. Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (2000). The timing of divorce: Predicting when a couple will divorce over a 14-year period. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62(3), 737–745. doi.org ↩︎

  7. Call, V., Sprecher, S., & Schwartz, P. (1995). The incidence and frequency of marital sex in a national sample. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 639-652. ↩︎

  8. Mullennix, J. W., Bihon, T., Bricklemyer, J., Gaston, J., & Keener, J. M. (2002). Effects of variation in emotional tone of voice on speech perception. Language and speech, 45(Pt 3), 255–283. doi.org ↩︎

  9. König, N., Steber, S., Seebacher, J., von Prittwitz, Q., Bliem, H. R., & Rossi, S. (2019). How Therapeutic Tapping Can Alter Neural Correlates of Emotional Prosody Processing in Anxiety. Brain sciences, 9(8), 206. doi.org ↩︎

  10. Harasymchuk, C., Muise, A., Bacev-Giles, C., Gere, J., & Impett, E. (2020). Broadening your horizon one day at a time: The role of daily approach relationship goals in shaping self-expansion. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 37, 1910–1926. ↩︎

Author picture of Amy Clark
Relationship Expert

Amy Clark

Amy Clark is a freelance writer who writes about relationships, marriage, and family. She has been happily married for over ten years and loves her husband and three kids. Before …

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