On the outside, it looks like your relationship is alive and well.
You turn up at family gatherings and parties together, you’re both cheering on the kids at their sporting events and the atmosphere around the house is civil – most of the time. There are certainly no blazing rows.
Sometimes you’re so good at keeping up appearances that you can even convince yourself that everything is OK. However, for one or both of you, something doesn’t feel right…
If this is all starting to sound familiar then marital therapist Andrew Marshall might have the answer. His practice has been inundated with couples who ignored the warning signs, buried their problems and then ended up in a place he refers to as a ‘zombie marriage’.
But are you in a zombie marriage? And if so, how can you fix it? Here, Andrew explains the signs to look out for – and the solutions!
Quiz: How to tell if you’re in a zombie marriage
Read through the following statements and add up how many of them sound familiar…
1. There is plenty of family time, but we rarely do something as a couple (without other couple friends present).
2. When sex does happen, it is functional, brief and not particularly satisfying.
3. I feel like I am tiptoeing around a silent argument that’s been going on for years, but I’ve no real idea how it started or what it’s about.
4. There are times I dread my partner coming home.
5. There is something that I can’t forgive my partner for having done/I did something that my partner can’t move past.
6. I bite my tongue all the time because there are more and more topics about which we will never be able to agree.
7. I would find it hard to get through the weekend without thinking of a special friend at work or some flirty texting.
8. I used to be angry with my partner but, although these days he or she can sometimes be irritating, I am largely indifferent.
9. I often fantasise about starting a new life once the children are older or have left home.
If you agreed with two of the above statements: there’s cause for concern but you are not in a zombie marriage.
Three statements: you are on the cusp of a zombie marriage
Four or more statements: you’re soundly in zombie marriage territory (but you probably knew that before you did the test).
What causes a zombie marriage?
Relationships don’t die overnight, and the roots in many cases are in everyday life. At first sight, it can seem like you’re protecting your marriage – because who wants rows all the time? – but it comes at a terrible cost. It’s impossible for two people to live together without disagreements, from one of you nagging about the lights being left on, to disagreeing over ideas about money. You may choose to ‘switch off’ and let these rows go by without mention, but this could be even more detrimental in the long run.
By picking and choosing the feelings you switch off to, soon you may not just lose the ones you consider ‘negative’ but also the positive feelings, such as love and respect. By avoiding rows, you may lose the chance to sort out disagreements, too.
As well as switching off your feelings, other causes include:
Nine ways to cure a zombie marriage
1. Have weekends away just the two of you.
2. Adopt habits that promote more time together (eat together in the evening, choose some television shows to watch together, go to bed at the same time, etc).
3. Explain what you want rather than expecting your partner to be a mind reader.
4. Learn that it’s OK to say ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ and negotiate to find a solution acceptable to both of you.
5. Touch each other more (cuddle up on the sofa while watching television, give each other back and neck rubs, stroke your partner’s arm while he or she is driving the car, etc).
6. Deal with the small issues – rather than letting them go – as this will create confidence for tackling medium-sized and bigger ones.
7. Put a lock on your bedroom door, so you have somewhere private to be sexual without the fear of being interrupted.
8. When your partner is talking to you, give him or her your full attention – put down your phone or tablet.
9. Increase the number of compliments, thank-yous and smiles – it takes five of these positive interactions to wipe out one snide comment.
Andrew G Marshall’s book I Love You But I’m Not In Love With You has been reissued by Bloomsbury in a 10th anniversary edition (Bloomsbury, £8.99). To order a copy, visit andrewgmarshall.com
© Andrew Marshall / Telegraph Media Group Limited 2016