Written by Michele Weiner-Davis
I’ve been a marriage therapist for a very long time. It’s been my experience that people wait a very long time before getting help for their relationships. Research shows that most couples wait six years before seeking marriage counseling. Plus, most people never seek professional help; they head directly to a divorce attorney’s office. Considering the impact divorce that has on children, this finding is disturbing.
What should people in the throes of marriage problems do instead? Get help when things start going downhill. Nip things in the bud. But how can you tell when your marriage is in trouble? Here’s how.
1. You’re thinking about being unfaithful.
There are many reasons you may be tempted to have an affair. You may want the excitement of a new relationship. You may want passionate sex with a new partner. You may be longing for attention and appreciation. You may enjoy the thrill of risk-taking. You may be longing to connect with someone who you think is more similar to you. You might want to escape daily responsibilities and routines. There is no shortage of reasons people stray.
Regardless of the reasons you might be considering an affair, it undoubtedly signals trouble in your marriage. Going outside a marriage does not solve marital unhappiness. In fact, affairs often create unintended problems. Once emotional energy goes outside a marriage, the issues needing to be repaired take a back seat. Problems linger and become worse. Lies, deceit, guilt and shame lead to avoidance and separateness in the marriage. Suspicions run high. Trust corrodes.
If your marriage wasn’t in trouble before the decision to stray, it will be. And healing from infidelity isn’t for sissies. It’s extremely hard work. It takes time, dedication, persistence and personal strength. So, if things in your marriage that bother you are leading you to have fantasies about straying, find solutions to your problems instead.
2. You fight about the same thing continuously.
Although it’s impossible for two people to live under the same roof without arguing from time to time, and there are many problems that can never truly be completely resolved, if you find yourselves having the same argument over and over and over, you may be headed for trouble.
Your marriage will become very unpleasant and you will begin to focus on the negatives in your relationship. Or you will avoid spending time together. You will begin to feel defeated and hopeless. You might start to wonder if you are in the wrong relationship. Fighting about the same subject with little or no regard for each other’s feelings should be a red flag.
3. Escalating fights
In addition to having the same fights, arguments that grow in intensity should be a concern to couples. Sometimes, escalating fights can result in either verbal or physical abuse, both of which are unacceptable. If you notice that your fights are becoming more and more hurtful, there may be deeper underlying causes that are not being addressed. Poor communication skills might be preventing loving outcomes. Either way, fights that become increasingly hostile should not be taken lightly.
4. Spending less and less time as a couple
When my book, Divorce Busting was published, many writers wanted to know the top reason for marriages failing. The answer to their question? Couples aren’t spending enough time together. Everything is more important than setting aside sacred time for one another. Whether it’s the kids, work, friends, hobbies, relatives, and so on, everything seems to take precedence over the relationship. When this happens, couples stop being friends and their emotional connection suffers. They begin leading separate lives.
I have worked with many people who have let their marriages slip away because they were “doing their own thing.” Unless they’re willing to reprioritize what’s truly important- time together- their marriage will remain in the danger zone.
5. Focusing more on their children than each other
Our culture has become very kid-centric- we place our children in the center of our lives. We make them our number one priority. There are many reasons we do this. Perhaps we felt neglected as children and we want to give our own children better lives. We see everyone else- friends, neighbors, relatives- doing it and we feel compelled to do the same. We are busy with work and feel that all of our free time should be spent with our children, and so on.
Although these reasons make perfect sense, when we live this way, our marriages suffer. We become strangers to our spouses. We feel more connected to our children than our partners. That explains why empty nesters are still divorcing in droves. Once the children leave home, the relationship void feels overwhelming.
I always tell couples that the best thing they can do for their children is to make the marriage the most important thing in their lives. Children benefit enormously when their parents have loving, close relationships. Plus, it makes marital longevity more likely. But most of all, putting a marriage first models for children what good relationships are all about.
If you find that you or your spouse is paying more attention to your children than the other person, stop, and switch gears. That will put your marriage on safer ground.
6. Having little or no sex
It’s not uncommon for one spouse to have a lower sex drive than the other. This, in and of itself, is not a sign that your marriage is in trouble. When this does become a problem, however, is when the spouse with lower desire refuses to care about the higher desire spouse’s feelings and rejects most, if not all, sexual advances. This can result in the spouse with the higher desire feeling hurt, rejected, deflated, emotionally disconnected, angry and desperate.
Once someone experiences these feelings, a multitude of things can happen. The spouses can stop being friends, spending time together, connecting emotionally, and enjoying each other’s company. They can also begin fighting a great deal, sometimes about sex and sometimes about other things. When they fight about other things, it might be a symptom of the deeper problem- being disconnected sexually.
If your relationship is sex-starved, you or your spouse should re-examine the reasons it’s happening and do whatever it takes to bring back the passion in your marriage. Even if it’s slow going in the beginning, you have to start somewhere. Allowing your sexual differences to divide you often puts a marriage at risk of infidelity or divorce.
Do you recognize yourself, your spouse or your marriage when you read through these six warning signs? If so, don’t panic. There is a great deal that you can do to bolster your relationship. But don’t be complacent. Heed these warnings. When you do, you will be taking great strides to divorce-proofing your relationship.