According to the American Psychological Association, “more than 90% of people marry by age 50. However, about 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce. The divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher.” (Marriage and Divorce, APA, apa.org)Marriage can be wonderful for one’s emotional, mental, and physical health when it is healthy and thriving, but when it is an unhealthy marriage, it can cause psychological and familial distress on spouses, children, and others in close relationships with them.
Cultivating a healthy marriage is one of the most important things that you will ever do if you are married, but it is important to pay attention to any signs of unhealthy patterns and work to breathe life back into your relationship.
It is important to note that some signs of an unhealthy marriage are not due to issues between spouses, but sometimes it could be an individual issue. Someone could be battling personal mental health problems that could be causing more marital problems. It is not healthy to blame and point fingers.
In a marriage, it is still good to work together especially if the issue falls heavily on the other. If one’s mental health issues are extremely severe and it is hurting you or your family, it is time to get help. (Examples: addiction, abusive behavior, mental health issues to the point of spousal or familial neglect)
Look at these signs and assess your relationship, the season you are in as a couple, and whether there are any other factors at play alongside these signs.
Signs of an Unhealthy Marriage
Increase in distance
If you notice that you and your spouse have stopped spending time together, or you are not talking about as many things as your have in the past, there is a growing distance that can get serious quickly.
MiscommunicationYou can’t seem to get on the same page as your spouse. One says one thing, the other says another thing. There is an increase in misunderstanding, and it gets frustrating. Maybe listening is an issue, or not saying anything at all. Though this can improve by intentionally building communication skills at home, if it does not improve, a marriage counselor can help work out the kinks.
It can be deceit about big things, like spending time at the office when one is really elsewhere, or even about extramarital affairs, or even small things like taking a child’s punishment away early. When one or both spouses begin keeping things from each other it is a sure sign that your relationship is unhealthy.
Prioritizing children over spouse
A lot of parents do not realize that this is a sign of an unhealthy marriage. They believe that they should be putting their children first. However, but it is imperative to prioritize your marriage because it is the glue of your family. When it takes a backseat, the family feels the repercussions.
Justification of wrong
One or both spouses keep justifying or even covering up when wrong is done, to the point of never holding themself or the other responsible for poor decisions.
When one or both consistently manipulate the other to get their way or to exert control over the other to have the power in the relationship, it is a clear sign of toxicity in the relationship.
This should be evident, but if there is emotional, physical, or sexual abuse occurring in the relationship or the home (at the hands of one or both parties in the relationship), it is obvious that the marriage is unhealthy.
Infidelity starts well before the affair. It starts with many of the previously discussed signs. It is a clear sign that something is wrong in your relationship.
Increase in conflict
Arguing and fighting more often and more intensely is also a clear sign. This can go downhill quickly, and it negatively affects the family as a whole.
This could mean sleeping in separate rooms, going on more trips without each other, or spending a lot of time away from each other.
Decrease in fulfilling sexual activity
Though this could be the result of a season (like a season of postpartum), it could also be a sign that you are distant, possibly that your passion has faded.
Though none of these (other than infidelity and possibly abuse) are grounds for divorce, it is important to notice whether any of these patterns are present in your marriage. You must intentionally begin to work on them as soon as possible with a couple’s counselor.
Signs that your marriage could be headed for divorceJohn Gottman is a well-known couple’s researcher, and he has found that there are four main negative behaviors indulged in by couples that get a divorce. When these are present in your marriage, it is imperative to seek professional help. It is possible to overcome them, but you must be willing to put in the hard work and be able to identify whether any of the four are present. They are called The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. They are:
Criticism. These are attacks on the character of your spouse, not the behavior. Voicing a complaint about behavior is not hurtful the way that criticism is. Criticism opens the door for the other horsemen to enter. It can make the other person feel attacked, leading to a snowball effect into contempt.
Contempt. Communication becomes abusive and mean, full of sarcasm, ridicule, and name-calling. The goal is to make the other person feel hated and worthless. This is is the “single greatest predictor of divorce. It must be eliminated.” (The Four Horsemen, The Gottman Institute, gottman.com)
Defensiveness. This is typically a response to criticism, and often the partner not only reacts in defensiveness about a lot, the person then pushes the blame back onto the other instead of accepting any responsibility.
Stonewalling. This is usually the response to contempt. It is a shutting down, a withdrawal from interaction with the other person. The withdrawal could be emotional or physical withdrawal. Sometimes it is necessary to calm down and process before interacting. That is simply something you could communicate clearly if that is what you need. Negative stonewalling is giving up, too discouraged to continue to try.
Ways to breathe life back into your marriage
Spend consistent, quality time together
Set date nights. Go on trips together. Do things as a family. It needs to be consistent, and quality time (not just sitting next to one another looking at phones).
Do things together that you both enjoy
Make a list of things you both love to do or have loved to do together in the past. Start doing some of that in your time together.
Go to therapy
It is never too early to do couples therapy. Find someone with whom you both feel comfortable, and invest the time into it.
Take a trip
Book the flights and hotels, secure the babysitter, and go. Trips are great ways to reconnect as a couple.
Spend at least 15-30 uninterrupted minutes talking every day
Put the phones down. Turn the televisions off, and just talk to one another. If you do this daily, you would be surprised how much health you can bring back into your marriage.
5-1 positive comments
Gottman has also found that for every one negative comment, one should make five positive comments about your spouse. Make this a practice for every relationship you are in.
Point out all of the things that you fell in love with about your spouse
It is easy to forget why you fell in love in the first place, so make a point to remember and then share that with your spouse. This can awaken new love and connection.
Tell your spouse why you love them today
If your relationship has been struggling, this could be difficult. Think of every reason why you love your spouse today, and share that with them him or her.
Discover any areas of sexual dissatisfaction
Have an open conversation about the sexual health of your marriage. Check in with each other to see if the other feels sexually fulfilled, and if not, ask why. Then brainstorm together ways to improve any areas of dissatisfaction.
Tell your spouse anything that you have been holding back
If you have been hiding something or not telling your spouse how you think or feel about something, it is time to share that with him or her. That could open the door for your spouse to do the same.
Put conflict rules in place
Choose to only focus on one issue at a time. Do not argue when tired, hungry, or angry. Choose a local place to discuss hard things so that you can keep calm. Choose to listen while the other has the floor. Choose some rules that work for your relationship, and implement them.
Find something to laugh about
Humor is one of the best forms of medicine. Find something to laugh about together. Whether it is something funny your kids said, something funny on television, or a funny memory.
Your marriage is worth fighting for. Choose to fight for it by cultivating healthy rhythms into your relationship. If your spouse is not willing to fight for it as you are, you will be holding all of the relational weight, and that will not last long. Decide together that your marriage is worth it. Choose together to breathe life back into your marriage.
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