We're all used to seeing warning signs, such as: “Bridge Out Ahead, Take Detour.” Warning signs give us time to change direction, whether it involves driving, health concerns, financial planning or marital issues.
Author and marriage therapist Michele Weiner-Davis explains that it's better to “get help when things start going downhill.” Sadly, however, she notes that research shows that most couples wait six years after the first warning signs before seeking marriage counseling, if they do at all. Most couples, however, “never seek professional help; they head directly to a divorce attorney's office.”
Weiner-Davis points out six signs that your marriage might be headed for trouble:
1. “You're thinking about being unfaithful.” There are countless reasons for an affair, but regardless of the reason, Weiner-Davis warns that even considering an affair “signals trouble in your marriage.”
Infidelity doesn't solve marital unhappiness; it typically makes things worse. The emotional energy needed to heal the marriage is spent on the affair, while the marital problem is ignored and the “lies, deceit, guilt and shame leading to avoidance and separateness in the marriage” grow.
2. “You fight about the same thing continuously.” Even healthy marriages have irresolvable issues. But healthy couples find constructive ways to adjust without constant bickering.
Weiner-Davis warns, however, that “if you find yourselves having the same argument over and over and over, you may be headed for trouble.” You'll begin focusing on the negatives, instead of the positives, in your relationship and avoiding spending time together.
3. “Escalating fights.” When arguments grow in intensity, with personal attacks, insults or threats, it's a warning flag. This is especially true if physical abuse occurs. Weiner-Davis explains that increasingly hurtful arguments often reflect “deeper underlying causes that are not being addressed.”
4. “Spending less and less time as a couple.” Weiner-Davis warns that when “the kids, work, friends, hobbies, relatives, and so on” become more important than the marriage, there's a major problem. Couples begin leading separate lives and stop being friends. She tells couples they must re-prioritize time together or their marriage is in serious danger.
5. “Focusing more on their children than each other.” Children are important and need time. When the kids become the center of the relationship, however, the marriage suffers.
Weiner-Davis warns that couples in child-centered marriages become strangers, feeling more connected with their children than with each other. She notes “the best thing they can do for their children is to make the marriage the most important thing in their lives.” She adds, “If you find that you are paying more attention to your children than your spouse, stop, and switch gears.”
6. “Having little or no sex.” Difference in sex drive is typical in marriage and, by itself, isn't a sign of trouble. Weiner-Davis warns that problems arise when one spouse disregards the other's feelings, rejecting “most, if not all, sexual advances,” causing the other to feel “hurt, rejected, deflated, emotionally disconnected, angry and desperate.”
This can undermine their friendship, desire to spend time together and emotional connection. She advises that sex-starved marriages need to be re-examined and that couples “do whatever it takes to bring back the passion in their marriage,” even if it's a slow process. Allowing sexual differences to divide you puts your marriage at risk.
If you see one of these warning signs in your marriage, don't panic. You can still change what you're doing and get your relationship on track. But Weiner-Davis warns, “don't be complacent. Heed these warnings.” The payoff for your efforts will be enormous.