8 Clear Signs Your Marriage Needs Some Work

No, these issues don’t signal immediate doom. But they’re important to recognize and work through before it’s too late.

Originally Published: 
Middle aged couple sitting on a couch looking upset and towards the camera

No one wants to face the prospect that their marriage may not be working. It can be scary to think that you and your spouse may no longer be on the same page, and daunting to look ahead to the steps you both may have to take in order to get back on track. Plus, it’s easy to ignore the possibility that something is truly off and chalk it up to the stress of being busy parents. But, well, that’s your life now, and adjustments need to be made. If you’re not confiding in one another any more, if your arguments always come back to the same topic, if you’re harboring resentments, well, now’s the time to address them. If not, it will only become more difficult to do so. Here are some signs of

1. You Don’t Share Your Successes

Promotions. Personal bests. Fun new achievements. If something good happens, your spouse is usually the first person you want to go to with the news. When that instinct isn’t there, or you’re worried they might not react positively, something may be off. “In an unhappy marriage,” says L. Emily Dowling, a licensed marriage and family therapist, “it might not even occur to you to share your happiness with your spouse.”

How To Address It: The first step is to ask yourself some difficult questions about why it is that you’re not interested in sharing good news with your partner. “Is it the memory of another time when sharing didn’t go well? Is it a worry that your spouse won’t be happy for you or support you?” offers Dowling. “You might have to have a conversation with each other about what gets in the way of sharing and work together to get back in the habit.”

2. The Problem: You Don’t Turn to Each Other for Support

Couples in healthy relationship create space for each other when they need support and reassurance. When a marriage is experiencing troubles, couples may not seek each other out to have their emotional needs met. “They might not even acknowledge these needs exist, but still feel the pain that comes from consistently not having these needs met in their marriage,” says Dowling.

How to Address it: Be honest with yourself first and recognize what your emotional needs are. Then address your concerns about sharing those needs with your spouse, whether it’s a fear of being ignored or even criticized. “Communicate to your spouse that you’re open to hearing about their emotional needs, too,” Dowling says, “and that you want to figure out how you both can get your needs met more often.”

3. The Problem: Your Arguments Are Always the Same

Couples whose marriage may be on shaky ground tend to fall into a pattern of arguing about the same unresolved issues over and over again. No matter what sparks the argument, things eventually come back around to the same problems, eventually widening the gap between you both. “The most common pattern is ‘criticize-defend,’” says Dowling. “One partner approaches the other with criticism, the other partner gets defensive and criticizes back, the first will get defensive, round and round and round.”

How to Address it: Take a step back and look at the pattern that you and your spouse are in and work to approach a disagreement from a different perspective. For example, Dowling suggests instead of saying ‘You never remember what our kids’ schedules are! I put everything in the calendar and you don’t care enough to check it!’, you could try: ‘I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately keeping track of our kids’ schedules. I know you’re busy too and you’re not trying to leave me to do this alone, so I’d like to work together to figure out how we can support each other more when it comes to this.’”

4. The Problem: You Assume The Worst of Each Other

When, for whatever reason, two people become disconnected and don’t work to understand the issue, it creates space for resentment to slither into their relationship. This can lead to one or both partners viewing anything the other person does or says in a negative light. Oh, they forgot to buy a birthday present for the party this weekend? Well, they must have done it on purpose, thinking that it’s my duty to always pick up the slack. “Our brains do a great job of assuming the worst in order to keep us safe,” says Dowling. “Sometimes this means we fill in the blanks with the worst-case scenario when it comes to a misunderstanding with our spouses.”

How to Address It: Take a moment to slow yourself down and really think about your partner’s actions and the embedded intentions. If you start having thoughts such as I’m not important to them, pause and reframe them, recognizing that these thoughts likely stem from your own fears by telling yourself, I’m worried that I’m not important to them. “When you can take responsibility for your own emotions, it’s more likely you’ll be able to offer curiosity rather than assumption or blame when there’s been a misunderstanding,” says Dowling.

5. The Problem: You Are Overly Critical of Each Other

If your relationship has devolved into one where feelings of caring and compassion have been replaced by judgment and nitpicking, then you’re heading down a bad path. “Constant criticism of a partner can be a sign of unhappiness in a marriage,” says Lachlan Brown, an expert in behavioral psychology. “It's healthy to offer constructive criticism when necessary, but when the criticism becomes excessive and constant, it can be harmful.”

How to Address it: You and your partner need to acknowledge that you’re being critical of each other and try to figure out the root cause together. “Is it about control? Insecurity? Anger?” says Brown. “Then, engage in open communication with your partner about how their criticism makes you feel and how it's affecting your relationship.”

6. The Problem: You Lead Separate Lives

While it is a good thing for couples to have their own interests and lives, and to not depend solely on each other for companionship and entertainment, there comes a point when engaging in too many separate interests can be a red flag. “If you or your partner prefer to spend time apart rather than together, it might be a sign of an unhappy marriage,” says Brown. “Time spent together helps in building a strong bond and understanding.”

How to Address It: You and your spouse need to make a conscious effort to reconnect. Make time for each other and engage in activities you both enjoy and that you can share together. “Make a plan to spend quality time together regularly,” says Brown. “This could be as simple as having dinner together without distractions, or setting aside one evening a week for a date night. Shared experiences help to build connection and foster a sense of partnership.”

7. The Problem: Intimacy Has Cooled

The bedroom is one of key places where problems in a marriage can be identified, as a lack of sexual desire and attraction is a sure sign that things aren’t as they should be. “A decline in physical affection or intimacy can be a red flag in a marriage,” says Brown. “While it's normal for levels of affection to fluctuate over time, a prolonged lack of affection could indicate underlying problems.”

How to Address It: Find a time to discuss the issue in an open and honest way. Try to get to the root of what may be causing it, whether it’s physical fatigue, mental stress, health problems or just life getting in the way. Then slowly begin to find ways to be intimate with each other outside the bedroom. “Try to rekindle the spark by showing appreciation, engaging in small acts of kindness, or planning romantic activities together,” says Brown.

8. The Problem: There Are Too Many Unresolved Conflicts

Disagreements and conflicts happen. But if you have a stockpile that don’t get addressed and, as a result develop a long list of resentments, that’s a dangerous sign.

How to Address It: This is the time to get everything on the table with your partner. Ask them to explain their resentments or unresolved issues. Try to hear what they are telling you without letting your own feelings on the issue cloud the discussion. Ask questions. Seek compromise. Find resolutions that you can both live with. “Open communication about these feelings is critical,” says Brown. “You need to express your feelings and understand your partner's point of view.”

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