By the time a couple comes to counseling, there are often years of painful patterns to undo and past hurts to heal and forgive. Some research shows it the average couple waits 6 years to get help.
The sooner you catch marriage issues, the easier they are to correct. Sometimes the relationship is on life support, and the couple is on the verge of divorce. I often help couples save their marriage, but the truth is that things could have been much easier and less painful if they had addressed the problems sooner. Prevention is almost always easier than waiting until things get bad.
So how do you know when your marriage needs attention? There are a couple things you can do.
First, you can go to a marriage counselor every six months and clear the attic, so to speak. You can give your marriage a periodic checkup and see if your relationship has problems that are growing unnoticed. You don’t usually know that a cavity is forming unless you see a dentist every six months and have your teeth cleaned. The same goes for your marriage.
The second way you can know if your marriage needs attention is by looking for some common warning signs that trouble is brewing.
Here are five of the most common signs.
1. You’re Not Having Sex
We all go through dry spells where there is less sex than normal.
If you go a week or two without having sex, there’s probably nothing wrong with your relationship. I wouldn’t ignore the issue if you’re going months without sex, however. That’s a big warning sign. Pay attention and don’t be shy about asking for help.
There’s a reason why therapists ask about your sex life. A lack of sex in the relationship for long periods signals a break in intimacy and connection.
Repairing the underlying disconnect might not be hard, but ignoring it for months or years is like waiting until you have an abscess in your tooth before seeing the dentist.
2. There’s No Fighting
Everyone thinks that fighting is the sign of a bad marriage. That might be true depending on how you fight and how quickly you make repair. But a relationship with no fighting can be a huge red flag also.
Fighting isn’t necessarily a sign that something is wrong. In fact, it might be a sign of a good marriage. Both partners still care!
If there’s no fighting, there might be no talking.
No fighting may mean someone has given up. If one or both of you feel “what’s the point?” then that means there is trouble.
This is way scarier to me than a couple that is going at each other all the time. If there’s no fighting anymore, there’s no attempt at fixing the relationship.
3. Kids are Taking Center Stage
Raising children takes lots of time and energy. I’m a parent, so I get that. But if your world revolves exclusively around the kids, this might be a warning sign that your marriage is in trouble.
The same goes for a job that takes all of your attention. Or an all-consuming hobby. Or friends your spouse sees every night after work.
It is just so easy to replace your partner with something else when you are not getting what you need in the marriage. This is called a misery stabilizer—something that makes you feel better so you don’t have to deal with the pain.
Good marriages can take short spurts of this, but no marriage can take prolonged periods of distraction. So look for this warning sign that trouble is brewing.
4. Problems Are Going Unaddressed
One area I frequently check is whether the couple is good at making repairs in the relationship.
I told you that fighting isn’t necessarily a bad sign, but not making repairs is a big problem.
Are you having a lot of instances in your marriage where someone is short-tempered or disruptive for days and then it stops all of a sudden for no reason? Do you or your partner wake up one morning and suddenly laugh off the problem as if nothing ever happened?
If this happens a lot, take notice. It is a sign that you don’t know how to make repairs and get to the root of the problem. Instead, you are sweeping it under the rug. You are minimizing or denying it instead of dealing with what is really happening.
Unless you deal with problems in your relationship, nothing will change. Time by itself does not heal. So not truly addressing relationship problems is a sign your relationship might be in jeopardy.
5. Playfulness is Gone
A fifth sign that your marriage is in trouble is if you don’t share any hobbies.
If you don’t have fun together.
If it is all work and no play that’s a problem.
When my husband and I are alone, we’re not the same people we are in public. We’re more playful. We speak a language that nobody else would understand. We have fun with each other.
We’re playmates instead of business partners.
Are you having fun with your partner and sharing freely, or are you guarded and mostly talking about taking the kids to soccer practice and the household to-do list?
Not having fun with your partner should be a wakeup call that something is wrong.
Have That Conversation
If you have any of these warning signs, the first thing you should do is talk with your partner.
Are we who we want to be in the relationship?
Do we need to adjust work schedules? Do we need to make more time for each other? Do we need to say no more to outside influences? Do we need to stop caring that our kids are not in every sport, drama club and dance class?
And it is being very intentional and making it a priority that the time together is important enough to have its own thing, its own spot on the calendar. Its own reason to say, Sorry, can’t do that. We’re busy.
You are busy. You might not have an appointment, but you have a date with your partner.
It also is important that you see a marriage counselor if you notice any of these warning signs.
It doesn’t mean your relationship is broken, it just means that you are appropriately addressing issues in the relationship before they become something worse. Being proactive about your marriage can make a big difference both in the quality of your life and the health of your relationship.
So consider this the postcard for your semi-annual relationship checkup.
Is your relationship healthy and free from danger signs? Give us a call or schedule an appointment with us online and we can check to make sure.
Remember: A little prevention in your relationship can go a long way.