When you think of the major signs of marriage trouble, your mind probably jumps to the image of enormous blowout fights or shocking cheating scandals. And while those things have certainly spelt the end for more than a few formerly happy unions, they’re not the only indicators that there’s trouble ahead. On the contrary, most marriages go sour due to a culmination of factors.
So whether you’ve got a gut feeling that something is off or just want to ensure you avoid anything that could derail your romance, we asked the experts for the major signs of marriage trouble a shocking number of people miss. From empty small talk to jokes that go a tiny bit too far, here’s what they said.
Your high-conflict relationship has turned into a no-conflict relationship.
If you used to fight a lot and have suddenly stopped, it might seem like a relief. But in many cases, that’s actually a sign your marriage might be failing, says Allison Zamani, an associate marriage and family therapist and an associate professional clinical counselor at the Center for Mindful Psychotherapy. It takes an effort to argue—and if you both already see the writing on the wall for your relationship (whether it’s conscious or subconscious), you might think it’s no longer worth it.
“It can sometimes feel like if you’re not fighting then everything is working,” says Zamani. “But often, when a relationship changes from being high-conflict to no conflict, it’s an indication that one of the partners has stopped feeling that the relationship is worth investing in.”
There are awkward silences.
Silence is golden—unless it’s awkward! While experts say conversational plateaus can kick in as early as two years into a relationship, those plateaus should never result in the types of awkward silences you experience when trying to make small talk with an earnest coworker. If you feel like you’ve run out of things to say it could mean that you no longer see your spouse as a friend and have started to feel disconnected.
Your “jokes” and criticisms cut to the core.
A little teasing can be fun in a marriage, but if your jokes about how your partner always leaves their dishes in the sink turn into jokes about how they’re truly a lazy person, you might have trouble on your hands. “It could be easy to normalize verbal assaults as nagging,” says Allison D. Osburn-Corcoran, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “But in [detrimental] criticism, the partner’s character, and not just their actions, are scrutinized.”
If you’re finding yourself laughing at your spouse’s expense (or feeling laughed at), you might be losing respect for one another. And these “jokes” are nothing to take lightly, either—they could lead to or be a sign of growing resentment in your relationship.
When you picture the future, it’s hard to see them in it.
How clearly can you imagine a future where you have an absolutely awesome relationship with your spouse? Ti Caine, a couples’ therapist and the founder of FutureVisioning, says this is the most crucial question he asks every couple before he begins working with them. If you’ve stopped imagining yourself with your partner by your side five or 10 years down the road, it could be a subtle sign you don’t really want them there.
You’re having sex way less frequently.
Take note if things are slowing down in the bedroom, says Christine Scott-Hudson, a licensed psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. “Having sex less often can be a sign of relationship trouble,” she says. “People get tired, busy, and overwhelmed, and they start to take each other for granted. Ignoring your partner in the bedroom usually correlates to ignoring your partner outside of the bedroom, as well.”
In hard times, intimacy is often the glue that holds married couples together. Ask yourself if your sex life is failing or if you don’t feel connected when you do have sex. If you’re sleeping as far apart as possible or making excuses to avoid sex, it might be time to take a long hard look at your marriage.
You have serious disagreements about money.
It might seem normal to argue over a pricey TV here or an expensive suit there. But fighting about money is nothing to take lightly—and it’s a major sign of marriage trouble a lot of couples miss. One survey from Magnify Money even found that financial issues were responsible for the divorces of 21 percent of respondents. Besides the toll your constant bickering will take on you and your spouse’s bond, arguing about finances is also a sign you never had shared priorities or goals for the future in the first place.
You feel like you’re losing your best friend.
Even if there are no glaring signs there’s a problem with your relationship, listen to your gut. If you have an underlying sense of loneliness or emptiness (even when your spouse is literally right there), it could mean that the friendship foundation of your marriage is deteriorating.
“It’s often an underlying feeling of loneliness when the friendship side of the relationship is not what it should be,” says Luke Carrangis, a clinical psychologist and the founder of Mindview Psychology. “People are often not fully aware of the importance of this friendship as the basis of their relationship.”
You don’t really care about your spouse’s day.
Feeling less interested in casual chats with your spouse is a major sign there’s trouble ahead. “When a couple has been together for a long time, they can either grow closer or drift further apart,” says Carrangis. “I refer to this as the ‘relational friendship’ and it includes staying up to date with each other as you both grow and expand as people.”
Once you stop listening—really listening—when your partner talks, your marriage is much likelier to break down. And if you’re silently rolling your eyes every time they start telling a story—well, that’s not something you should ignore.
Shared hobbies aren’t so shared anymore.
Did you use to go hiking together every weekend and now you’re going alone? That could be a sign your bond is breaking. Shared activities and quality time together are two of the most important things in maintaining a solid marriage. Having completely separate hobbies (especially ones you used to share) can be a sign that one or both of you is pulling away, trying to create a life without the other one involved.
You never have deep conversations anymore.
Often, marriage problems begin with a breakdown in communication. One or both partners might not feel heard when they speak or might feel misunderstood by the other. Having empty “small talk” without digging into deeper issues or sharing how you really feel is an indicator that your relationship might be beginning to fall apart.
You’d almost always prefer to spend time alone than time with your spouse.
Of course, everyone needs some time to recharge. But if you or your spouse is “recharging” way more than usual these days, it could be a sign there’s trouble in paradise. “If they chose to be alone mostly when given a choice, then there is a threat present for the relationship,” Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, told Bustle.
For example, when your spouse comes home, do they head straight to the bedroom to read by themselves or head to the couch to read with you? If you don’t have much interest in spending quality time together, you might not be making each other a priority anymore.
You’re more glued to your phone than usual.
If Candy Crush is suddenly way more engrossing than whatever story your spouse is trying to tell, there’s probably trouble brewing. One Pew research report even found that while 72 percent of adult internet users reported that the internet has had “no real impact at all” on their marriage, of those that did see an impact, 20 percent said it was mostly negative, and a quarter of respondents said their partners were distracted by their cellphone when they were together.
It’s also common for couples to use their phones as a way of avoiding the problems in their marriage. “When people come in and say they’ve grown apart, this is one way it happens,” Susan Heitler, a clinical psychologist and relationship coach, told the New York Times. “They’re tuned into their devices rather than each other.”
You no longer star in each other’s fantasies.
When you daydream about traveling to Bali or indulge in a sexual fantasy, is your spouse with you? If not, you might be subconsciously trying to “escape” into an imaginary world without them. While everyone fantasizes to some extent on their own, your partner should factor into at least some of your imaginary scenarios.
You compare your spouse to others.
Whether it’s to an empathetic coworker or to a friend who always listens when you vent, comparisons between your spouse and others can be a death knell to your relationship. Subconsciously, you might even be wondering what it would be like to be back in the dating pool. Comparisons are often a sign that something is missing in your marriage and that you’re feeling dissatisfied with the quality of your relationship.
Your spouse isn’t the first person you call when something bad happens.
Flat tire? Medical problem? An issue with the kids? For most people, their spouse is the person they have on speed-dial. While deep, connected relationships outside of your marriage are crucial, your spouse should generally be your go-to person for emotional support and help in an emergency. If you don’t feel like you can rely on them in a crisis, your marriage could be falling apart.
…Or when something good happens.
If the first person you want to call after a big promotion or a special moment with your toddler isn’t your spouse, you might want to consider why. In general, your spouse should be there to support you in bad times and celebrate with you in good ones. So if you don’t feel like celebrating with them, it might be time to investigate what’s gone wrong—before it leads to major marriage trouble ahead.
Your bickering has reached a fever pitch.
Constant irritability with your partner is usually a sign of something deeper. It’s probably not really about the socks on the floor, the burned dinner, or the forgotten milk on the counter. If you’re having fights over seemingly insignificant matters, the core of your communication is most likely the problem.
And as with your jokes and criticisms, if your bickering leads to character assaults, then your marriage is most definitely not O.K. “If you’re saying things you wish you could take back, it’s not normal,” Tracy K. Ross, LCSW, couple and family therapist, told Bustle,
You’re more jealous than usual.
Jealousy over your partners’ friends or coworkers or suspicions about where they’re spending their time is a sign that the trust in your marriage has begun to erode. Everyone has doubts and insecurities sometimes, but ongoing jealousy is an indicator that something in the marriage isn’t working.
You spend so much time together that you could be considered codependent.
It might seem a counterintuitive to think that too much time together is a problem. But in most healthy relationships, time apart is normal. If you genuinely love being around your partner, you usually need some space sometimes to be on your own or to spend time with other important people in your life. If you’re both going overboard, becoming codependent, and spending virtually all of your time together, you might be trying to convince yourself that the spark hasn’t died.
One of you does way more than 50 percent of the chores.
Helping one another with chores and projects is a major aspect of a healthy marriage. If you’re no longer a team trying to conquer the world (and the dishes!) together, it’s often a sign that you’re already starting to live parallel lives. It can also be an indicator of a lack of respect and friendship in your marriage, as people who love and care for one another often want to show that love through acts of service.
You’re hiding things you used to share.
As the saying goes, secrets are no fun—especially when it comes to hiding them from your spouse. And you don’t have to be hiding something as major as cheating or heading to the bar on a Friday night instead of to art class—it’s the fact that you feel the need to do it at all. If you’re finding yourself sweeping things under the rug or going behind your spouse’s back, you might have some trust and communication problems on your hands.
You turn to your vices as a source of comfort.
You shouldn’t need a few glasses of wine or a cigarette to tolerate time with your spouse. And if you have been falling into those habits (especially if you never did before), know that it’s an unhealthy form of escape. If you don’t want to spend time together sober, you might have lost the connection that initially attracted you to one another.
You have little to no interest in working on your marriage.
Here’s the good news: Marital problems, from poor communication and lack of intimacy to loneliness and jealousy, can be mended! An open dialogue (and possibly some help from a couples’ therapist) can go a long way in healing your relationship. But if the thought of that doesn’t interest you, your marriage is in serious trouble—something that’s probably not all that shocking. And if you need some real-life stories to inspire you to change your ways, check out our story on how 10 Real People Turned Their Marriage Around.
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