It’s safe to say no couple goes into a marriage expecting a divorce. If you knew you weren’t going to make it, you wouldn’t spend the money or walk down the aisle in the first place, right? But marital problems are something every couple faces. The issues that could lead you and your partner from a justice of the peace to a divorce lawyer’s office might sneak up on you, or they could be staring you right in the face. So how will a couple know when it’s time to seek help (or part ways)?
We’ve spoken with marriage and relationship therapists Dr. Elizabeth Schmitz and April Eldemire to help you identify the signs.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Elizabeth Schmitz is President of Successful Marriage Reflections, LLC. and co-authored Building a Love that Lasts with her husband, Dr. Charles Schmitz, Dean and Professor Emeritus of Counseling and Family Therapy at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
- April Eldemire, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and couples expert in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
1. Your Connection Fizzles
“As a marriage fails, resentment and contempt replace the patience and love that used to serve as the groundwork for your connection,” says Dr. Schmitz. “You go out of your way to avoid one another, and are happier apart than you are together.” More than just a bump in the road or the discovery of a new hobby, the choice to be away from your spouse (versus simply engaging in separate activities, which can be a healthy trait to have) shows that your connection to one another is fading.
2. You Don’t Fight Fair—or You Don’t Fight at All
“Couples who avoid conflict or sweep things under the rug are at risk of building up resentment, bitterness, and emotional disagreement, says Eldemire. “Couples who shy away from discord either don’t feel safe enough to talk about difficult topics with their partner or may only have a superficial connection.” Disagreeing in a healthy and safe way, where you can address issues head-on and overcome hardship together, is a skill that will help you stand the test of time. On the other end of the spectrum, some couples begin to fight constantly and don’t fight fairly. Adds Dr. Schmitz, “It’s okay to argue, but if you are constantly arguing about the same thing and your arguments have become personal and painful, they’re not productive or helping you move forward.”
3. You Can’t Communicate
A sign of a healthy relationship is open communication, so if you’re not talking (or are only making small talk), you should be wary. “Failing marriages lose the ability and the willingness to resolve marital problems,” says Dr. Schmitz. “There are fewer meaningful conversations, and mutual challenges are overlooked or ignored. No problem was ever resolved or disagreement broached when people refused to communicate, so if you’re not talking, you’re in trouble.
4. There’s No Honesty
Sometimes, in an effort to avoid a fight or upset your partner, you might withhold information to try to protect them. Says Eldemire, “As good as your intentions may seem, if the withheld information is discovered later, it can cause significant turmoil and a feeling of betrayal that you might not have if you discussed things from the beginning.
Withholding information is another form of lying and dishonesty, so be careful about what you choose to keep to yourself. You’re not doing your relationship any favors by picking and choosing how much your partner knows about your life.
5. Intimacy is Non-Existent
Yes, intimacy refers to sex, but it can also refer to more PG actions like holding hands, snuggling, hugging, or simply touching one another while you’re talking. “Sex is not the most important element of a successful marriage, but intimacy (and therefore sex) is still an important aspect,” says Dr. Schmitz. “If you and your partner feel more like roommates than a couple sharing the intimacies and the intricacies of marriage, you’ve lost a key building block of your relationship.”