Danny and Erica had been married for 6 years, the first 3 years were great, but the relationship started to decline after that.
Danny’s partying ways had always made Erica feel uneasy, but after the birth of their 2rd child their marriage started to really struggle. As the responsibilities of a family grew, Erica craved more support and attention from Danny. Instead of giving Erica the support she needed he turned to his drinking friends for fun, leaving Erica to tend to the children alone.
The years of parenting alone made Erica feel resentful, and the criticism towards each other grew.
As the intimacy in the marriage dwindled and the fights became more regular, they spent more time apart. After a few years of unhappiness, they both found themselves facing a decision that they never thought they would have to face: Is their marriage over?
It’s not unusual for both people in a relationship to at some point feel like they want to get out of their marriage. The journey of a relationship can have many twists and turns. But what are the warning signs that your marriage is in trouble?
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS YOUR MARRIAGE IS IN TROUBLE?
- Constant fighting
- Ongoing criticism
- A growing disrespect for one another
- Little affection towards each other
- A lack of support
- Physical intimacy becoming less frequent
- When you begin to live independent lives
All of these signs tell us that something needs to change in the relationship. Unfortunately, these signs don’t appear all at once, they can slowly appear over many years. If you are not aware, you can be like the frog in the pot, slowly but surely boiling to death.
Many couples experience a change in their relationship after having children. They may have had lots of flexibility, passionate sex, and the ability to spontaneously whisk away for a weekend at any time, but we all know that this changes after children. The additional demand and stress on both people can cause exhaustion, frustration and distance quickly as the responsibilities of a family grows. To maintain a strong relationship you need to become a lot more creative and intentional about maintaining love and connection.
THERE’S A LOT AT STAKE
The benefit of a sign is that it’s a warning. But that warning needs to be taken seriously.
There’s a lot at stake when a couple consider separating – the breaking of a family, the loss of a future together, the financial cost, and the many unseen consequences that will appear. It takes courage to fight for a relationship. A couple really need to count the cost of separating. For many, it can seem like the easier option is to walk away, but it’s often not.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
- What has gotten you to the point where separating or divorce is an option?
- What have you done to try to fix the problems?
- If you could get what you wanted, what do you long for?
- How would your relationship change if you worked towards becoming your best self?
- Have you engaged professional help for your marriage?
There are definitely times when it is necessary to get help immediately and get yourself to a place of safety. Signs of physical, emotional or sexual abuse are clearly unacceptable. In fact, any behaviour that makes one person feel unsafe needs immediate action. Without safety, a relationship will not grow.
When a couple finds themselves getting to a crossroad in the relationship it is vital to get professional advice. Current statistics tell us that most couples wait 6 years until they get help in their marriage. Imagine what could be prevented if the couple sought help early and worked through the small issues before too much resentment built in the relationship.
It’s never too late but engaging a third party is wise. It creates accountability and safety, allowing each person to be heard and understood within the confines of the appointment.
MAKING A COMEBACK
When a married couple gets to that point where they wonder if their marriage is over they stand at a fork in the road. It’s a difficult decision to make and often there are many factors to consider.
But making a comeback is entirely possible even though the signs are troubling. My own counselling practice involves working with many couples that are facing that fork in the road. Some aren’t sure that they have it in them to work on their marriage, but if they’re willing to try, there is a lot of hope.
HEALING FROM THE PAST
Healing from the past hurt is the beginning of making a comeback. With the mounting disappointment and hurt that has been experienced over the course of the marriage it’s almost impossible to rebuild without first processing what that couple have been through. Most couples feel unheard, misunderstood, and disrespected. By allowing each person to express their perspective whilst the other is listening is an important part of processing the hurt and really hearing each other’s internal pain. It often brings empathy into the relationship as they both hear each other’s viewpoints.
Often the greatest work that is done in a marriage is through that process of listening, and at some stage forgiving their partner and themselves for the past.
It takes vulnerability to open up, and it takes a desire to rebuild and leave the past behind.
Just like the foundations of any building is important, so is the foundation of a relationship. As you repair the cracks in the marriage you can rebuild on a solid foundation.
REBUILDING THE FRIENDSHIP
One of the signs that a marriage is over is when the friendship that the relationship began with begins to turn sour. A friendship is a great foundation for a healthy relationship but just as a friendship needs playfulness, laughter, time spent together, and a belief in each other, so does your marriage.
There is nothing more important to making a comeback than working to rebuild the friendship that you once had. Instead of focusing on the bad and ruminating on the negative about your partner, look to focus on what you can change in yourself instead. As you readjust your focus and begin to notice the good things that your partner is doing, your affection towards them will start to slowly shift. And soon those feelings that your marriage is over will begin to change.
MEETING EACH OTHER’S NEEDS
One of the signs that the marriage is over is when a couple no longer look to meet the needs of their partner. Those needs may get met by their friends, family, a gym buddy or even through work. Whatever the case, the needs that originally got filled by each other now are being met outside of the marriage.
As Dr Gary Chapman states, we all have a love language and knowing that is particularly important to your marriage. Your love language may be quality time, encouragement, physical touch, acts of service or gifts. When a couple makes an intentional daily decision to look to meet their partner’s needs in a way that they feel loved, then the love that they feel towards each other will begin to ignite again.
Be purposeful and intentional as you look to meet your partner’s needs!
A NEW WAY OF COMMUNICATING
An obvious sign that the marriage is in trouble is when the communication between you both is predominately negative. It’s full of criticism, defensiveness, and nastiness.
Your tone is harsh, and you assume the worst whilst rarely spending the time to listen or understand each other. As the lack of resolve from the many arguments continues it’s any wonder that one or both question whether the marriage is over!
Words are best used when they edify each other so recognizing the damage you are doing by using your words negatively is important to create change.
Often the word ‘divorce’ is used as a weapon against the other, which erodes any trust in the future of the marriage.
Patience, a healthy tone when talking to each other, and a desire to listen and understand each other’s thoughts and feelings is a really great start to rebuilding. Make a decision to have ‘o’ tolerance for criticism and disrespect in your marriage. Instead of shutting down when there is tension, work towards giving each other the space that is needed to calm down before things get too heated. Then readdress the issue when you are both calm.
Above all, learn to share the good and the challenging things with each other every day. Practise spending 15-20 minutes a day talking about the events of the day and it will train your ear to listen rather than problem solve. Through consistency, you will build confidence in each other and faith that you can work through the more difficult issues when they come up.
Trust in each other is built over time, and it is shown by your actions. As you actively put these things into practice your marriage will begin to look different. Positive feelings will slowly come back for each other, and instead of looking at your partner with contempt, you will begin to have promise for the future.
Use that opportunity to dream again. Your marriage started with amazing dreams, I’m sure. Those dreams are the wind in the sails of your marriage. They give you hope and passion for your future together.
Spend time together discussing the things that once lit you up when you talked and dreamed of them. Be specific, set a small goal to start with, and work together on achieving something you dream of. You’ll be amazed at how that draws you closer and gives you a valuable sense of togetherness.
MARRIAGE IS A JOURNEY
Marriage is a journey, and every marriage is different. There will certainly be good times and hard ones as well. By giving up too soon you often miss the gold that is formed in your marriage as you stand together, persevere, and grow through the pain.
You may have thought your marriage was over, but maybe it’s just beginning.
Remember: When you go through hard times you either get better and bonded, or bitter and broken!
The choice is yours.
If you want some more tips on how to build a strong marriage check out the resources that are available at Unbreakable Love.