6 Marriage Red Flags You Should Never Ignore, Therapists Warn
These could snowball into major issues.
There are certain marital issues you just can't ignore: things like cheating, lying, or a total pause on your sex life. But other times, trouble creeps in in a sneakier way—and experts call these red flags. While red flags don't always signify an impending split, you absolutely must deal with them in a serious way. Here, therapists tell us the biggest marriage red flags they notice in clients. Take note of these issues early and discuss them with your spouse—it just might lead to a positive turn in your relationship.
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Passive aggression or sarcasm.
Those harmless jokes aren't always so harmless. "While some relationships use sarcasm or joke with passive aggressivity, it can become toxic and is often a sign that someone is resentful," says Nicole Rainey, licensed mental health counselor and co-owner of Mosaic Creative Counseling in Tallahassee. "Passive-aggressive comments or frequent sarcasm stand in the way of more tender vulnerable moments in a marriage."
According to Rainey, this type of communication typically stems from a feeling a partner is stuffing away or avoiding—so pay close attention to the times it comes up. However, don't feel the need to over-analyze if this is normal for the two of you. "If sarcasm has always been an integral part of your relationship, then be careful reading into this too much," she adds.
The roommate feeling.
After a few years, a couple might start feeling more like the co-maintainers of their house than partners. "There is certainly a functional component to marriage, but if that's all there seems to be, it doesn't bode well," says Mark Cagle, LPC-S, marriage and couples therapist in Dallas. This issue is particularly rampant after you add kids to the mix. "It's important for new parents especially to remember that they were partners first," says Cagle. "Having children can lead to marriages becoming more transactional and less loving, especially in the early years."
Fortunately, a good therapist can help you find that spark again. "Couples counselors are skilled in helping partners gain critical self-awareness in their habits and patterns of interaction, and can empower them to decide where to infuse passion and connection back into their everyday routine," says Rainey. The most important thing to do is fix this issue before it gets out of hand.
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It's a fact of life that every couple will experience conflict. But when that conflict continues—day after day and week after week—you may have a problem on your hands. "For example, your day starts with a sense of frustration from something that happened the night before," says Rainey. "Then, a small conflict over the coffee pot or dishes links that conflict to the next conflict about dinner plans or who is picking the kids up from school." Before you know it, you and your partner are bickering more often than not, to the point where you lose sight of where one conflict ends and another begins. If this becomes a habit, consider it an enormous red flag.
At the start of your relationship, you were likely endeared by the fact that your partner never put their socks in the hamper or had a quirky way of doing the dishes. That endearment's likely changed—but if you find yourself feeling constantly agitated by their behaviors, it's a red flag.
"You may even have an internal dialogue with yourself about how you feel like you shouldn't be as annoyed with these small things, but you just can't help it," says Hannah Guy, MSW, licensed clinical social worker. "This can be a pretty good indicator that you and your spouse aren't in sync with the way you previously were." Guy notes that an increase in irritability could also be an indicator of depression, so if you or your spouse are experiencing it combined with symptoms like fatigue, mood swings, and low motivation, you'll want to seek professional support.
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Lack of interest.
A lack of interest in you, your relationship, or life in general could be a harbinger of bad news in a marriage. "Notice if your partner has fewer opinions, or has a difficult time getting excited about things," says Rainey. "Does your partner say 'I don't care' all the time; do they no longer feel like an active participant in the relationship? Notice this." The cause of this issue could be completely unrelated to your marriage, but there's no doubt the behavior will trickle into your relationship. "This may be a sign of dissatisfaction in life or overwhelm, even depression," says Rainey. Whatever the case, you'll want to get to the root of the problem sooner than later.
A general sense of distance.
Sometimes, the most seemingly obvious red flags are the easiest—and most consequential—to ignore. For example, if you notice a general sense of distance in your marriage, you'll want to take note. "Sometimes, this might just indicate stress and not necessarily that your partner is upset with you or unhappy in the marriage," says Rainey. "However, if distance continues then the marriage becomes unintentional, more and more miscommunications happen, and you grow into two different people."
Distance is also something you might notice yourself creating. "When we are feeling disconnected, unsupported, or any other type of discord within a relationship, we tend to push people away," says Rainey. "Are you spending more time away from your spouse than you typically do? Do you find yourself avoiding engaging in certain activities you used to do together? When stressed or overwhelmed, are you going to a friend for support when you typically would seek help from your spouse?" By doing these things, you might be avoiding the discomfort you feel in your relationship.
Rainey's advice is simple: "It's best to get ahead of the distance and see a professional." Doing so just might save your marriage.
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