Updated: Nov 6, 2018
Marriage is hard, and there will be rocky patches from time to time -- that’s totally normal. A licensed marriage therapist can save a marriage by giving the couple skills for communication, a safe place to have honest discourse, and a view of the relationship from another angle. So, when does fighting go from normal to a warning sign of an impending breakdown?
We all imagine that our marriage, whether current or in the future, will be perfect and we will live happily ever after. You probably have thought at one point or another, “I won’t be part of that scary statistic that half of marriages end in divorce! No siree, not me! Not MY marriage!” Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a great way to approach a relationship, but I think most of us can admit, it’s not totally realistic. I strongly believe that we can all grow and evolve as people and spouses over our lifetimes and one of the wonderful ways to do so is to work with a marriage therapist.
Therapists give us skills for success and help us to see the patterns in our lives that we can’t recognize from the inside. Licensed marriage therapists also help us function more effectively in relationships and can act as a mediator when there is a breakdown in communication.
There are many reasons to work with a marriage therapist, even in the happiest of times, but I want you to be aware of some specific “warning signs” in a relationship that can show that you are on the road to a breakdown or, even worse, a breakup. A marriage therapist can be the detour on this road that turns the car toward a happier future. I have seen marriage therapists, quite literally, save marriages that otherwise were on the road to ruin. I have worked with many individuals and couples in a therapy setting, which has helped me gain a better understanding of why some relationships are successful and why some fail. Additionally, I have been married for 17 years, so I know firsthand the challenges and joys that come with deep intimacy. My goal is not to scare you or to make you feel shame or guilt if you identify with any (or even all!) of these warning sign. The truth is, marriage is hard -- and that’s nothing to be embarrassed about. A marriage takes work, and unfortunately, I’ve seen too many couples who fail to put the necessary time into nurturing the relationship.
Read on to see if you need to make an appointment with a licensed marriage therapist!
# 1 You are dreading the moment that your spouse comes home (and you can't wait for him/her to leave again)
There is no doubt that you will have moments when you wish your partner would give you some space to breathe or some time to be alone. I think the majority of adults I know crave periods of alone time. Alternately, if you find that this is MOST of the time, you might want to examine what is causing those feelings. Would you rather be alone? Would you rather be with someone else? Is there something bothering you that you haven’t voiced, and thus are feeling like you haven’t been allowed to be self-expressed? Do you feel stifled, like you are losing your identity? Perhaps you have had these feelings, but you haven’t stopped to really ponder what they mean. If the sound of their key in the door causes an intense emotional reaction, it is time to figure out why and how to fix it.
# 2 You are bored in your marriage
Sure, your marriage will be boring from time to time. The excitement of the honeymoon phase definitely doesn't last forever, and it’s easy to get in a rut of eating takeout from the same restaurant while watching the same show in your same apartment with your same person. There will be times when you need to shake things up, do something exciting, and spice up your marriage. What if you have tried many tactics and attempted all the “exciting, spicy” things you can think of and you are still bored? Let’s take it one step further and say you’ve shared these feelings with your partner that you need his/her help in shaking things up. One of the most frustrating things in a marriage is not being on the same page. As two separate human beings, this is bound to happen from time to time, but you should never feel invalidated by your feelings. If you are craving something that your partner doesn’t seem to be able to provide, a third party can help you get back to being on the same page. If you feel like you are in a rut and need some strategies on how to get out, a therapist can help you come up with a plan to break the cycle of boredom.
#3 You are not happy with your sex life, or lack thereof
A distressed couple in bed, not facing each other.
Sex. In the beginning it’s fireworks and passion and can’t-wait-to-get-home-from-the-restaurant-and-tear-each-others'-clothes-off! Flash forward to years down the road and between kids, jobs, self-esteem issues, and the aforementioned boredom, keeping things sexy can be very challenging. As someone who loves to talk about sex with both my clients and friends, I often hear about marriages that suffer because of the lack of sex. This week, my friend was telling me about how she pretends to be asleep when her husband asks for sex because she is too tired after putting the kids to sleep. Sure, it is understandable that when you have young children and you dedicate your day to taking care of them, you will naturally have less energy for sex, but if you can’t remember the last time or if you or your partner’s sexual needs are not getting met, it is time for an expert. It is such a common issue and one that can be overcome. Some marriage therapists specialize in sex and are more knowledgeable and experienced about the topic while other therapists are not comfortable speaking about the subject. If sex is something that you want to work on in your marriage, make sure to pick a professional who is comfortable and knowledgeable about sex and intimacy so you can have open and honest conversations. Also make sure both you and your partner are both comfortable with the person you choose. It should always feel like an open, safe space for both of you.
# 4 You are thinking of cheating on your partner
Let's be honest here and admit that if you have been in a long-term relationship, the thought of “someone else” has crossed your mind from time to time. Yes? No? Are you being honest saying “no”? It is natural and normal to want what you can’t have. With polyamory and open relationships becoming more popular, people are exploring what monogamy means and what works for them, which is great if both parties are comfortable and happy. However, If you and your partner are in a monogamous relationship, intimacy outside of the partnership is an unacceptable form of behavior. Instead of feeling constantly guilty, take a step back and think about why you are having these feelings in the first place. If you are thinking about cheating or taking baby steps in that direction, it is imperative that you speak to a therapist before you make a decision that could irrevocably break your partner’s trust and ruin your marriage.
#5 You are not speaking the same language
We all know communication is key to a healthy relationship, so what do you do if it feels like you are speaking French and your partner is speaking German? You need skills to translate! For some couples, communication issues show up as having the same fight over and over, and for others, the silent treatment speaks volumes. Perhaps you used to talk about everything, but recently you feel like one or both of you has become more withdrawn. Dr. John Gottman, psychologist and famed relationship expert, has four predictors of the end of a relationship, known as the “The Four Horsemen” and, unsurprisingly, they all deal with communication. They are Criticism (“You are so selfish!”), Contempt (“Oh boo hoo! Your life is so hard! Get over it!”), Defensiveness (“I didn’t do anything wrong! This is YOUR issue”), and Stonewalling “...”. Stonewalling is when someone just shuts down. If you are seeing any of these come up in your relationship, you need to find healthier alternatives before it’s too late. Bad communication can become a terrible habit, and usually if you develop bad communicative tendencies they will spill over and affect all of your relationships.
Did you see yourself or your relationship in any of the above “warning signs”? Here’s what to do:
Talk to your partner and broach the subject of therapy.
Find a great licensed marriage therapist to work with.
I often get approached by one person in a relationship who is afraid to bring up the subject of seeing someone to talk about their relationship. It can be scary to be the first one to admit there is a problem. You might not know if your partner is thinking the same thing or if they haven’t noticed the issue. It’s also common for someone to get defensive about needing couples’ therapy. What I want to recommend is that you don’t let this scare you away. If bringing up the idea causes you to fight, that’s also probably a warning sign that something is up. I definitely recommend approaching the subject in a non-accusatory way. Don’t start with, “We need to see a marriage therapist because YOU can’t make me happy.” Come at the subject from an honest and open place. If all else fails, reach out to a professional on your own. A therapist can help you work through your own issues and guide you in talking to your partner about couples’ counseling. At the end of the day, both of you have to want to work on your relationship, but someone needs to take that important first step.
You have the power to save your marriage and to gain skills that will help you in all aspects of life. As we said before, we are fans of people seeing therapists in the “good times” to learn, evolve, and gain tools to hopefully avoid crises altogether. That being said, it is never too late to fix problems and get a marriage back on track! Even in moments when everything seems really hopeless, a therapist can view the relationship from a different angle and help. I think fear stops a lot of people from seeking therapy. It’s as though people think that if they admit their is any signs of trouble, they are admitting defeat. Some of the happiest couples, and people, I know go to therapy regularly. I’ve talked about this before, but we don’t look down on people who take their physical health seriously (go to the gym, eat healthy, see a doctor when they are sick), so why should you think of your mental health or relationship health any differently? Ignoring your marriage and any red flags is the worst thing you can do. Especially if you have children, it’s important to think about how your marriage problems affect your ability to parent. One warning sign I didn’t mention actually involves children. Often children act out when they see a lot of fighting. Some children will mirror behavior, while others will become withdrawn or cry at the first sign of a raised voice. Even if you don’t have kids, we all have been in situations where a couple is arguing or giving each other the silent treatment. Those people are no fun to be around. Sometimes it takes your peers or other family members to alert you of a problem. Don’t shut them out because most likely they just want what’s best for you.
At Bespoke, we take the guesswork out of finding the right person for you or your marriage. We have a group of fully-vetted, highly-recommended licensed marriage therapists ready to help you create your best possible relationship and, truly, live happily ever after!
If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists or dietitians, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!