Human beings are social creatures. We are designed to seek out meaningful relationships with others. Romantic relationships are one of the most important types of relationships in our lives.
According to the American Psychological Association, 90% of people in Western Cultures marry by the time they are 50. Sadly, between 40 and 50% of marriages in the United States end in divorce.
Marriages fall apart for a variety of reasons, but studies have shown that certain issues come up more consistently than others. Three of the most commonly cited reasons for divorce are lack of communication, incompatibility, and lack of commitment to the relationship.
If you’ve ever wondered what makes marriages fall apart or are questioning whether your marriage is in trouble, here are some warning signals you should be aware of:
Lack of Communication
Sometimes marital problems are apparent, but other times they can be much more subtle. Not every couple reacts in the same way to conflicts that arise in their relationships. Some couples are vocal, and it can seem like every disagreement turns into a full-blown argument. Other couples avoid conflict altogether and let anger and resentment build up inside them without ever acknowledging it.
Whether you and your spouse are having screaming matches or giving each other the silent treatment, if you are not effectively communicating, your relationship is doomed to failure. In every marriage, disagreements will arise, and fighting in itself isn’t bad. The problem is when one or both partners aren’t fighting fairly. If you’re not sure whether the fight is fair or not, here are some red flags to look out for:
Red Flags of Not Fighting Fairly
- Criticism – resorting to criticism and personal attacks lead to feelings of resentment and contempt and are a way of avoiding the real problem.
- Defensiveness – if you and your spouse are more concerned with proving the other is wrong than actively listening to the other’s feelings and point of view, than you are not acting like a couple. Marriage is supposed to be a partnership, not a competition or a power struggle.
- Manipulation – Whether in the form of threats, bribes, or guilt trips, any attempts from either partner to coerce the other into doing something they don’t want to do is a sure sign of trouble in a relationship. The moment you say, “I do,” you both make a promise to love each other unconditionally, not just when one does what the other wants them to.
- Stonewalling – Stonewalling is when the listener shuts down and doesn’t listen to what the speaker is actually saying. There are a variety of ways in which stonewalling can happen. Sometimes one partner will act like the other isn’t there and tune the speaker out. Other times they may turn away or act like they are busy doing something. Stonewalling is a way to escape dealing with conflict constructively.
Of course, lack of communication isn’t restricted to times of conflict. According to the American Psychological Association, happy couples consistently take time to check in with each other. Checking in involves more than surface discussions about the children or household maintenance. It means asking specific personal questions about your spouse’s day or how they’re feeling.
If you find you and your spouse never just talk anymore, it’s a good sign you two are experiencing a disconnect in your relationship. It’s essential to engage with your partner regularly, but asking questions is only one part. It’s equally important to listen to the answers and respond.
Checking in shouldn’t be the responsibility of one person; it should be a joint effort. When one partner is consistently making an effort, and the other is not, this can breed feelings of resentment and frustration and be another sign your marriage is falling apart.
Communication isn’t limited to verbal but physical interaction, as well. Hugging, kissing, loving touches, eye contact, and sexual encounters play an essential role in building strong relationships.
According to Dr. Helen Fisher, Ph.D., romantic love involves two biological mating drives. The two biological drives she describes are sexual gratification and affection. If your marriage lacks physical intimacy, then it’s unlikely you and your spouse are getting what you need to support a healthy relationship.
Physical touch is a simple way to communicate affection and shows your partner; you notice them. When physical contact is lacking, it can make you or your partner feel taken for granted. Human beings need to feel wanted and needed by others, and if they don’t, it can have harmful physical, emotional, and psychological repercussions.
As mentioned earlier, humans are social creatures. We want to have a sense of belonging.
We want to feel like we matter to others. When you feel isolated, and out of touch with your partner, it goes against nature and causes significant discord in your relationship.
Communication is vital to any relationship but especially a romantic one. The moment communication breaks down, your marriage is in trouble. If you and your spouse have been avoiding difficult topics of conversation or neglecting each other’s needs, this needs to be addressed for your relationship to survive.
The old cliché opposites attract is not entirely accurate.
Different personalities can indeed complement each other, but when it comes to major life issues and important decisions, both of you need to be on the same page.
One highly influential factor in the success of a relationship is finance management. If one of you is trying to save money while the other seems to spend it as fast as it’s made, it can be a severe cause for stress and conflict in a marriage. 50% of divorced couples stated financial problems as a primary reason for divorce.
Another common problem is the different ideas of child-rearing. The introduction of a child into a couple’s lives will always be stressful no matter what, but it’s exasperating when you and your spouse are not in agreement on how to raise children. If you find yourselves continually arguing about the best way to raise your children, it can be a recipe for disaster.
Going along with different ideas of child-rearing is different ideas of roles in the household. For example, if your spouse believes it’s your job to do all the cooking and cleaning in the house and you believe household duties should be shared equally, this can become a significant source of contempt in your relationship.
As a couple, you need to set clear expectations for one another and your marriage. Marriage is a partnership, and it requires substantial contributions from both parties involved. If you never sit down to discuss expectations with one another, you are setting yourselves up for failure, and it will only get worse the longer you postpone the discussion until the damage is irreparable.
Lack of Commitment
Marriage is not a static thing. It requires constant maintenance and a willingness to regroup and reconsider an issue if something isn’t working in your relationship. “I do” isn’t something the two of you say once and never again. Saying “I do commit to growing and maintaining this marriage” is something you need to say every day.
Lack of commitment is a broad term that involves everything from not showing interest in your spouse or considering their feelings and opinions to infidelity.
When you or your spouse are physically present but emotionally absent, it can be a sign of lack of commitment. Life gets busy, and it’s easy to get distracted by work obligations, parental duties, running errands, and the general ebb and flow of the day. That’s not an excuse.
If something or someone is truly important, you make the time. No one ever said marriage is easy; it’s incredibly difficult and involves some creative problem-solving at times. You and your spouse need to ask yourselves if you are willing to put in the effort. If not, your marriage has little hope of survival.
Infidelity seems like one of the most obvious examples of a lack of commitment. Ironically one of the most cited reasons for infidelity is not lack of love for one’s spouse but the failure for the partner who cheated to have their physical and emotional needs met.
Infidelity does not necessarily have to be the end of a relationship. Cheating leads to feelings of betrayal that are extremely difficult to work through, but if both partners are willing, marriage counseling can help.
When commitment is lacking, it can open the door to a load of other issues. If you feel like you or your spouse are not committed to your relationship, you need to address the feeling before it’s too late. Recommitting to a relationship after a couple has drifted can make or break a marriage.
There is no shame in seeking professional help if you feel like your marriage is failing. Agreeing to go to counseling is admirable and shows you both have a strong desire to salvage your relationship. However, if one partner is willing and the other is not, then the marriage is unlikely able to be saved.
In addition to the three heavy hitters discussed above, there could be other signs that your marriage is falling apart. Substance abuse, domestic violence, and health problems are all contributing factors in a couple’s decision to divorce. A recent study has cited substance abuse as the reason for divorce in 34.6% of study participants.
If you or your spouse suffer from any addiction, both parties suffer. The partner with the addiction is engaging in self-destructive behaviors, and the other partner is most likely enabling those behaviors. If you and your spouse don’t get the help that is needed to end the cycle of addiction, the marriage will be destroyed and likely one or both people’s lives.
If you are unsure whether you or your spouse may have a substance abuse problem here are some warning signs to look for
- Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
- Sudden weight loss or gain
- Neglecting responsibilities at work or home
- Borrowing or stealing money
- Changes in behavior and sudden mood swings
- Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing
While this list is by no means complete, it can give you an idea of things you should be on the lookout for if you suspect substance abuse issues.
In the same study discussed before, participants cited domestic violence as the reason for divorce 23.5% of the time. In this study, both physical and emotional abuse were considered forms of domestic violence. Any action that hurts you or your spouse and takes away personal dignity is a form of abuse, and it is never okay. However, if you need further clarification as to what constitutes abuse, here are some examples:
- Physical harm such as hair pulling, slapping, kicking, punching or choking
- Controlling what a person eats drinks or who they have contact with
- Driving recklessly when the other person is in the car
- Verbal threats
- Insulting, name-calling, or otherwise humiliating another person
- sexual coercion
No matter how upset or angry you are with one another, there has to be fundamental mutual respect, or the marriage cannot continue. It’s important to set certain boundaries in relationships and not cross them. Both you and your spouse need to, at the very least, acknowledge each other’s basic human dignity as this is the basis of any interpersonal relationship romantic or not.
If you or your spouse have health problems, it will certainly cause stress in your relationship. Stress is inevitable in any relationship, but the way one reacts to the stress can contribute to whether the relationship can survive the strain. Health problems can be either physical or mental and often are not known about before you are married.
If you or your partner feel the need to conceal a health problem, it can be a sign of an even deeper problem. It may mean that you have difficulty trusting your spouse, or it could be a sign that you are having a problem accepting your condition.
A successful relationship requires that you and your partner trust and support each other. An inability to be completely open with your partner is a reason for concern in your relationship. You should also never feel guilty or feel like you are a burden on your spouse. You marry someone hopefully because you love each other, and love is a practice of giving and taking.
If you are having trouble dealing with a health condition, the first step is to acknowledge it. Sometimes acknowledgment means talking to your partner about your experience living with your health condition, sharing anxieties you may have about your health, and learning how to support each other through a health crisis. It could also mean seeking help by going to therapy on your own and discussing your problems with a professional.
If a health condition is serious or is something that will get worse over time, you also need to be open about that and plan accordingly. A loving partner is a great ally when facing health problems, but they can only help you if you help yourself as well. A health condition won’t go away on its own. Denial will not help nor will avoiding frank conversations about the effect a health condition will have on your marriage.
In the face of a stressful health situation, self-care for each partner is integral to the well-being of your relationship as a whole. If not addressed, it can have a very negative effect on your relationship. It can feel overwhelming when you or your spouse is having a health crisis. It can make or break a relationship.
Loss of Personal Autonomy
Going along with the idea of self-care is the idea of personal autonomy. If you feel as if you are losing your own identity in your relationship, chances are you do not have a healthy relationship.
The very definition of a relationship is the way in which two or more people are connected. This means that if you want a successful relationship, you have to strike a balance between having a personal identity and an identity as a unit with your spouse.
If you are uncomfortable spending time alone, it’s challenging to nurture personal growth and development. Yet personal growth is important to maintain throughout a lifetime. Personal growth helps support a person’s self-esteem, and healthy self-esteem is key to a healthy marriage.
It’s important to acknowledge that you and your spouse are different people, and one should not wholly define the other. While it’s essential to encourage and support each other, this doesn’t mean you have to, nor should you do everything together. While too much distance is detrimental to a healthy marriage, so is spending too much time together.
Doing everything together can cause a feeling of resentment and smothering. It can make your spouse feel as if you don’t trust them enough to leave them alone. It can also make them feel as if you are demanding too much attention and taking away too much of their freedom.
Ironically, spending too much time together can have the direct opposite of the desired effect. Instead of making a couple feel closer to each other, it can cause them to pull away from each other. It also can cause a relationship to become very boring because it leaves no room for surprise and limits new experiences.
Marriage is an ever-changing ever-evolving thing, and it can be a beautiful thing despite the inevitable challenges that will arise. A successful marriage requires mutual respect as well as open, loving, and honest communication. It involves teamwork and a certain amount of compromise.
Marriage is an exercise in trust as well as physical and emotional closeness. It takes patience, understanding, and love. Every marriage has its ups and downs, but what defines a successful relationship is the ability and willingness to overcome hardships and do the necessary work to support each other and your marriage as a whole.
It’s important to view marital problems as an opportunity for growth and a way of strengthening your relationship with your spouse rather than as a hindrance to that relationship. It is also necessary that both partners are on the same page in the relationship. Your attitude towards one another needs to be a partnership rather than a battle of wills.
You need to look at your spouse really look at them and remember why you fell in love in the first place. If you can’t remember what made you fall in love with each other in the first place, it will be extremely difficult for that love to grow and evolve throughout your lifetime together.
Take time to work on your relationship. Maintaining emotional and physical intimacy should be as much a priority as eating and sleeping. Communicating openly should be as necessary to keeping your love alive as breathing is to keep your body alive.
If you see any of the warning signs discussed above in your marriage, you need to say something. If you’re having problems in your marriage, don’t ignore it. The problems will not go away on their own.
To put it into perspective, think about what you would do if you suspected you had a broken bone. Chances are you’re not going to ignore the pain or the fact that something is wrong with the bone. You are going to go to the emergency room and get x-rays to see what the problem is and how serious it is.
If something in your marriage is broken, you need to repair it before it can cause more severe complications. The first step in beginning the healing process is to acknowledge that there is a real problem. Only by admitting something is wrong can you and your spouse hope to find a way to make things right.