By: Susy Alexandre
When it comes to nurturing a healthy marriage, there is no single recipe for success – and it’s not surprising that so many couples stumble in their pursuit of “happily ever after.” If you find your marriage has become fractured in ways that you and your spouse can no longer manage, it may be time to seek marriage help. To help you recognize the signs of when to get marriage counselling, we’ve enlisted the experts. Here’s their take on the red flags that may signal the need for an expert intervention.
1. Your marriage is no longer a source of comfort
“A warning sign is when you feel stressed or want comfort and you turn away from your partner and go elsewhere for comfort,” says couples and family therapist Alyson Jones. “When you start turning away from your partner, rather than towards them during difficult times, then it is time to examine what is going on in your relationship.”
In any healthy marriage, you and your partner should view one another as a primary source of comfort and security. Your relationship should be a “safe space” and this is where you should feel completely at ease. If this is no longer the case in your marriage – it may be time to seek help.
2. Your communication is misaligned
Couples therapist Stephen Giles says “communication is everything in a relationship” – but beyond the simplicity of this statement, Giles believes it is the “what” and “way” in a couples’ communication that really makes the difference.
The “what” and “way” in communication, says Giles, “is our significance to each other. No matter what is literally said [it can be] undermined or supported by the way it is said.” Adds Giles, “We all need a secure relationship where we each feel loved, special and recognized. Communication needs to be about meeting that need.” With marriage counselling, couples can learn effective techniques to adjust their communication styles, becoming more conscious of the messages they’re sending to their partner.
3. Avoidance has become a common theme in your marriage
Registered psychologist Nicole McCance cites avoidance as a major red flag that a couple may need marriage help. Some of the signs to watch for, says McCance: “You spend extra time at the office or gym.” Generally, any opportunity where you find yourself actively avoiding being with your partner. “This might mean that you have old resentment that needs to be worked out and communicated, which can be helpful to do in the presence of a couple’s therapist.”
Although you may get free marriage help from marriage help books, but seeking advice from a professional will allow you and your partner the interactive space to express your concerns, work out the reasoning behind your avoidance and enjoy the benefits of instant feedback.
4. Excessive conflict
Disagreements are not uncommon in any relationship, and, when handled constructively, can serve to help couples in hashing out lingering issues and make their feelings heard. This becomes a red flag to deeper issues when the problems between couples never seem to reach a resolution.
Couples therapist Karen Hirscheimer says “Relationships can get bogged down by excessive bickering, friction and discontent. When this happens, it’s hard to ‘feel the love’ on an ongoing basis.” Adds Hirscheimer, “Repeated fights around unresolved or recurring issues can lead to frustration and pent-up hard feelings. An experienced couples therapist can assist in learning how to bring up, talk though and resolve sensitive issues in a productive way.”
An article for PsychCentral.com notes infidelity as one major red flag that signals a couple should consider seeking out professional marriage help. “There is no magic formula for recovering from an affair,” notes the article. “But if both individuals are committed to the therapy process and are being honest, the marriage may be salvaged.”
Whether an affair has already occurred in the marriage or it’s become understood that infidelity has at some point become a serious consideration, the help of a marriage expert can allow struggling couples to unearth the underlying issues in a safe and guided space. Even if the ultimate decision is one that involves a couple going their separate ways, there can be some comfort in the knowledge that every effort was made before coming to that conclusion.
6. There is no room for error in your marriage
Nobody is perfect and we shouldn’t expect more from our partner than is reasonable or realistic. Few things are more threatening to a marriage than holding your partner up to impossible ideals that will only set them up to fail and leave you feeling disappointed. When this becomes a pattern, it may be time to seek expert help in establishing more realistic expectations in your marriage.
Says family therapist Alyson Jones, “If there is no room for error in a marriage, than your marriage will grow apart. We all make mistakes, but when mishaps and mistakes are used against you, it is natural to become defensive and distant.”
7. Your sex life is non-existent
If you can’t remember the last time you and your partner were intimate, this could signal the need to seek out marriage help. Notes registered psychologist Nicole McCance, “Life gets busy, especially if you have kids; and it can be hard to find the time to be intimate.”
The key is to recognizing what it going on and taking a proactive approach. “If you aren’t making intimacy a priority, ask yourself why,” says McCance. “If it has to do with sex with your partner being unfulfilling, you may want to invest in seeing a sex therapist.” To that end, adds McCance, “This person could help you talk to your partner about your unmet needs and how to spice things up.”
8. Lack of affection
An article on Marriage.com cites a lack of affection as one of the key signs that your marriage may benefit from professional help. “Love and affection should always be present in a healthy marriage. Through some marital counselling, you both will learn to understand that even if married couples fight, each one should never make their spouse feel that they are less loved.”
Basic affection is crucial to nurturing not only the physical bond in a marriage, but also the emotional one. In receiving physical forms of love and kindness from your partner, the resulting satisfaction and pleasure you feel will transfer itself into your emotional feelings and, in turn, leave you wanting to do the same for your spouse.
9. Lack of accountability
In any marriage, it’s vital that both partners continue to make a conscious effort in analyzing their behaviours and contributions to their relationship. Taking stock of the role you play in your marriage and how your actions are received by the other person will allow you to hold yourself accountable and make changes when necessary. Often, having an objective third party in the form of marriage help can allow you and your partner the chance to make these assessments together, with the guided approach of a couple’s therapist.
In an interview with People, actress Kristen Bell notes therapy as one of the secrets to her successful marriage with fellow actor Dax Shepard: “We have a very healthy marriage and we got there by doing therapy when we needed it and constantly doing fierce moral inventories.”
10. You’ve stopped having fun
Maintaining a social life outside of your relationship is healthy, but when it becomes your only source of entertainment and fun, it can become isolating in your marriage. Family therapist Alyson Jones believes it can become a problem if “you are no longer having fun together and you are always planning your fun elsewhere.”
“A marriage loses its energy if you are living more as roommates than lovers,” adds Jones. Seeking professional help in these instances will allow couples a safe space to discover why it is they are no longer having fun together and work toward reconnecting in that way.
11. Distance between partners
It’s not surprising that many marriages struggle with growing distance from one another over the years. In long-term partnerships, it can become tricky to continue to find ways to stay connected. Says couples therapist Karen Hirscheimer, “If a couple feels like they’ve grown apart over time, professional help can be useful to get couples back on track.”
Hirscheimer notes, “Typically, if the relationship feels stale or one or both parties feel ‘alone in the relationship,’ it’s a good idea to work through ways to reconnect with a couples therapist – if trying to work it out together has not gone the distance.”
12. Staying together for the kids
A common theme in many unhappy marriages is staying together in the name of keeping their family intact. While the intention behind this is understandable, the resulting family dynamic can never be a healthy one if the parents’ relationship is unstable or forced.
An article on PsychCentral.com notes that if this is case in your marriage, “it may help to involve an objective third party.” Adding, “Children are generally very intuitive and intelligent. No matter how couples may think they are able to fake their happiness, most children are able to tell.”
13. When one person in the relationship would like to explore therapy
One clear sign that your marriage should be headed toward professional help is when one partner in the relationship has already expressed an interest in therapy. If you or your partner is struggling, marriage help is the key. Instead of feeling defensive, this should be seen as an opportunity for growth as a couple and the other partner should offer their support and participation.
In a 2013 Q&A with Rolling Stone, actor Bryan Cranston had this to say when asked if he’d ever spoke to a therapist about his family life: “My wife and I go to a couples therapist. Our agreement is, if either of us feels like we want to go, the other can’t object.” Cranston adds, “When I was a kid, if you heard of someone who went to a psychiatrist, it meant they were crazy. That’s the kind of labeling and judgment I was raised with. And I had to get rid of that.”
14. A lack of acceptance
Says therapist Alyson Jones, “We cannot control or change another person. If this becomes the agenda in a relationship, it will lead to disappointment and frustration. On some level, we must accept our partner for who they are and then we both need to work on being our best selves.”
Seeking marriage counselling can help couples to better understand one another, faults included. In making the effort to accept your partner as they are and vice versa, couples can begin to rebuild where their relationship might otherwise be fractured.
15. No joint financial planning
Healthy communication regarding finances is vital in any relationship, particularly in a marriage, where joint finances are concerned. However, for many couples this subject can be tricky to navigate, resulting in disagreements and further strain on the relationship. Therapist Alyson Jones notes, “As much as it is not always romantic, finances are a reality in every marriage.”
Says Jones, “If couples withhold financial information and do not communicate about their finances, it can lead to secrets and lies – secrets and lies are always hurtful to a relationship.” Seeking professional help can open up the lines in communication about financial matters and prevent issues down the road.