I read your column weekly and have to admit that I’m struggling in my marriage. I’ve been married fifteen years and Conner and I have two sons ages ten and thirteen. We argue more recently since Conner lost his job, have not had sex in almost a year, and are drifting apart. Whenever we do talk, we seem to have the same fight over and over and both get defensive.
Please tell me some of the warning signs of divorce and how I can get my marriage back on track. I do love Conner and want to save my marriage but we are very stuck in a toxic cycle.
There aren’t any foolproof ways to know when your marriage is doomed to fail or should end. However, examining whether you can repair problems and end destructive relationship patterns is a good first step. Before you do this, take responsibility for your part in the negative dynamic between you and your husband and this might improve your marriage and reduce the risk for a divorce.
According to experts, the most common reason couples divorce is because of a pursuer-distancer pattern that develops over time. Dr. Sue Johnson identifies the pattern of demand-withdraw as the “Protest Polka” and says it’s one of three “Demon Dialogues.” She explains that when one partner becomes critical and aggressive the other often becomes defensive and distant.
Renowned relationship expert Dr. John Gottman’s research on thousands of couples discovered that partners that get stuck in this pattern the first few years of marriage have more than a 80% chance of divorcing in the first four or five years.
Another common reason why couples split is the blame game. Dr. Johnson writes: “If we love our partners why don’t we just hear each other’s call for attention and connection and respond with caring?”
In other words, instead of focusing on your partner’s flaws and looking to blame him or her, try spending your energy fostering a deeper connection. Stop assuming the worst of your partner and put an end to demanding your partner change. Instead focus on your needs and how you can communicate them in a loving, respectful way. Take responsibility for your part in a problem – none of us is without flaws.
Practicing emotional attunement with your partner can help you stay connected in spite of your differences. According to John Gottman, this means “turning toward” one another, showing empathy, and not being defensive. In practical terms, turn off your phone, laptop, or TV, and pay attention for his or her bids for attention by asking meaningful questions and using good eye contact while you are having conversations.
8 Warning Signs that your marriage is headed for divorce:
- You argue about the same things over and over (and over) again and never seem to clear the air. You both feel like you’re the loser and that you often have to defend your position.
- You feel criticized and put down by your partner frequently and this leaves you feeling less than “good enough.” According to renowned relationship expert Dr. John Gottman, criticism is one of the main reasons why marriages collapse.
- You have difficulty being vulnerable with your significant other and when you do your worst fears are actualized – you’re left regretting that you revealed your feelings and desires.
- You rarely spend time together and don’t have a desire to change this pattern. Intimate relationships require nurturing and couples who spend time together regularly report that they are more emotionally connected.
- Your needs for sexual intimacy are vastly different and/or you rarely have sex. Relationship expert Cathy Meyer writes, “Whether it is him or you that has lost interest, a lack of regular intimacy in a marriage is a bad sign. Sex is the glue that binds, it is the way us adults play and enjoy each other.”
- You and your partner have fallen into a pursuer- distancer dynamic – one of the main causes of divorce. Over time, it erodes the love and trust between you because you’ll lack the emotional and sexual intimacy that comes from being in harmony with each other.
- When you argue, you seldom repair your relationship and get back on track. You fall into the trap of blaming each other and fail to compromise or apologize. As a result, you experience less warmth and closeness. According to Dr. John Gottman, the number one solution to this problem is to get really good at repair skills. He tells Business Insider that you’ve got to get back on track after a fight if you don’t want issues to fester. Practice giving an apology that’s specific such as “I’m sorry that I kept you waiting” rather than “I’m sorry that you got mad at me.” You also need to accept your partner’s apology since no one is perfect.
- Emotional, verbal, or physical abuse that causes a partner to feel unsafe. For the most part, experts agree that any type of abuse erodes feelings of security, trust, or sense of belonging in a relationship and these issues can’t be resolved in the context of a marriage.
In closing, for your marriage to thrive, it’s important to create daily rituals of spending time together, showing physical affection, and discussing problems in a healthy way. This means listening to your partner, validating their feelings and perspective by saying things like “Good point” even if you don’t agree with them. By doing this, you will make the relationship more important than your individual views and you will strengthen your bond as a couple over time.
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Feel free to ask a question here.
Terry’s forthcoming book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, will be published by Sounds True in February of 2020.