In virtually every marriage, it’s normal to have highs and lows. But how do you know if your “low” is something concerning? Generally, there are early warning signs that your marriage may be on the rocks based on how you and your partner interact during conflict.
1. Attacking the Person, Not the Behavior
When you and your partner criticize, does it happen as an attack on your partner rather than a criticism of their behavior? Do you say, “You always cut people off,” “You always fly off the handle!” or “You’re so rude!”? Criticisms worded this way can seem like an attack on your partner’s personality or moral fiber, putting them on the defensive. This can also be a sign of marital strife. Instead, try rewording your complaints. For example, “When you interrupt me, I feel frustrated.” Be sure to focus on a specific behavior rather than a perceived character flaw.
2. Expressing Contempt Towards Your Spouse
Expressing contempt towards your partner is always a bad sign. If your partner belittles you, uses hostile humor, hurtful sarcasm, or expresses hostile nonverbal behavior, this is harmful to your marriage and you. Both partners in a marriage should work to treat each other with respect, kindness, and appreciation.
3. Always Being on the Defensive
When your partner complains or criticizes, do you respond with a complaint of your own? Do you start out your response with, “yes, but…,” or “it’s not my fault”? If so, this can be a sign that your marriage is heading down the wrong road. Instead, each of you should be able to listen to one another, discuss issues calmly and without personal attacks, and realize that you don’t need to be perfect.
4. Shutting Down or Walking Out
Does one of you always get up and leave or shut down when you have a conflict? Does one of you put up a wall and give the other the silent treatment? If so, this is a danger sign. It’s a good idea for you and your partner to agree that if a discussion is becoming too heated, it is OK to take a break. But it isn’t a good idea to simply withdraw and refuse to discuss marital issues.