Quite often a marriage will die a silent death without anyone ever knowing the reasons. HEALTH unravels some of the red flags that should alert you that something is going wrong in your marriage and what you can do to rectify it.
According to Briar Jacques, a counselling psychologist in Dubai, we have been conditioned to believe that our marriage should be easy. “That it should flow and that the ‘in love’ feelings should naturally be there,” she explains. “In fact, parenting, career, and friendships all require constant effort to succeed.” She adds that many assume that our intimate relationship is immune to this; we
over focus on the ‘soft place to land’ aspect of a marriage and ignore the fact that it is a huge growth opportunity.
The Red Flags
1. When you form a habit of constantly criticizing your partner
Criticism, along with contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling, are toxic communication styles that Jacques says will damage your relationship. “They drive a wedge and lead to behaviors that will
create resentments and fuel your individual negative ‘stories’ of each other,” she says.
Advice: Notice when you have become defensive or are shutting them out, says Jacques. “Work on taking responsibility at these times and be brave – reaching out in helpful and honest ways to
your partner will create a healthy communication tone,” she urges.
2. When you stop honoring your partner as an individual
You’ve come together to share your life but you will never stop being individuals, says Jacques. “When we feel that our partner no longer sees the individual we are and the path of development
we are on, we can feel very lonely and apathetic,” she says, as we need to be constantly bringing things to the relationship for it to remain vital and if there is no space for us to be our individual
selves this bringing in of the new slows down or disappears.
Advice: Time apart, solo travel, different friends, and hobbies all help to feed the relationship.
3. When you undermine each other as parents
According to Jacques, philosophies on parenting and the behaviors we use to enact these are often a source of contention. “We each come from different conscious and unconscious norms around how we should parent,” she says. “We don’t have to parent in exactly the same ways – in fact our children will grow in flexibility and emotional intelligence from having to understand their different relationships with each parent.” What is most important is that we show respect for each other in front of our children.
Advice: Any fundamental differences in opinion are explored privately. Your children need to perceive you as a team – and see that different styles can be respectfully blended together.
4. When you get into a habit of blaming
Blaming is a never ending game that leads to separateness and isolation. “If you have developed this habit you are engaging in something that will damage feelings of safety and closeness,” tells Jacques. “Ask yourself – ‘Would I rather be right than happy?’ This doesn’t mean never arguing your point or expressing yourself when you feel your partner’s behaviors are unacceptable.” It’s all in how you do it. Blaming is the unmindful way. It’s the lazy, easy route and it sets up a never ending game of ‘relationship tennis’.
Advice: A very good conflict resolution rule is ‘soft on the person, hard on the problem’. Blame is usually a personal attack.
5. When you hold grudges and withhold affection, compliments, gratitude and physical demonstrations of your love
A good relationship, says Jacques, is a safe haven from the pressures and challenges of the fast paced world. “It’s a place we can refuel, rest and find the strength to go back out again and face it all,” she says. “There needs to be softness, care, intimacy, affection, gratitude, acknowledgment, compliments – a deep sense that we are seen by our partner – that we are their choice and we are enough.” Without this, insecurity and neurotic thinking creep in making the relationship vulnerable – to life stress, to affairs and other forms of acting out, to depressions and anxieties.
Advice: Pay attention, focus on what you love about your partner and seek to build them up. Extend yourself.
6. When you forget that your intimate relationship is the greatest growth opportunity you will get
Relationships are also supposed to challenge us, annoy us, leave us feeling like we don’t know what to do at times, says Jacques. “By going through all this we grow; we learn and becoming bigger than we were,” she says. “We are often too ready to diagnose our relationship as bad, broken or wrong when it causes us stress.” This is very unhelpful and an example of missing the point.
Advice: It’s very normal to feel overwhelmed by this challenge at times. Don’t panic. Dig deep, enlist your resources, stay the course and grow into a better version of yourself.
7. When you forget that you own fifty percent of this dynamic
We hold on to rigid ideas – ‘stories’ – of our partner and focus on them too much. “We wait for them to change before we budge even a little,” says Jacques. “Getting in
Advice: Regardless of how they are behaving, set the tone, be steadfast and wait.