A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

13 Ways Marriage Counselors Can Tell a Relationship Won’t Last

Updated: Feb. 07, 2023

While every pair is different, these are the little—and not so little—signs that often spell trouble for a relationship.

1 / 13
Mature couple using laptop while in bed

You don’t spend your leisure time together

You like This Is Us while he is more into The Walking Dead. You like to go to the gym and he prefers to play video games. It’s perfectly fine to do things without your spouse—no one can be with a partner 24/7. Consider, though, if you’re using these activities as a distraction. You should want to spend your free time with your partner more than anyone else. “Creating regular time to be together as a couple and doing things that are fun is critical for a lasting, successful marriage,” says Lesli M. W. Doares, a marriage consultant and coach with a private practice in Cary, North Carolina, and author of Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage: How to Create Your Happily Ever After With More Intention, Less Work.

2 / 13
Washing dirty glasses with detergent and water

You don’t respect one another

It starts with an innocent complaint, Doares says: “You didn’t do the dishes.” Then it morphs into more general criticism: “You never help around the house.” Then it evolves into a personality judgment: “You’re a selfish, lazy slob.” “This doesn’t happen overnight, but little resentments gradually chip away at the foundation of your marriage,” says Doares. If you put each other down or constantly criticize one another, your relationship is likely to be in trouble. Check out types of arguments that may mean the end of your relationship.

3 / 13
Close up of male is holding hand with watch in his pocket, while standing near cash dispenser
Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock

You fight about money

Almost every couple will fight about the sensitive topic of finances at some point. However, when you can’t agree on how to make, save, or spend money, that’s problematic, because those decisions need to be made jointly. “The top earner in the relationship shouldn’t take complete control over spending,” says Bonnie Winston, celebrity matchmaker and relationship expert. “It’s imperative that decisions are made jointly, whether it’s where to take a vacation or what and how much to spend on holiday gifts.” She suggests that if someone is better with money than the other, one decides on the budget and the other one decides how to spend it. Find out what marriage counselors know about your relationship but won’t tell you.

4 / 13
young couple counting bills together on kitchen at home
LightField Studios/Shutterstock

You’re having the same argument again

It’s another day but the same fight. You’re scolding him for leaving dishes in the sink. You have to remind her to call on her way home from her doctor’s appointment. Or your issues are deeper, like whether or not to have kids. Believe it or not, you’re not arguing about what you think you’re arguing about. According to The Gottman Institute, repeating conflict in your relationship represents the differences in your lifestyle and personalities. “This might lead to divorce if you let the arguments seriously escalate, fight dirty, shut down, refuse to talk, or excessively blame,” says Marni Feuerman, a licensed psychotherapist in private practice in Boca Raton, Florida. Learn about the sex problems marriage counselors hear about all the time.

5 / 13
Couple having a serious conversation

One partner is always criticizing

Negativity can lead to a collapse in relationships. “I know a couple right now in the midst of a divorce due mostly to putdowns and criticisms,” says David Simonsen, PhD, LMFT, who practices in Olympia, Washington. Words can be powerful and dangerous. Whether your partner is nitpicking or simply not appreciating you, you can be deeply impacted by his or her words. “The words we use and the tone we use can be powerful enough to cause someone on the receiving end emotional pain and even psychological damage,” says Gary Brown, PhD, LMFT, a couples therapist in Los Angeles. “If you’re with someone who is hypercritical on a chronic basis, then you’re likely in a toxic relationship. If you’re in this situation, you need to ask yourself why you stay.” Don’t be hard on yourself if you’re the subject of criticism. “It’s most likely not about you,” says Dr. Simonsen. “It’s about your partner and something going on with him or her. The more you make excuses for the putdowns, the more likely you are to have a relationship that ends.”

6 / 13
Couple on a bed having a problem

One or both of you hold onto grudges

You won’t let it go that he was on a business trip on your birthday. He can’t forget you didn’t make it to his company holiday party. Holding onto something, aka a grudge, is toxic for a relationship. “The problem is that these feelings of resentment are like rust,” says Dr. Brown. “They can silently erode our ability to trust our partner.” He says that in order to get over a grudge, let your partner know how you’re feeling. Be in the same room or touch each other to help resolve whatever the grudge is about. It’s fine to be angry at one another, but resentment can be destructive. “The key to a lasting relationship is moving into and through the anger, rather than swallowing it until it comes up in a destructive way,” says Paul Hokemeyer, PhD, a clinical and consulting psychotherapist.

7 / 13
Woman and man, partners of boyfriend and girlfriend are on romantic date getaway in cute adorable cafe, they drink coffee with milk, beautiful girl looks out into window
De Repente/Shutterstock

You don’t fight—ever

Just because you don’t fight doesn’t mean you don’t disagree on anything. It means one of you is too scared to bring up the subject. So, your issues won’t be resolved. You shouldn’t have to hide how you’re feeling if you’re in a healthy relationship. “Remember that your love interest liked you just the way you were when the two of you met,” says Gilda Carle, PhD, relationship expert and author of Ask for What You Want AND GET IT. “He enjoyed hearing you argue your point of view. If you suddenly withhold your passions about something, question whether you’ve given up your personal power. Fight for what you believe, and your passion will continue to turn your honey on.”

8 / 13
Low angle of a nice young international couple sitting in urban setting s while feeling happy together
Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock

You don’t touch

Touch is the building block of intimacy and connection. “Touch allows for a sense of being connected and in sync with your partner,” says Carla Marie Manly, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of the forthcoming Joy From Fear. “Touch can be reassuring and affirming. A partner may feel safer when the other offers loving, supportive touch.” Not touching can show that you’re trying to fend off the other person. “Touch takes any relationship to a more intimate level,” says Lynn R. Zakeri, LCSW, who practices in the Chicago area. “It shows trust, vulnerability, love, and attraction. It makes people feel good.” Touch can even be used to repair feelings that are hurt, says Zakeri. “A gentle squeeze or touch on the arm, or grabbing your partner’s hand can quickly repair an argument,” she says. “If you’re cringing at someone else’s touch, decide if this something you want to work on, or if it’s the last straw.”

9 / 13
Unhappy couple arguing on the sofa

You don’t laugh together anymore

It’s common to get accustomed to discussing the doldrums of life’s daily logistics and routines, especially when you have kids. But healthy couples laugh together—and often. It helps maintain the joy and spirit in your relationship. “Laughter can be an important bonding element,” says Dr. Manly. “When partners laugh together, whether due to an inside joke or hilarious comment, they share a sense of mutual joy and understanding.” A paper from University Kansas professor Jeffrey Hall gives data-backed validity to something you may have figured out for yourself: Couples who laugh together, stay together. “Having fun together reminds you why you connect,” says Zakeri. She says you can start with a funny sitcom. “You can look at each other when you both find the same thing funny and connect over that,” she says. Laughter really can do wonders for your overall relationship. “It’s difficult to store up resentments against the person in your life who makes it easiest for you to laugh,” says Dr. Tessina.

10 / 13
Young gay couple in quarrel at home. LGBT and same- sex relationship concept

He’s never wrong

You’ll never hear him utter the words “You were right” or “I’m sorry.” He won’t even take responsibility for something like picking up some diapers or a gallon of milk from the grocery store. “We all make mistakes,” says sex and relationship educator and therapist Laura Berman, PhD, assistant clinical professor of ob-gyn and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. “But when a person refuses to admit a slip-up—big or small—it’s a guaranteed relationship-killer.”

11 / 13
Diverse young couple in sportswear sitting on the side of a road together taking a break from a run on an overcast day
Flamingo Images/Shutterstock

You don’t compliment one another

“Too often, couples start to take for granted all the good things about their partner and complain about the flaws and friction points,” says Jill Whitney, LMFT, who practices in Old Lyme, Connecticut, and blogs about relationships and sexuality. “It’s fine to talk about things you hope will improve, but it’s essential to also give attention to all the good things about the one you love.” Happy couples know how to give a sincere and genuine compliment. In fact, a study found that receiving a compliment has the same positive effect as receiving cash. “Keeping love alive and flowing in your relationship is essential to being happy with each other,” says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of How to Be Happy Partners: Working It Out Together. She suggests using pleasant surprises like a love note in a spouse’s briefcase or card for no reason. “Thoughtfulness, thank yous, and gestures of politeness and affection are the WD-40 of your marriage.” These are the nice things you’ll want to say to your spouse every day.

12 / 13
Angry frustrated husband ignoring wife, avoiding looking at her or talking after serious quarrel, sad girlfriend trying to fix relationship problem, spouses having disagreement or misunderstanding.

Your partner hates your family

You can end up resenting each other if your partner hates your family. “If you’re going to make comments about your partner’s family, it should be done in a way that’s respectful to your partner and mindful of his feelings,” says Stacey Laura Lloyd, Dating Expert for LiveAbout.com. “Since family connections run deep, your partner may feel personally insulted or attacked by less-than-kind words about his family.” These are the things you should never say to your partner.

13 / 13
Multiethnic group of businessmen spending time together drinking whiskey and smoking, multicultural business team

You have completely different lifestyles

You’re a social butterfly with tons of friends and a full dance card. He’s a homebody who has a few close friends. “If someone in the relationship is still partying like it’s 1999 and the other isn’t, it will most likely spell trouble,” says Winston. “The partner who is a homebody will be made to feel that they’re not enough, making the outgoing partner feel guilty.” Yes, opposites can and do attract. But these differing lifestyles mean that you have to learn to meet halfway. Winston suggests that as many times as the partier goes out, he should make his partner happy by staying home and making a meal. Don’t miss these other warning signs of a troubled relationship.