11 Silent Signs Your Relationship Needs Marriage Counseling—Now
You're fighting—again. Should you call in the pros? Check out these surprising signs it may be time to get some help for your relationship.
Even deciding what to watch on Netflix brings on World War III
These relationship fights are completely normal, but constant bickering can signal that you don’t know how to communicate. “If you find that most of your communication is full of friction, it’s time to seek counseling,” says relationship expert Andrea Syrtash and author of Cheat On Your Husband (With Your Husband). “Couples need to pick their battles, or it’s exhausting to be in the relationship.” Marriage counseling can help you learn how to speak more effectively, especially if you can’t even have a conversation without fighting. In fact, the state of your communication style at the start your relationship may predict how things will fare later on. Professors from numerous American universities interviewed more than 2,000 women and men over 20 years. They found that “conflict level” was steady over the course of the relationship. That means that if you rarely argue, you won’t fight a lot later on, according to research published in the Journal of Family Issues. If you’re fighting from the get go, that will likely be the case years after you’ve been married. And if you can’t even think of anything that you don’t fight over, get some marriage counseling, says Kristie Overstreet, a licensed professional clinical counselor, certified sex therapist and author of Fix Yourself First: 25 Tips to Stop Ruining Your Relationship. “You feel like you’re fighting over everything because you’re avoiding the core issues in your relationship and staying stuck in superficial arguments,” says Overstreet. “You aren’t literally arguing over everything. You’re stuck, and you don’t know how to break the cycle.”
You speak via emojis—and that’s about it
If all you do is bury your head in your phone—texting and surfing Facebook when you’re together—it can be tough to communicate with your partner effectively, if at all. If communication breakdowns are killing your intimacy, marriage counseling can help get things moving in the right direction. “Communication is the foundation of a healthy relationship,” says Syrtash. “If you’re not speaking, chances are one or both of you is withholding something. It’s best to work this out with the help of a counselor.” Sometimes that also means putting down smartphones and iPads. Heavy use of phones and other devices can dial up the stress and dial down the happiness in your home, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee researchers found. The study recorded technology use and moods of more than 1,300 women and men for two years. Those who sent and received the most calls and messages said they were tired and distracted at home. “By barely speaking, you’re making an active decision to avoid connection,” says Laurel House, a dating and empowerment coach on E!’s Famously Single. “You’re consciously choosing to withhold your feelings and thoughts.” She says that the longer you shut down, the more you’re withholding, and the more angry, hurt, and resentful you’ll feel. (Don’t miss these signs that you could have intimacy issues.)
Your nickname could be Pinocchio
Did you know that the average person is keeping 13 secrets right this minute? Five of those secrets they’ve never told anyone. A paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology looked at more than 13,000 secrets over 10 different studies. Researchers asked participants if they were keeping any of 38 different common categories of secrets like infidelity or secret hobbies. The most typical secrets not shared with anyone? Romantic desire, sexual behavior, lies, and romantic or sexual thoughts about someone other than their partner. Yes, it’s OK to keep some secrets from one another. But if all you do is keep things on the DL, something just isn’t right. “How can your partner be your best friend if you’re living a secret life?” aks Gilda Carle, PhD, relationship expert, and author of 8 Steps to a Sizzling Marriage. Love is built on trust, and that trust holds your marriage together. (You can gauge whether your partner is trustworthy by looking for these signs.) When your relationship is loaded with dishonesty, you create distance that can ultimately unravel your marriage. Also, consider why you’re hiding things. “When people are keeping secrets from their spouse, they’re often trying to avoid disapproval,” says Antonia Hall, MA, a psychologist, relationship expert and author of The Ultimate Guide to a Multi-Orgasmic Life. “Leaving secrets untold will only contribute to feelings of shame within yourself and frustrate your partner that you kept them from him.”
Your BFF’s husband is like Jack on This Is Us
You were madly in love with him at some point, right? But now he just doesn’t seem to stack up to others in your life. He doesn’t cook. He doesn’t clean. He doesn’t make enough money. You’re sizing up your partner and deciding you’ve settled for less than you deserve. Your vision of the right person looked a lot different when you first got married. Complaining won’t fix things. “You need to start marriage counseling to figure out what changes you both need to make to improve your relationship,” says Overstreet. And don’t bother comparing yourselves to couples around you, as you can never tell what’s truly going on in other people’s relationships. “Things might appear to be great, but behind closed doors it’s unhappy and even unhealthy,” says House. “Stop focusing on everyone else’s relationships and put that jealous and envious energy into working on your relationship.” These are the things your therapist won’t tell you—but you’ll want to know.
He did the unthinkable
You didn’t think it could happen to you, but unfortunately, your partner has been unfaithful. Couples can and do stay together after cheating, but it takes lots of work to repair the broken trust (and there are some things you should never do after your partner cheats). Counseling after cheating can help you gain insight and understanding into what went down. It can help you communicate better and process your shame, guilt, and whatever else you might be feeling after the affair. Counseling can help you focus on building a more fulfilling relationship. Just know that if you do decide to forgive your partner, you can’t keep holding it over his head, says Mike Goldstein, founder and lead dating coach of EZ Dating Coach. “You must get to a place that is secure and loving to rebuild trust,” says Goldstein. Here’s how to heal a relationship after an affair.
He always has a headache
Maybe you don’t get it on at all. Or you have an occasional quickie while the baby’s napping. You definitely don’t go between the sheets as often as you used to. In fact, a recent study done at the University of Toronto-Mississauga found that having sex more than once a week doesn’t make us happier. But, if the sex becomes less frequent than weekly, that’s when happiness declines, the study found. “Intimacy is a critical part of healthy partnership,” says Hall. “If you’ve experienced a lack of intimacy for a prolonged period of time, it’s probably leading to a disconnect within the relationship.” It’s common not to be quite as sexually active as you were when you were newlyweds. But you need to figure out why your sex life has changed so significantly. Speaking with someone who isn’t in your bedroom can help you figure out what’s contributing to the lack of physical intimacy in your relationship. Underlying issues may be lingering. Maybe you’re self-conscious about your body. Perhaps you don’t feel like he’s there for you emotionally. Marriage counseling can help you get your groove back on. “Intimacy can take effort,” says House. “Commit to engaging in physically intimate activities and you’ll be happy you did.” Here how you can make sex great again.
You eat at the Olive Garden again—and you don’t even like their breadsticks
Do you eat at that place around the corner that you despise just to make your partner happy? Do you keep your mouth shut when your partner makes you mad just to keep the peace? If you’re too scared to bring up anything in your relationship, therapy will help you identify your issues and hash out what’s really going on. “If you don’t feel safe speaking up, you need to figure out why and start building an environment where both parties can be heard and supported,” says Goldstein. In healthy relationships, both partners say what’s on their minds without being afraid. You should be able to make decisions together and share opinions with one another. Marriage counseling will help you learn how to discuss issues and tackle them head on. Don’t miss the communications skills that can help improve the dialogue with your partner.
You could win an Academy Award for your performance
Do you pretend that everything is coming up roses—even when it’s not? All you do is bicker. You barely speak. You haven’t hit the sheets in ages. “Marriage has no place for make-believe or pretend,” says Carle. “If you can’t be real with the person who is allegedly closest to you, your mate, who will you be real with?” A study from DePaul University found that 89 percent of participants say they’ve practiced “deceptive affection” with a partner. That means they’ve kissed, cuddled or held hands with their significant other without actually feeling in the mood. Sure, it’s fine to smooch even if you’re annoyed at him. But that shouldn’t be a constant thing. You shouldn’t brush things under the rug all the time, ignoring important issues. Keeping everything bottled up inside never works well as a long-term relationship strategy. “Pretending things are OK when they’re not leads to feelings of frustration and resentment,” says Hall. “Work through issues so they don’t escalate. The issues will only weaken the relationship and be harder to work through later on.” These are the common habits that could be sabotaging your relationship.
Your life is like Groundhog Day
You constantly scold him for leaving dishes in the sink. He always waits until the lawn is “this” high until he mows it. Or maybe your issues are deeper such as if you’re going to have kids or not. Your arguments keep repeating themselves. And spoiler alert: 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. “If you’re sick of your usual broken record, choose not to debate the same things,” says Carle. “If certain things about your husband continue to bother you, a marriage counselor can provide some clarity.” Need inspiration? Check out the incredible lessons about life that we can all learn from those facing death.
You’re watching Game of Thrones upstairs and he’s watching it downstairs
When you share a home, it’s normal to spend some time alone unwinding and decompressing. But if you find yourselves avoiding one another even after the kids are tucked into bed, ask yourself why you’re not Netflix and chilling together. “Do you or do you not enjoy each other’s company?” says Carle. “Have your interests splintered in opposite directions?” Couples therapy can help you get back on track. Carle suggests that you set up activities that you do together, as opposed to on your own. “Deliberately schedule hang together time,” says Carle. When you’re together, focus on one another. “Make the time you spend together quality time, which means you aren’t on your phone or multitasking,” says Overstreet. Did you know that date nights are statistically proven to make couples happier? Check out these date night ideas that are way better than a Netflix binge.
You’re banking on a miracle
If only he had a better sense of humor or made more money. Spoiler alert: Neither may ever happen. “Don’t bother attempting to change another person. Instead, change your mindset and be appreciative of what you have,” says Goldstein. A couples’ counselor can help you get on the right path. “People want to be challenged—not changed,” says Syrtash. “Change has to be genuinely wanted and initiated by your partner for it to happen.”
Don’t miss the expert-backed relationship tips to help you get the love you want.