Every marriage is different — you went in knowing that. But how do you know if you’re experiencing the usual bumps in the road, or if you and your spouse have serious problems? It’s not as simple as whether or not your partner is physically abusive: There are far more common and subtle indications that a marriage is on the rocks. And it doesn’t necessarily come down to abuse — there are a variety of reasons why a marriage may not be working out.
When you’re in a marriage, sometimes it can be difficult to spot problems, because whatever it is just seems normal at this point. So how can you tell if your marriage is actually in serious trouble, or if what you’re experiencing is a normal marital conflict? Here are the signs that your marriage is having issues, including what you can learn from body language.
Signs Your Marriage Is in Trouble
Though there is no definitive checklist for knowing when your marriage is over — or at least at an impasse — there are some common signs that things aren’t particularly great. In an article for VeryWellMind, Sheri Stritof identifies the following signs that a marriage may be in trouble:
- The two of you bicker a great deal.
- There are indications in your body language (more on this in the next section).
- You don’t fight fair.
- You find yourselves having the same arguments over the same things over and over again.
- Your fights escalate out of control or to screaming matches.
- There seems to be a feeling of indifference between you both.
- One or both of you have started to detach emotionally.
- You fight often in front of your kids.
- There is a lot of nitpicking going on.
- You no longer enjoy your time together. Your spouse prefers to spend free time away from you on a regular basis.
- You have nothing nice to say to one another.
- You don’t talk with one another about your problems or feelings.
- You don’t respect one another or you nag one another.
- There is inequality between you both concerning gender roles or decision-making.
- You can’t seem to agree on goals and values.
- You don’t trust one another and feel suspicious.
- The level of sexual intimacy in your marriage is low or nonexistent.
- Teasing has become hurtful.
- Your partner keeps secrets.
- You think you are getting sick or having physical complaints due to marital stress.
- You don’t make time for each other and for new experiences together.
- Your spouse appears to be having conversations with text messages that are kept private.
- Your spouse is in frequent contact with old boyfriends or girlfriends via social media.
- Your spouse tries to isolate you from your family and friends.
- You discover your spouse is lying about money, is more frugal than usual, hides money or controls you with money.
- You are happier when your spouse is away from home for an afternoon, a meeting, or for a business trip.
- You realize that there is emotional and/or physical abuse in your marriage.
- One or both of you have considered cheating or has cheated — in real life or online, physically or emotionally.
The Body Language of Unhappy Couples
One way to help determine if a marriage is in trouble is to take a look at the couples’ body language relative to each other. Are they providing physical indications that they’re a team, or is it each-partner-for-themselves? Amanda Garrity spoke with two body language experts for an article for Good Housekeeping, and gave these examples of body language of unhappy couples:
- They don’t walk in-sync.
- One or both partners physically pull away from the other.
- When one partner pats the other on the back in lieu of an intimate embrace.
- One or both partners touch their neck a lot (it’s a way of comforting ourselves).
- One or both partners constantly have furrowed brows.
- They use choppy hand gestures when communicating with each other (which can indicate a lack of willingness to cooperate).
- Their facial expressions don’t align (like, if your partner feels stressed, your facial expression should match theirs out of concern).
- One or both partners stand with their hands on their hips (it can be a way of seeking to gain control over another person).
- They cross their arms a lot.
- One or both partners are constantly rolling their eyes.
What Is Contempt in Marriage?
Of all the potential signs that a marriage is in trouble, contempt may be the most serious. In fact, Dr. John Gottman, a psychological researcher and clinician and founder of The Gottman Institute, has said that contempt is the number-one predictor of divorce. But what exactly is contempt in marriage? The Gottman Institute provides this description: “Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about one’s partner, and it arises in the form of an attack on someone’s sense of self. Inevitably, contempt leads to more conflict—particularly dangerous and destructive forms of conflict—rather than to reconciliation. It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message that you’re disgusted with them and that you’re condescending and acting as their superior.”
In other words, you really don’t want to get to this point. And if you do, it’s definitely time to seek some professional help in the form of marriage counseling.
A marriage counselor can often act as a mediator between couples who have lost the ability to communicate effectively. It’s important that both partners want to seek one out together as a way to learn how to resolve conflicts in unison. While passive aggressiveness and caged criticism may be the name of the game between a couple exhibiting signs of contempt, raw honesty is the only way to identify the problems in a relationship in a therapist’s or counselor’s office.