Anna and I sat in the office the other day brainstorming -- motivated by the request of someone with whom we're working on a marriage-related media project -- what we believe are the key signs a marriage is in trouble.
We then, based on the research, created a list of tips couples can follow to get back on track if they feel the wheels have pretty much fallen off altogether.
Here's what we came up with:
Warning signs your marriage is in trouble:
• You go out of your way to make sure you don’t have to spend time alone together
(e.g., the thought of having to go on a “date night” without other friends along is dreadful)
• You stop having sex. Ever.
• There is little laughter.
• You avoid invoking the ‘inside joke.’
• You stop using the loving little nicknames.
• Your self-talk about the other person is almost entirely hateful and negative.
• "Things are not fair” thoughts/actions about the other dominate your day.
• Apathy becomes your "mode of operation" (Remember: hate is not the opposite of love, apathy is).
• You stop arguing (it’s a sign of apathy).
• Criticism comes much more naturally than complimenting.
• You enjoy putting the other down way more than lifting him or her up.
What do to if you see yourself in the above statements?
• Develop rituals of connection (rekindle old and heartwarming routines and/or develop new ones)
• Begin using loving little terms again, even if it scares you.
• Kiss (even if you don’t want to. It feels good, remember?)
• Intentionally tell the other you like something (s)he does.
• Leave a little note that says as much (what you "like" ... or even love or appreciate).
• Change it up: show up at his office and take him out for lunch; call, out of the blue; get in the car and drive (no destination required); book a flight to nowhere (just you two); walk out the door together and DO something. Anything. Together.
• Break the rules; if what you’re doing isn’t working, why keep doing it?
• Shift your self-talk (notice, in your mind, when your partner does something right instead of only what irritates you).
• Ditch friends who diss your spouse (or who diss their own spouses). Negativity begets negativity.
• Try something more positive to begin or end your day (here's a thought: greet your spouse with a smile when s/he walks in the door!)
• Fight. (it means you’re willing to work it through. Engage again. Find out what’s bugging the other person, so you can move forward).
Last but most important tip: get help. Seek a licensed marriage and family therapist to help you sort it all through. It's not a sign of weakness, rather an impressive sign of strength! Think about it: how can we be expected to fully understand, let alone fix, something that has taken years -- one little interaction at a time -- to break(down)?