Every couple goes through rough patches, fights and doubt in their relationships. But when is the appropriate time to worry about your future together?
You've seen couples who appear to be stable, showing no signs of trouble ahead, then they suddenly call it quits. You think, "If they can't make it, who can?" (Thinking about you, Chris Pratt and Anna Faris.)
It turns out that, while the obvious incidents of cheating and abuse can lead to a failed marriage, other signs can be quite subtle; they may even appear to be normal for long-term couples.
To learn some of these sneaky signs that show a relationship may be headed for an unhappy ending, take these therapists' advice. They share some of the tell-tale signs they look for in assessing whether a relationship can last, plus a few tips to turn things around if they sound a bit too familiar to you and your partner.
If you still love telling the story of how you met your partner years down the road, it's a sign you're invested in the relationship. Even if you're going through a rough patch, a couple that looks back fondly on their beginnings shows promise for the future, says Caroline Madden, a marriage and family therapist, to Huffington Post.
“In my practice, I ask couples how they met and how they first fell in love: What I’m looking for is any emotional connection to the loving happy couple they once were,” she says. “It could be tears, laughter or even anger at why they aren’t still that couple. What that tells me is if there still is a spark between them, that they remember that they were in love and want to be that couple again.”
Madden says there's no hope for a future if a partner doesn't show emotion when talking about the couple's early days together.
“When someone says that they can’t remember or didn’t like something about their partner at the beginning, I know that the couple isn’t likely to last. I can rescue couples from the brink of divorce after an affair — I can’t bring the spark back.”
If you've experienced a cheating partner, either intimately or financially, the lack of trust can eat away hope for a relationship in many cases.
"It breaks the trust in the relationship, and sometimes the breach is not fixable," says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist, to Prevention.
She says the solution for couples struggling with this is that the person who broke trust must tell the truth, take responsibility for his or her actions and give up their privacy until that trust is earned again.
When you have a criticism related to your partner, is your beef with what they've done wrong or with them as a person? The answer could reveal the fate of your relationship.
If you're asking any version of "What's wrong with you?" you are putting your partner down, even if you don't realize it. This, combined with any feelings of superiority over them (like asking "Why do I have to do everything around here?") can be a recipe for disaster, says couples therapist Melissa Cohen to Prevention.
Cohen's advice for couples who find themselves criticizing their spouse—either verbally or with rolled eyes or sneers—is to offset one negative comment with five positive ones.
"If, say, you criticized your husband about his terrible driving, force yourself to make at least five endearing comments throughout the rest of the day to smooth things over," she recommends.
If you aren't on the same page when it comes to sex, it could do more than leave one partner unsatisfied.
“I would say, as a licensed marriage therapist and sex therapist, that couples are severely challenged when there's a libido gap that cannot be bridged. When one partner feels persistently rejected and the other partner feels persistently pressured, it's a recipe for failure,” says Ian Kerner, Ph.D., licensed marriage and family therapist, to Women's Health. "I've seen many relationships fail due to desire discrepancy."
Therapists also note that even an active sex life can reveal trouble ahead if it isn't fulfilling your sexual needs.
“If you're repeatedly having bad sex, that's a bad sign. Sexual feelings are very honest, and sexuality and self-regard are closely joined together. It's hard to be truly happy if you're just going through the motions in bed,” says Stephen Snyder, M.D., a certified sex and relationship therapist.
If you avoid eye contact at the dinner table or sit on separate couches, staring at your phones every night, you're waving a red flag in the relationship department.
"Sometimes I see a marked lack of affection, humor, active interest, excitement, or joy," Cohen says to Prevention, who adds that this may seem normal since you aren't arguing or being negative toward one another.
Still, be mindful that this lack of enthusiasm or shared interests can lead to complacency, which stunts the growth of your relationship. "Couples simply stop sharing their inner world with each other," she says. And when they stop being friends, the love stops, too.