The most frustrating part of being a marriage counselor is that most couples come to therapy too late. Typically, the problems have been going on for way too long. The problems have begun to overshadow the good stuff. The love. The desire. The connection. Sadly, this sets couples up for a huge rupture. And then finally, they come to therapy.
I basically need to be to the point of life or death to call a doctor. I will suffer and whine, complain, read everything WebMD and Wikipedia can tell me until finally my husband can’t take it anymore and drives me to urgent care. I tell myself, “This isn’t that bad. I can handle it myself. What is a doctor really going to do for me anyways, just tell me to take some OTC medicine? I can do that on my own.”
Couples do this too. They justify, minimize and stay stuck in complaints. They wait until it’s to the point of marital life and death; when they can’t take it anymore. They wait until the bomb has gone off and the unthinkable has happened. Let’s start earlier. Here are some signs that your marriage is ready for intervention (before the bomb goes off).
How do you know if you are in danger of marital crisis?
- You are in a constant negative cycle.
When the negative cycle has now become synonymous with the marriage itself, you are in marital crisis. In other words, when you think about your marriage, you can only see the negative interactions: arguing, criticizing, withdrawing, and disconnecting. In fact, you have been fighting in the same frustrating way for so long that you have stopped even bothering to bring things up. You don’t expect anything to resolve itself if you do.
2. You can’t see the good stuff.
When you think about your marriage, what are the words that come to your mind? If you describe it as lonely, distant, or separate, you are in crisis. When you think of your spouse, what words come to your mind? If you immediately resonate with words like angry, cold, distant, bitter, vindictive, untrustworthy, you are in danger of crisis.
3. You start to have extreme thoughts.
One of the best indicators that your negative cycle has taken over your marriage is having these types of thoughts:
- “She doesn’t understand me.”
- “He doesn’t want to listen to me.”
- “We are just way too different.”
- “We don’t see eye-to-eye on anything.”
- “Are we really right for each other anymore?”
And the most tell-tale sign that your marriage is in crisis is thinking:
- “He doesn’t care how I feel.”
- “She doesn’t care what I think.”
“He/she doesn’t really care about me.”
4. You stop seeking out your spouse for comfort.
For many couples in therapy, they can recall a time when they used to come to each other for comfort, reassurance and connection. They can describe what that felt like when they were worried, sad or scared, shared those feelings with their spouse, and then felt better. But so much happened and life got in the way and they can’t remember the last time they had that type of connecting experience with their spouse. They can’t recall a recent experience of feeling some type of discomfort, taking that feeling to their spouse, and feeling better. If you have stopped seeking your spouse for comfort, you are in crisis. If your spouse has stopped seeking you for comfort, you are in crisis.
5. You never sought your spouse for comfort (and never have they).
For some couples, they can’t describe the pivotal experience of opening up to their spouse in a vulnerable way and receiving empathy and support. Life has taught them that it is not safe to trust and open up to others, that they will only get hurt. Or, they believe that relying on others is a sign of weakness. They mistakenly believe that “strong” people can handle things on their own. Therefore, they never established this crucial foundation in their relationship.
What to do
If you have identified with any of these positions, your marriage may be in crisis. Crisis does not mean over. It doesn’t mean divorce. It doesn’t mean doomsday. Crisis means you are in need of intervention. A workshop. A credible book to read together. A marriage retreat. A seminar. Couples therapy. A plan of attack to prioritize the marriage. Intention. There are a million interventions that you can choose. I am a bit biased and highly recommend couples therapy as an intervention. But ultimately, just do something that will help. And remember, the earlier you start, the easier it is to get back on track.
- Don’t make the mistake of waiting too late to repair your marriage.
- Know the warning signs of marital crisis: being caught in a negative cycle, having extreme negative thoughts about the marriage or your spouse, not seeking out your spouse for comfort.
- The earlier you intervene, the easier it is to fix your marriage.