In any marriage ― even the strongest, happiest ones ― problems and frustrations will inevitably arise. And while it’s not worth broaching every single little grievance that grinds your gears (e.g., Your partner forgot to wring out the sponge again? Annoying but you’ll live), there are certain problems that really shouldn’t be ignored.
Some issues, like abusive behavior or a major breach of trust, are generally regarded as obvious red flags. But other issues that may appear harmless in comparison could actually be cause for concern.
We asked marriage therapists to reveal some of the more subtle but potentially serious relationship red flags that you shouldn’t write off.
1. You feel anxious when you’re around your partner or before seeing them
Relationship stress can take a toll on you physically in a number of ways: frequent headaches, stomachaches or difficulty sleeping, to name a few. If these symptoms seem to pop up when you’re with your partner or in anticipation of being around them, it could be a sign something in the relationship is amiss, said marriage and family therapist Jennifer Chappell Marsh.
“Sometimes, if something is off in a relationship, we may not be able to pinpoint it but our bodies will tell us something is not right,” she said.
2. You feel lonely even when you’re together
We all have crappy days when we feel disconnected from our partners. But if you’re experiencing these feelings of loneliness more often than not over a period of time, it’s worth examining why you feel so isolated in the relationship.
“It’s a sign that you are either not opening up to your spouse for connection or your attempts to connect with your spouse are being rejected,” Marsh said. “Feeling lonely is a sign of disconnection physically, emotionally or both. Active steps are needed or the gap between you will grow bigger.”
3. You don’t know how to fight fair
Conflict is a natural part of any relationship. The ability to talk through issues in a respectful way is a sign of maturity and health in the relationship. Couples who haven’t figured out how to do this end up either screaming in each other’s faces or not fighting at all. Instead of addressing problems head on, they just sweep things under the rug.
“Excessive fighting is a problem but so is the other end of the spectrum: the absence of conflict,” Marsh said. “Pervasive conflict avoidance can indicate that one or both partners do not feel confident to bring issues up. Avoiding short-term conflict leads to long-term resentment and disconnection. It’s the leading cause of ‘roommate syndrome,’ where couples get along but do not feel an intimate connection.”
Therapist Kurt Smith, who specializes in counseling men, said fighting constantly and avoiding conflict altogether both have the potential to erode a relationship.
“It’s typical for couples to make their fighting routine seem OK. Either they’ll say, ‘Every couple fights’ or ‘We never fight’ like that’s a good thing. Both fighting too much and never fighting are destructive for relationships,” he said.
4. When you talk about money, it always turns into an argument
Many times, couples have different philosophies and priorities when it comes to their finances — one’s a spender, the other a saver; one wants to open a joint account, the other wants to keep things separate. But how a couple reconciles these differences says a lot about the relationship. Yes, money can be a touchy subject. But if you two can’t figure out how to have a productive conversation, consider seeing a therapist who can give you pointers on how to communicate more effectively.
“Having money issues in a marriage is common, whether it’s partners who can’t talk about anything money related, disagree over how much to spend versus save, or use money in a way that hurts each other,” Smith said. “In fact, money is always listed on every list of top reasons couples divorce. Yet couples almost never come to counseling to resolve their money differences.”
5. Your partner makes digs and jokes at your expense
Some playful ribbing between spouses is all in good fun — as long as both parties are in on the joke. But if it feels like your partner is taking cheap shots at you, constantly rolling their eyes at your remarks or otherwise undermining you, that can eat away at your self-esteem.
“A pattern of belittling, minimizing or making fun of someone may indicate a deeper disrespect or power imbalance,” marriage and family therapist Spencer Northey said. “It can breed resentment and contempt, which is a relationship death sentence.”
And don’t let your partner dismiss your reaction as being “too sensitive.” You might feel pressured to brush off their hurtful comments, but you shouldn’t have to.
“My advice is that if your partner’s ‘playful’ or casual comments are starting to hit a nerve, don’t just laugh it off,” Northey said. “Have a serious conversation about sensitivities and respect. Don’t stay in a relationship in which you are not given equal regard.”
6. Sometimes, you feel more like your partner’s therapist than their spouse
The ability to lean on your partner for advice and emotional support is one of the benefits of being in an intimate relationship. That said, your partner shouldn’t be using you as a substitute for a professional therapist, especially if they’re dealing with a mental health condition or a life crisis.
“Whether it’s handling a change in mood, work stressors on the rise or a conflict in the relationship, it can be challenging to know when and how to support a partner and when more help is needed,” therapist Juan Olmedo said. “Establishing whether the partner in need is looking for a sounding board to vent or feedback and suggestions to make change is an important priority to set.”
7. You have a really hard time making decisions
Decisiveness is not a quality that comes naturally to everyone. But if making decisions, big and small, feels overwhelming or impossible for you and/or your partner, it could be a sign of deeper instability in the relationship, Northey said.
“A minor example would be that a couple cannot agree on where and when to vacation, so they never go,” she said. “Or they rarely go out, because they cannot decide on what to do so they default to staying in.”
Indecision on a bigger level could be a couple who is unable to decide where to live or, more seriously, unsure about how committed they are to one another and the relationship.
“In a marriage, they may go back and forth about wanting to separate or stick it out. Generally, with indecision, there is a pattern of frustrating back and forth when they are trying to make meaningful decisions,” Northey said. “This can be because either one or both of them do not have a good grasp of what makes them happy, or one or both are unconsciously sabotaging getting along. It could also mean they are fundamentally incompatible.”
Northey’s advice? “Start recognizing patterns of indecision and figure out their roots to make sure that nothing is getting in the way of a healthy attachment.”