Studies show that people typically wait six years too long to get into couple's therapy. I am an eternal optimist, but waiting to get help is a dangerous undertaking. It allows too much time to build up new experiences of hurt, resentment, or alienation; experiences that can weaken the long-term bond of a relationship.
Top 5 Danger Signs
1) You Often Fantasize About Divorce
Fantasizing about divorce may provide a needed feeling of freedom. During a crisis or during a particularly bad time in a marriage, reminding yourself that you can always leave can be a reassuring thought. However, chronic fantasizing about divorce may indicate that you're stuck in a dynamic from which you don't know how to escape and need more help to solve.
2) The Frequency of Your Negative Experiences Far Outweighs the Number of Your Positive Experiences with Each Other
Marital researcher John Gottman found that in successful marriages, there are five positive exchanges for every negative. If the negative consistently outweigh the positive, then your marriage may be in trouble.
3) You Never Confide in Each Other
Confiding in your spouse and having your spouse confide in you is an important way to relieve stress, strengthen your bond, and maintain a healthy "us against the world" mentality. A lack of confiding may indicate that there's an insufficient amount of trust in the marriage.
4) One or Both of You Engages in Ongoing Contempt, Criticism, Defensiveness or Stonewalling
Research shows that couples who frequently use these defenses are more at risk for divorce than couples who rarely use them. While conflict is unavoidable, couples need to learn healthy ways ot expressing their complaints.
5) You Engage in the Pursuer-Distancer Dynamic
In this dynamic, one person in the marriage constantly pursues the other for more closesness, confiding, or time while the other constantly avoids interaction. Over time, the pursuer gets more desperate, hurt, and angry and the distancer gets more sullen, shut down, and rejecting.
What to Do?
* Take responsibility for your part of the problem. This means learning how to communicate, being assertive, being generous, and owning your character flaws.
* If you're often having a conversation in your head about divorce, you should let your partner in on it while there's still time to save your marriage. Sometimes too much water can pass under the bridge.
* Make efforts to confide in your partner. Even if you're frustrated with the state of your marriage, confiding is a demonstration of need and trust; this may help to get your relationship on a better footing.
* If you engage in the pursuer-distance dynamic, try switching your role: If you've been a pursuer, back off for the next two months and see if your partner comes to you. If you're a distancer, try approaching your partner much more consistently.
* Be appreciative every day of the little things. Appreciation is the oil in the machinery. It makes all of the moving parts of a marriage operate with a lot less friction.
* Get into couple's therapy. Don't wait until your marriage gets past the point of no return.
Sign up today for Dr. Joshua Coleman's free monthly ezine at www.drjoshuacoleman.com or whenparentshurt.com. Dr. Coleman is an internationally known expert in parenting, couples, families, and relationships with a practice in SF and Oakland. A frequent guest on the Today Show and NPR, he has also appeared on ABC 20/20, Good Morning America, the BBC, and numerous news programs for FOX, ABC, and NBC television. His new book, When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don't Get Along (HarperCollins) was released in July, 2007.