Wanna Witness a Marriage Unravel? Watch <i>Discovery</i>!

A relationship breakdown begins with passive communication: jabs, nagging, insults, ignoring your partner's needs, expecting your partner to know what's wrong.
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Man, Woman, Wild is a nature survival series on the Discovery Channel. I started watching the show mid-season last year and got hooked. The show centers around a loving couple--Mykel Hawke, a former Special Forces survival expert and his wife Ruth, a TV journalist. Together they pool their skills to conquer the obstacles as they make their way to safety.

Season 2 opened with a disturbing change. Mykel and Ruth seem to be on their most dangerous journey ever--the path toward divorce. Whether their negative interaction is due to TV editing or truly a sign of relationship trouble, I'll never know. But what I do know is that there is a valuable lesson to be learned for anyone who has ever wanted to know how a relationship falls apart. And more importantly, how you can fix your relationship if you see the same signs.

Mykel and Ruth demonstrate how easy it is to let critical issues derail a relationship by not seeing what's right in front of their faces. A relationship breakdown begins with passive communication: jabs, nagging, insults, ignoring your partner's needs, expecting your partner to know what's wrong. Read the following exchanges between Mykel and Ruth to see if you can catch the true undercurrent of what is actually being communicated:

  • Mykel is feeling a little cranky and takes it out on Ruth, "When I start getting hungry, I get mean." Revealingly, Ruth lowers her head and replies, "You're always mean!"
  • After a long day of running away from a wildfire in the wilderness, Mykel says to an equally tired Ruth, "Honey, you take the first watch because quite frankly, I'm exhausted."

In the first quote, Ruth is letting Mykel's know that she thinks he's always mean to her. Because he's not catching her point, he misses the opportunity to directly confront what is bothering her. In the second quote, Mykel is letting her know that his rest is more important than hers. If he'd simply acknowledged her fatigue rather than ignoring it, the likelihood of resentment growing would be nil.

Like most couples, clearly Mykel and Ruth are blind to the subtleties that create fatal relationship problems down the road. In order to catch them early on, you need to know what to watch for. Below is a list of behaviors that indicate your partner is emotionally shutting you out of his or her life. If you see any of these (especially if they increase) you need to make your relationship a top priority and get to work on finding solutions.

  • Conversations are short, superficial & about others
  • One or both partners roll eyes when upset about something
  • Spouse dismisses your opinion or talks down to you when you offer your thoughts
  • Time spent together at home is spent in different rooms
  • Lack of affectionate touching
  • Spouse is less responsive to your touch, or altogether rebuffs it
  • Spouse picks fights with you for no reason
  • Spouse no longer cries when upset with you
  • Spouse does not lingers in bed with you
  • Spouse does not ask, "What are you thinking?"
  • Does not share the details of his/her life with you, including dreams, plans
  • Does not ask for your advice or opinion
  • You can't remember the last time you shared a French kiss
  • Does not ask about your day
  • Does not initiates sex
  • Sex is more about orgasm than intimacy
  • Spouse is not romantic with you
  • An absence of affectionately touches (i.e. rub neck, back)
  • A lack of emotions during an argument
  • Few to no mentions of "I miss you" or "I love you"
  • Does not make future plans with you (holidays, vacations)
  • No longer wants to socialize with other couples
  • Makes excuses to sleep in a different room

The difference between couples who stay happily married and those who divorce have one distinct difference. The ones who last are tuned into communication nuances and quick to find solutions when issues begin to percolate. Those who divorce wait until the problems are unbearable; therefore seek divorce as the resolution.

As for Mykel and Ruth, I'm confident that this misadventure will be solved like all the others, by coming together and working as one. I'll know things are back to normal when I hear Mykel say, "Ruth, I've made your favorite pine needle tea using the swamp water." With that, she'll go back to giving him a loving look and kissing him softly as the screen fades to black.

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