We all know the big relationship red flags: Lying, cheating, abuse. These are the obvious signs that your relationship is in trouble. But, these are not the most common causes of broken marriages and failed relationships. More often than not, relationships are distressed little by little over time until both partners feel a complete disconnection. As a counselor, I meet couples when their relationship has reached that point of disconnection—when communication, conflict resolution and intimacy have collapsed. Almost all couples report seeing little warning signs that they blew off early in the relationship. Every couple wishes they would have addressed these signs before they grew into huge gulfs that separated them from each other. They can be hard to recognize, unless you know what to look for.
Are you ignoring subtle signs of distress in your relationship? Review the list below, and mark any statements that feel "true" to you.
- I find it difficult to ask for what I want in our relationship – Do you keep your needs to yourself?
- I avoid discussing issues in my relationship – Do you fear talking about issues will only make things worse?
- When we are having a problem, my partner often refuses to talk about it – Are you shut out or dismissed?
- I wish my partner were more willing to share his/her feelings with me – Do you find yourself guessing what your partner thinks/feels about things?
- I feel attacked/criticized when we are not getting along – Does the way your partner responds put you on the defensive?
- I am unsuccessful at comforting my partner when he/she is upset – Do you "give up" because you don't know what to do?
If you answered "yes" to any of these statements, it's time to pay attention. Think about how you reach the "yes" statement and why. Next, think about the effect the statement has in your relationship and how you feel about yourself. What do you do in reaction to these statements? Most importantly, do not sweep issues under the rug and hope they will change when you get married, have children or go on vacation. When feelings are unaddressed, they act somewhat like a slow-release pill. If you experience small doses of negativity over a long period of time you feel the full effect over time. Everyone loves Hawaii, but a vacation there won’t be anything but a Band-Aid for feelings of feelings of distance, loneliness, and anger. Recognizing the warning signs and addressing these feelings early in the relationship are the best ways to keep your bond strong.