What It Really Means To Have Your Marriage In ‘Crisis,' According To A Therapist

Photo: getty
upset man and woman refusing to look at each other

Is your marriage in crisis?

When you got engaged and married, you probably felt happy and excited about your future. You had dreams, goals, and a vision of romance, love, and fun.

But sometimes, couples gradually shift from feeling connected and close to feeling distant, misunderstood, and alone.

If your fights go unresolved, you may wonder if you should wait and see what happens, avoid looking at the real issues, or deal with the issues directly.

No matter your decision on how to deal with the situation, if it doesn’t improve, you may find your marriage in crisis.

Whether your marriage is stuck, you're arguing non-stop, not talking for days, or just "had it" with your spouse, it's time to learn what it really means to have your marriage in a crisis.

RELATED: The 50 Best Marriage Tips Of All Time, From 50 Marriage Experts

What are the biggest issues of a marriage in crisis?

Issues may vary between couples, but researchers have identified that specific issues can create the largest challenges for couples.

Communication challenges impact almost every couple, but when the issues become unresolved fights, this drains and exhausts couples.

Gridlocked and perpetual arguments keep couples from getting to the core of the issue, preventing them from reconnecting.

In addition, an affair impacts the trust in a relationship and shakes the foundation. An affair in a marriage will put your relationship in crisis mode until you learn how to repair it.

Other big issues that couples have difficulty navigating include differences about how to discipline children, how much money to spend or save, and how to divide the chores.

Lastly, if your relationship is struggling with issues such as addiction, personality disorders like narcissism, abuse, and feeling abandoned or unsafe, then you will need help from a professional individual therapist to address how to develop a healthy relationship.

Signs of a troubled marriage.

A troubled marriage usually leaves one or both partners feeling unsafe, abandoned, trapped, and resentful.

When your conversations or thoughts seem to be about divorce or cheating, your marriage is in trouble. These thoughts signify that you are very distant and disconnected.

Another sign is that you fight about the same thing again and again, but nothing ever seems to get resolved.

What are causes a marital crisis?

The causes vary between couples, but the problems often start with communication difficulties that evolve into issues of criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling.

Marriage expert Dr. John Gottman calls these the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

As a couple's poor communication increases, walls are built that block connection and closeness while negative interaction continues to escalate.

Since contempt is the single most predictor of divorce, a couple will want to explore methods to eliminate it from their relationship.

If you find your relationship in a state of marital crisis, you can take action to help improve your communication and develop a secure relationship.

RELATED: 9 Scientifically Proven Signs Your Marriage Is Built To Last

Here are 5 steps on how to fix a marriage in crisis.

1. Focus on your positive attributes and strengths.

Think about when you and your partner first met and reflect on why you picked each other.

Then focus on your relationship strengths.

What are your strengths as a couple and what are the strengths of your relationship? Think about how you can use those abilities to get through this situation.

2. Focus on "we" versus "I."

Dr. Stan Tatkin, the founder of PACT, describes the importance of developing a "We Do" approach to the relationship.

When you focus on "We" instead of "I," you can learn how to build a secure and happy relationship.

If you focus on "I," you will auto-regulate and take care of yourself, but you will not strengthen your relationship.

3. Deal with one topic at a time.

When couples try to deal with all the topics together, it feels overwhelming and impossible.

You should sit down and write out what you need to work on and then choose one topic to address, knowing that you will address the other topics soon.

When you’ve finished that topic, then you can discuss the next issue or you may need to wait a day or two days to discuss the next issue.

4. Know your mistakes and offer forgiveness.

You probably both made mistakes and wish you could have not acted or said something, but you need to ask yourself, "Will you forgive yourself and your partner or hold it over their head for the rest of the relationship?"

I’m not discussing abusive actions.

Forgiveness may not always be easy, but to move forward in your relationship, you will need to be able to forgive — you may not decide to forget it, though.

Just like you don’t want your partner bringing up your mistakes over and over, your partner does not want you to do the same thing.

How to repair this situation may need outside help, which brings us to the last topic.

5. Seek outside help.

If you have hit a rough patch and can’t figure out how to resolve your issues, how to move past the hurt, and how to repair the relationship, you may need to discuss with your spouse the benefits of seeking couples' counseling.

Couples' counselors are trained in how to help couples navigate their relationships in order to create a secure and healthy one.

A marriage in crisis should be addressed as soon as possible. 

If your marriage is in a crisis, learning how to save your marriage takes understanding what the issues are that need to change and knowing how to change them.

A marriage in crisis is exhausting your mental and physical resources and needs to be addressed now.

When you take the time to learn and apply the steps to improve your marriage, you can rebuild a secure and enduring relationship today.

RELATED: The 12 Common Problems That Threaten Even Happy Marriages

Lisa Rabinowitz, LCPC is a licensed counselor in the state of Maryland and Virginia. She is a Certified Gottman Couples Therapist and PACT Level 3 Candidate. To find out more about improving communication in marriage, reach out for a 30-minute free private consultation today.