7 Sneak-Up-On-You Signs Your Relationship Is In Major Trouble

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unhappy couple

Is your relationship headed for disaster? In this article, we'll discuss nine signs your relationship may be in trouble, and what to do about it.

John Gottman is a leading psychologist in the area of marriage and relationships. Over the years, he has researched countless couples and has been able to predict with surprising accuracy which relationships survive and which fail.

If you're experiencing any of these "symptoms" of a relationship headed toward disaster, fear not: You have time to reverse your path. Awareness is key, so talk to your partner about your concerns and see if you can do something about them.

Here are 7 sneak-up-on-you signs your relationship is in major trouble:

1. Negativity significantly outweighs positivity.

All couples, happy and otherwise, have negative feelings in their relationships. There is a place in every relationship for anger, hurt, and disgust. After all, we’re only human and we all screw up and do things that piss each other off. What counts is how much negativity there is in relation to positivity. The goal is to keep the scale in favor of how positive we can be.

Gottman and his colleagues found that in stable relationships, the ratio of positive to negative during conflict is 5:1, which means there are five times as many positive interactions as negative ones in stable couples when they are in conflict. That ratio in couples who get divorced is much less at 0.8:1 or less, so there is greater negativity than positivity in similar conflicts.

What this means is that couples in happy relationships tend to be much more forgiving and understanding of each other, even during conflict, significantly more so than those couples headed for a breakup. This information may not save your relationship or may not even be possible to implement without more help if you're deep into a hostile pattern with each other, but it can be useful.

RELATED: 7 Behaviors That Can Quickly Turn Your Marriage Into A Toxic Relationship

2. Your relationship is victim to the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse"

The second warning sign is actually a set of behaviors that Gottman has referred to as "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." These four interactions have consistently predicted failure in marriages and should be avoided and eliminated at all costs.

These four markers can arise in escalating negative interactions. All couples get hostile with each other, but when the negativity escalates and is marked by the following four “horsemen,” it's a sign that your relationship is in trouble:

  • Criticism: Partners who criticize each other and take personal attacks on each other are in trouble. While it may be tempting to let your partner know how stupid they are at times, it's very damaging to your relationship. The best way around this is to complain, but don't criticize.
  • Defensiveness: At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who is right and who is wrong. I’m guilty as charged and hate admitting when I’m wrong because it’s so rare, but it’s something I’ve worked on. Let your guard down and be real with your partner.
  • Contempt: Even the word itself is scary, it’s such an ugly feeling. This one is probably the trickiest of them all: How do you not feel contempt for someone if the contempt is there? There’s no easy solution here and contempt has been shown to be one of the most dangerous feelings in a relationship.
  • Stonewalling: This is when the wall goes up for one of you and you can’t reach the other person. When someone stonewalls you, it's agonizing. Stonewalling is a way that your partner might be protecting himself. Gottman has physiologically measured stonewalling partners who don’t let on that they’re feeling anything and found that despite appearing like they have no cares in the world, these partners have elevated blood pressure and pulses.

Just because you may be experiencing these monsters doesn’t mean you’re headed for divorce. You’re obviously interested in making things better, otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this, so carry on and stop the criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling.

3. You turn away from each other.

This is kind of like stonewalling and is pretty self-explanatory. If your partner comes to you, particularly when trying to connect with you, and you turn away, this isn't a good sign. Even if you're upset or angry, it's best to let your partner know than to turn away. Being ignored is hurtful and painful. Instead, try to turn toward your partner.

Perhaps your partner turns away from you. Again, just because you're getting no response from him, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care. Please try to remember that. It’s most likely not that your partner doesn’t care, but that he's feeling overwhelmed himself and doesn’t know what to do.

RELATED: Women Who Escape Toxic Relationships Do These 12 Things To Stay Out Of Them Forever

4. You turn against each other.

This one’s also self-explanatory. Instead of turning away, some partners turn against each other. One person goes to their partner to seek support or comfort and gets barked at in response. Those who turn against are irritable and cranky with their partners. It’s not a good sign.

If this is a problem you face, take a deep breath before responding. Watch yourself. If you're getting barked at, let your partner know the effects it has on you in an honest, non-critical way, and maybe even say that this is a warning sign for divorce. Hopefully, your partner will be willing enough to take a look at this behavior and take a deep breath before responding to you when feeling irritated.

5. You've failed to repair things multiple times.

All couples argue and get into it with each other. The healthiest of couples argue with the best of them. The difference is that stable couples know how to make up, or “repair,” when things go wrong. This is such an important skill in relationships, and a warning sign if it’s absent.

Humor, honest apologies, and not taking yourselves too seriously can go a long way in this regard. You don’t need to avoid fighting or hurting each other, because it's going to happen. Make sure you both can make up when things get rocky.

RELATED: Beware! 6 Toxic Relationship Behaviors Most Couples Think Are Normal

6. You mistake neutral signals for negative ones.

What this means is that in distressed relationships, neutral or ambiguous signals from one partner are interpreted as negative by the other. What’s really common is that one partner will say something to the other without any feeling being positive or negative, and the partner who hears this will assume it's negative.

Couples in stable relationships will either hear this same thing as neutral or even positive. When you're with your partner and feel like they're being hostile or especially negative, is there any chance that you're simply flooded with negativity that might not actually be present in that very interaction? Take a step back and try to be more objective in each instance and see what you find. 

7. You fight when you're angry.

We all know what it’s like to be in a blood-boiling fight. We call it blood boiling because physiologically we're aroused; our sympathetic nervous system is activated, we may be in “fight or flight” mode, our pulse is racing, breathing may be difficult, and we could be sweating bullets and hot as hell.

If you and your partner go here and stay here in this blood-boiling zone, you're stuck in the danger zone. No good will come of this, so get out. Take a break from each other and cool off.

Create a sign that you and your partner share — whether it’s a stop sign, a time out, or whatever — that signals to the other that you're activated and need to cool off. I know this can be frustrating if you just want to hash it out, but if your blood is literally on fire, chances are it’s not going to work. Hash it out when you’re both breathing a bit easier.

RELATED: The Difficult Truth About Moving On From A Toxic Relationship

Remember, all of these warning signs appear in relationships from time to time, and when you notice them it doesn’t mean that you're destined for failure. But if you notice that your relationship is overwhelmingly suffering from any of the above warning signs, sit down with your partner and have a serious chat about your plan to get your relationship under control.

Jenev Caddell is a licensed psychologist and certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT).

This article was originally published at My Best Relationship. Reprinted with permission from the author.