6 Marriage Red Flags You Should Never Ignore, Therapists Warn

There are certain marital issues you just can’t ignore: things like cheating, lying, or taking a complete break from your sex life. But other times, problems crop up more sneakily – and experts call this a red flag. While red flags don’t always signify an imminent breakup, you absolutely must take them seriously. Here, therapists tell us the biggest red flags of marriage they see in clients. Take note of these issues in advance and discuss them with your spouse – this can lead to a positive turn in your relationship.

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These harmless jokes aren’t always so harmless. “While some relationships use sarcasm or jokes with passive aggression, it can become toxic and is often a sign that someone is resentful,” says Nicole Rainey, a licensed mental health counselor and co-owner of Mosaic Creative Counseling in Tallahassee. “Passive-aggressive comments or frequent sarcasm get in the way of the tenderest, most vulnerable moments in a marriage.”

According to Rainey, this type of communication often stems from a feeling that a partner is hiding or avoiding — so pay close attention to when this occurs. However, don’t feel the need to overanalyze whether this is normal for both of you. “If sarcasm has always been an integral part of your relationship, then be careful reading too much about it,” she adds.

After a few years, a couple may begin to feel more like co-maintainers of their home than partners. “There’s certainly a functional component to marriage, but if that’s all it seems, it doesn’t bode well,” says Mark Cagle, LPC-S, a marriage and couples therapist in Dallas. This problem is particularly rampant once you add kids to the mix. “It’s especially important for new parents to remember that they were partners first,” says Cagle. “Having children can make marriages more transactional and less loving, especially in the early years.”

Fortunately, a good therapist can help you find that spark again. “Couples counselors are skilled at helping partners gain critical self-awareness in their habits and patterns of interaction, and can empower them to decide where to infuse passion and connection into their daily routine,” says Rainey. The most important thing to do is fix this issue before it gets out of hand.

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It is a fact of life that every couple will experience conflict. But when this conflict continues – day after day and week after week – you may have a problem on your hands. “For example, your day starts with a feeling of frustration over something that happened the night before,” says Rainey. “So a little conflict over the coffee pot or dishes links that conflict to the next conflict over dinner plans or who’s picking up the kids from school.” Before you know it, you and your partner are fighting more often, to the point where you lose sight of where one conflict ends and another begins. If this becomes a habit, consider it a huge red flag.

At the beginning of your relationship, you were probably liked by the fact that your partner never put his socks in the hamper or had a peculiar way of washing dishes. That affection has likely changed – but if you feel constantly agitated by their behaviors, it’s a red flag.

“You can even have an internal dialogue with yourself about how you feel you shouldn’t be so angry about these little things, but you just can’t help it,” says Hannah Guy, MSW, a licensed clinical social worker. “This can be a good indicator that you and your spouse are not in sync with where you were before.” Guy notes that an increase in irritability can also be an indicator of depression; therefore, if you or your spouse is experiencing this combined with symptoms such as fatigue, mood swings, and low motivation, seek professional support.

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A lack of interest in yourself, your relationship, or life in general can be a harbinger of bad news in a marriage. “Notice if your partner has fewer opinions or has a hard time getting excited about things,” says Rainey. “Your partner says ‘I don’t care’ all the time; doesn’t he feel like an active participant in the relationship anymore? Watch that.” The cause of this problem may not be related to your marriage, but there is no doubt that the behavior will spread throughout your relationship. “This can be a sign of dissatisfaction with life or overwhelming, even depression,” says Rainey. Whatever the case, you’re going to want to get to the root of the problem sooner rather than later.

Sometimes the seemingly obvious red flags are the easiest – and most important – to ignore. For example, if you notice a general sense of distance in your marriage, you’ll want to take note. “Sometimes this can just indicate stress and not necessarily that your partner is upset with you or unhappy in their marriage,” says Rainey. “However, if the distance continues, the marriage becomes unintentional, more and more miscommunications happen, and you become two different people.”

Distance is also something you can perceive by creating. “When we feel disconnected, unsupported, or any other kind of discord within a relationship, we tend to push people away,” says Rainey. “Are you spending more time away from your spouse than you normally would? Do you avoid getting involved in certain activities you used to do together? When stressed or overwhelmed, do you seek support from a friend when you would normally seek help from someone? Your spouse?” By doing these things, you may be avoiding the discomfort you feel in your relationship.

Rainey’s advice is simple: “It’s best to get ahead and consult a professional.” Doing so can save your marriage.

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