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How can I tell if my marriage is in trouble, and what can I do to prevent breakup?

How can you tell if your marriage is in trouble…..well lots of folks get all caught up in whether you fight or not but what the research says is that’s not a really good barometer. I think the real barometer that we need to pay attention to is distance, whether you are having those moments in your marriage where you feel safe and connected and supported and really sure that you are loved.

While you’re having those moments it’s okay to fight. It’s okay to have differences, but it is the distance that is really coming up. The research says that the real issue is, that we as human beings when we cannot connect with the person we love we find that alarming; not because we’re immature or not sophisticated enough but just because we’re human beings. We are mammals. We are born helpless.  We are born wired into our brain that we need to have a few people around us who will love and respond to us. So I would ask people to be aware of distance, not to get so hooked up on whether you have fights or not.  The research is also very clear that people whose marriage is in trouble are getting into what I call ‘demon dialogues’. I’ve just written a book called “Hold Me Tight” for the general public which is based on 25 years of research. This is where one person starts complaining and criticizing getting very angry, the other person starts defending distancing and stonewalling. One person start pushing the other person starts backing up; the more one person backs up the more the other person pushes and the couple get caught in this terrible dance and the dance gets its own momentum and before you know where you are the couple is starting to think that the other person is dangerous and an enemy and they’re starting to physiologically to respond to the other person like they are dangerous and they don’t understand what’s going on and what to do.  As professionals we help them step back and look at the pattern that they are caught in and understand that this kind of pattern isn’t just about communication skills. I can teach your communication skills up the wazoo and you will still get caught in that pattern.  It’s really about knowing how to step out of the pattern and reach for each other and calm each other down. To soothe each other to understand that we have this huge impact on each other as lovers, parents and children.  Adult lovers’ attachment figures have this huge physiological impact on each other. I think that’s something that you really do have to understand and so pay attention to your marriage when you feel connected; are you spending time together or do you get stuck in these incredibly negative patterns. When you get stuck in the negative patterns can you stand back and say we are caught in this dreadful dance you must be hurting too.  Or do you start when your marriage is in trouble when you start to plug in and you listen to your own emotions when you start feeling distant from your partner like you can’t count on your partner, like your partner isn’t there for you and when you think about sharing your softer feelings and it starts to feel dangerous. You don’t want to do that; that’s how you know your marriage is in trouble. It’s all about creating this emotional safety between the two of you. So you know I think the whole idea of paying attention to our relationship is valuing it and knowing when you are starting to move out of a safe connection into this disconnection and how alarming it can be for human beings when that happens. I think when we start to do this we will be able to have better barometers of our relationship, pay more attention and hopefully take care of it sooner. You know I have people come to see me for couple’s therapy who have been distressed 15 years that’s a long time to be unhappy. You and I really think that doesn’t have to happen anymore. So hopefully the young generation that’s coming up is not going to do that, they are going to pay attention to what’s happening here.  I’m not really feeling safe and connected with you it’s not just with fighting but we are not confiding anymore, we know we’re not holding each other, soothing each other.  I think that if this is happening, then the active approach to marriage would be “let’s do something about it”. The way I see it is there’s no soul mates marriage.  Is not about going out and find mister missus special it’s about finding someone you can connect with and love and then creating a soul mate marriage.  Its work, it’s also the most incredible fun getting there.

~ Dr. Sue Johnson, YouTube