Relationships constantly change. Sometimes it's for the better and sometimes it's for the worse. It's very possible for a perfectly healthy marriage to turn unhealthy as time goes on. But if you're aware of the signs that indicate your marriage is becoming unhealthy, you can turn things back around.
"A healthy marriage can turn unhealthy for a number of reasons," licensed psychologist and relationship therapist, Diane Strachowski, Ed.D, tells Bustle. But the biggest reason why relationships turn unhealthy is the response both partners have to internal and external stressors. "It helps to think of your partner as a tea bag," Strachouski says. "It's only when they're in hot water that you get a sense of their true needs or personality."
When you and your partner are dealing with major changes in your lives, like a new job or a move, it's easy to act out in unhealthy ways. For example, if your partner's new job is causing them a lot of stress, they may get distant, easily irritated, or even lash out at you. If this turns into a pattern every time they're feeling overwhelmed, your relationship may go from healthy to unhealthy over time.
But major life changes and stress aren't the only things that can cause marriage issues. Small, everyday things can affect your relationship without you realizing it. So here are some surprising signs your marriage may be becoming unhealthy, according to experts.
1. Your Partner Makes Jokes About You To Other People
If your partner has started to make rude jokes at your expense, your marriage may be getting unhealthy. "Physical abuse is not the only type of abuse," divorce attorney, Melissa Fecak, Esq., tells Bustle. "If a spouse is always putting the other one down, especially in front of other people, that can be a sign of emotional abuse." The good news is, you can turn it around before it gets any worse. When your partner makes a "joke" about you that's kind of hurtful, it's easy to just laugh it off in order to prevent any drama. But don't be afraid to let your partner know how you feel. But, if they continue to treat you this way after you've said something, it may be time to seek help in leaving the relationship.
2. One Partner Is Becoming Controlling Over The Finances
Money can cause serious issues between you and your partner whether you're married for one year or 10. Fights about money can easily turn unhealthy if your spending and saving habits are different, and you're constantly arguing about it. But according to Fecak, that's not the only thing to be aware of. "Being overly controlling of your shared finances, putting your spouse on a very restrictive budget, or not allowing them to have any access to money can be seen as financial abuse," she says. It's fine if one person is responsible for keeping the couple's finances in order. But it's important to come up with an agreement beforehand of how much money each partner is allowed have for themselves each paycheck. It's also a good idea to keep talking about your financial situation so there are no surprises. But if your partner continues to exhibit abusive behavior, it may be time to consider if this relationship is worth fighting for.
3. You're Spending Less Meaningful Time Together
It's completely normal to spend less time together when you're both juggling work, hobbies, and other responsibilities. But couples in healthy marriages make it a point to spend meaningful time together. This doesn't mean sitting in bed together at the end of the day while both of you are on your phones. It means taking the time to be intimate and strengthen your connection. If one partner feels like they're not getting enough attention from the other, Fecak says this can leave them feeling neglected, lonely, and unworthy of their partner's affections. "The longer it continues, the worse the feelings fester and can cause more problems for the couple," she says. Luckily this situation can be corrected. If the couple is committed to making it work, through counseling or other assistance, Fecak says they may be able to turn the relationship around.
4. You're Not Fighting
To be fair, there's nothing wrong with not fighting. In fact, it's great if there's nothing to fight about. But if you're purposely holding your feelings back for fear of rocking the boat, that's when it becomes a problem. "Each person needs to learn to take responsibility for their own feelings, and needs to be open to learning with their partner, rather than trying to control or avoid conflict," Dr. Margaret Paul, psychologist and relationship expert, tells Bustle. Relationships are at its best when both partners feel comfortable enough to express themselves freely. If not, it can lead to resentment and distance.
5. You're Making Assumptions About What Your Partner Is Thinking
"The difference between a real healthy marriage and an unhealthy one is the internal dynamics between the partners," Michael Cavallaro, relationship expert and coach, tells Bustle. "There is no blame, there is only clear communication, openness to receive communication, and an intent to understand each other." When your relationship is becoming unhealthy, you maya start making a lot of assumptions about what your partner is really thinking or saying. You may start reading between the lines and looking for hidden meanings. If you're starting to do this, it's important to figure out why. Do you not trust your partner anymore? Did something happen that triggered you to start doing this? Open communication can clear up a lot. If you trust that your partner is being honest, you shouldn't look for any hidden meanings.
6. You're Never At Fault For Anything
When your relationship is starting to become unhealthy, you may start to blame each other for a lot. If there's something wrong with the finances, it's always your partner's fault. If your partner doesn't feel loved and nurtured, it's all your fault. When you play the blame game, you can create distance. Chances are, neither of you wants to hear each other out. According to Cavallaro, the key here is to recognize that you are responsible for your own perceptions, emotions, and the way you communicate. If you can both work toward self-awareness and personal ownership of your own behaviors and emotions, he says you will be able to "open your hearts to each other and be honest, transparent, emotionally vulnerable and more intimately connected."
7. You've Stopped Laughing Together
Shared laughter is known to bond couples together. When you and your partner stop laughing together, and you stop having fun together, Paul says that's a pretty good indicator that your relationship may be turning unhealthy. Boredom is normal. Every long-term couple reaches that at some point. But if your relationship is no longer a source of happiness and excitement for you, or if it stresses you out more than it makes you smile, that's not a great sign. In this case, you and your partner may need to do something to put the spark back into your relationship. Boredom can kill a relationship, but you can turn it around. Trying something new or getting away together for a weekend can be exactly what your relationship needs.
If your relationship is becoming abusive, you should really consider talking to someone and getting help. Otherwise, once you know the signs, there's always something you can do to turn a borderline unhealthy relationship around. Having open communication is always a good place to start.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.