As a follow-up from my recent live talk about Before the Breaking Point: Top Three Issues to Look Out For in Marriage , I am going to elaborate further on five common Red Flags that I have observed in my work with couples in Malaysia. Couples in healthy, thriving marriages work hard to steer clear of these five adversaries.
This refers to the lack of thought that comes with the way you communicate with your partner. Instead of being careful in our speech and conduct with them in the way we usually are with others whom we do not know very well, this is when you carelessly speak in a manner that is disrespectful or inconsiderate of your partner’s feelings. Sometimes, in order to “save face” in group interactions with others, we may even take a jab at our partner, at the expense of putting them down. You may think that all you are merely doing is making a joke, all in the name of “good fun” but I have seen this really hurt many in the process. Some continue to suffer in silence. Or, when you are exhausted after a day’s work, you are short-tempered with your partner, snapping at them, expecting them to bear the brunt of your negative emotions. I have seen this occur very often in couples who really didn’t think too much of it at first. Unfortunately, it leads to weeds that grow in the marriage and eventually serve to tear down the vitality within the marriage. After all, “isn’t my partner supposed to understand and accept me for better, or worse, anyway?” “That’s what my partner should do for me!” These assumptions can, unfortunately, lead to a lot of hurt and brokenness. This could also spring into Red Flag no. 3 below.
This is one of the most common points for how marriages start to disintegrate. When couples tend to consist of one highly critical partner or both judgemental people, it can lead to a lot of potential damage within the marriage. Many adults can clearly recall all the most critical moments they had in their developmental years, as it contributed to their self-esteem growing up. Likewise, if you find yourself regularly picking faults with your partner and being quick to judge their performance, it can only serve to lower their self-esteem. If we are looking for the ways that our partner disappoints us and doesn’t meet up to our expectations, the list can grow pretty long. In fact, this is often one of the most common push factors for why people may decide to walk out on their marriage as they may have had enough of being with a never-ending critical partner. And when someone has low self-esteem, they may start to feel depressed or demotivated about many things and may further serve to “fail” further in many other areas too. So, are you the one contributing to your partner’s reducing self-worth? It may also open up the door for the temptation for an extramarital affair as one’s needs are not being met in their own marriage so someone else out there seems way more attractive.
This is a red flag that unfortunately, multiples and grows over time, leading to a bigger divide between two people in a marriage. It is the opposite of respect and could stem from unforgiveness, unresolved issues, due to denial or avoidance. It could also breed from Red Flag no. 2, where one’s growing list of criticisms, leads to prolonged resentment and maybe even disgust. “Why on earth did I choose to marry her?” “I got stuck with a lousy husband.” “Other people are in way better marriages than me.” “My partner is useless and I can’t stand to look at him.” “She disgusts me.” You often cut your partner off, disregarding their opinions, correcting them, thinking that your way is better than theirs. You may minimize their concerns and brush them off without properly hearing them out. You basically disrespect your partner and signify that you are closed to their thoughts, ideas, feelings. You may even think that they are inferior to you and that you know better. Communication is strained and one party may choose to withdraw more and more, out of fear of offending the other partner further. An overshadowing of contempt could sometimes also result in rejection when it comes to one partner initiating sex. Depriving your partner of their sexual needs can have severe consequences on your marriage, and also another common contribution to how one partner may be lured into an extramarital affair.
Related to Red Flag no.2 and no.3 above, this is the opposite of gratitude, acknowledgment and appreciation. If you are constantly focused on your partner’s shortcomings, you will often feel dissatisfied with your partner and your marriage on the whole. Who is perfect, really? Have you taken a good look in the mirror at yourself? Or even if your partner has made attempts to change and improve on some areas of weakness, you are impatient and may even disregard any effort to change, feeling that “it is not good enough” and “change needs to be NOW or faster”. Can you find more reasons to stay? More attributes to be thankful for in your partner? Can we accept and acknowledge our partner, just the way they are?
This is also another enemy in marriage and sometimes, it may have started even before marriage. If you can’t trust your partner and this issue is not worked through over time, then your marriage is in a dangerous place as it could further contribute to all of the above Red Flags. The healthiest and most fulfilling relationships and friendships are founded on trust. Distrust would only eat away at the longevity of the marriage. There are couples who have opted for separate ways because one partner just could never trust his wife and that led to countless arguments and negative situations. It is extremely frustrating and exhausting to be married to someone who is not able to trust you – this could be due to no fault of yours, or could be because of prior history of betrayals. Sometimes, the act of trusting starts with a simple decision of choosing to trust our partner. It is also a deliberate process that we keep on practising day in and day out.
If you identify with any of the red flags above, do reflect honestly on what changes you can make today. Yes, it starts with you! Kudos to you for reading through the article up to this point. Often a lot of positive impacts in marriage can start with just one partner making the decision to do things differently, more constructively. However, if you’ve tried to work out some of the above but you can’t seem to successfully deal with them, seriously consider seeking help from a marriage therapist (counsellor, clinical psychologist, or psychiatrist trained in this area) early. Early intervention really saves couples a lot of heartaches that often accompany late intervention or worst, not getting any help at all.
I am so encouraged that many of the couples whom I have worked with, and were motivated to make changes in their marriage, often reported being so relieved and glad that they sought help when they did and not wait any longer. They learn to communicate more effectively, learn to avoid past mistakes and continue to learn to make things work together. Make that investment into your marriage today and it will be something you do for each other that you won’t regret. Being vulnerable together with a marriage therapist can be very liberating and enriching.
Also, if you’d like to watch our the discussion we had on FB Live, here’s the recording:
Serena is a trained clinical psychologist with a decade of service in providing assessment and intervention for individuals, couples and families with various challenges such as depression disorders, anxiety disorders, stress, time management, motivation, relationship and marital issues, postpartum difficulties, parenting struggles, chronic illness, grief and life transitions.
She has a passion for preventive education so that more people would have access to tools that help them have a meaningful life, in every season, wherever they are at. She believes in strengthening relationships, marriages and families to help people thrive in life and it starts by having supportive, non-judgmental conversations with one another about doing real life.
Together with her husband, she is also a busy parent of two school-aged children. When she can catch moments in between, she loves reading, and savouring all things coffee and chocolate!