Warning signs of a marriage in distress
Resentment. Lack of communication. Lack of intimacy. Decreased affection. Avoidance. Not spending time together. Making unilateral decisions. Arguing a lot. Not fighting fair; i.e., yelling, swearing and/or name-calling. More than two in the marriage; for example, pornography, infidelity, alcohol, pills, workaholism, social media and so much more — sometimes even the job is the third person in the marriage.
Ingredients for a healthy marriage
It really tends to boil down to a few key things: love, respect, communication and commitment.
What does it really mean?
Ask yourself: Am I patient? Am I kind? Am I envious? Do I boast about myself? Do I have a high or excessively high opinion about myself and my importance? Do I dishonor my spouse (with how I to speak to them, how I act toward them or how I act when I am not around them)? Do I put myself before my spouse? Am I easily angered? Do I keep a record or log of my spouse’s wrongs? Do I sometimes delight in provoking my spouse or thinking the worst of them? Do I tell the truth 100% all the time (including not withholding any information that my spouse would deem important)? Do I protect my spouse, or do I endanger them with my words or actions? Do I always trust my spouse, or am I skeptical? Do I always hope in the marriage, or do I worry and lack confidence? Do I always persevere in the marriage, or am I ready to throw in the towel?
Ask your spouse: What do I do that makes you feel loved the most? What is something that I do that makes you feel unloved? What are the top three things you love about me? What do you love most about our relationship?
Research has shown that the number one thing women want most in a relationship is love, and the number one thing men want most is respect. One of the best predictors of divorce is contempt — treating one’s spouse with disrespect, mocking with sarcasm and/or condescending actions.
Ask yourself: Do I seek out my spouse’s opinions? Do I honor my spouse’s feelings? Do I solicit and respect my spouse’s ideas? Do I count what my spouse says in decision-making? Am I considerate of my spouse’s viewpoint? Do I admire my spouse? Do I include my spouse in my life?
Ask your spouse: When do you feel respected by me? When do you feel disrespected by me? What are the top three things that you respect about me? What do you respect about our marriage?
Effective communication makes relationships stronger and healthier, and these skills can be taught regardless of whether your marriage is healthy and strong or in critical danger right now. These skills are taught to police psychologists and other mental health therapists in graduate school, and they can be taught to you. They can even be taught to children. By extension, then, empathy can be learned to better establish and build connection, and gratitude can be conveyed to help feel more positive emotions and reflect more deeply on what one has (as opposed to what one does not possess).
- Do I demonstrate nonverbal listening when my spouse is talking? Specifically, square off your shoulders in your spouse’s direction. Do not point or face somewhere else. Otherwise, it will appear rude, that you are not interested and are not really listening. Maintain an open posture. Do not cross your arms or legs. Allow your upper body a slight lean forward when you are seated and listening to your spouse. Make good eye contact. Relax your body and your muscles. Do not tense in order to gear up for a fight (regardless of how heated or conflictual the interaction may seem).
- Do I demonstrate active listening when my spouse is talking? Specifically, allow your spouse to speak without interruption. When your spouse is done speaking, 1) paraphrase back the content of what was said, 2) reiterate the feelings shared and 3) check it out with your spouse for accuracy before sharing your two cents in the matter.
- Do I fight fair? Specifically, refrain from yelling, swearing and name-calling at all times and in all situations. Remember, love is kind. Love is not easily angered. Love always protects. Also remember, contempt is one of the best predictors of divorce (but know that couples can turn it around and become stronger, better).
Ask your spouse: What do I do that makes you feel heard and understood when we talk? When do you feel you have my full attention? How could both of us — together — do a better job at listening and communicating?
This is the backbone of a marriage. As in the body, the backbone of a marriage is the central support system. It keeps you upright and connects the different parts to each other. Without a backbone, the body cannot live, and without commitment, the marriage will not survive. Commitment allows married individuals the psychological freedom to make mistakes and to learn and grow from those mistakes, without fear of being rejected or abandoned and while continuing to feel secure that they are loved and respected (imperfect) as they are.
Ask yourself: Have I agreed to a lifetime commitment to my spouse, or do I treat my marriage
like a disposable razor? To what degree do I really intend to persist in the marriage? Have I publicly declared my marital commitment to important others? Have I agreed to be faithful to my spouse for life?
Ask your spouse: What are three ways that I make you feel safe and secure in the relationship? Do you have regrets about what you did not accomplish by choosing to be committed to me? What would you do if you thought our relationship was failing? What would you want me to do? What is the number one area in our relationship where we can improve? How can we do that?
What to do
Do you have one or more warning signs of a marriage in distress? Do you need help cultivating the ingredients for a stronger, healthier and more satisfying marriage? Consider your marriage as a fortress. Attacks will be at the weakest point, where the enemy will try to invade by storm. Strengthen the weak points and close the open doors. Schedule an appointment with your department or EAP police psychologist to learn the skills needed to take your marriage to the next level. Connect with your department police chaplain to strengthen commitment and learn forgiveness. Reach out to Peer Support for their hard-earned wisdom in supporting police marriages.