The Signs a Relationship is in Trouble

Researchers have discovered that failing relationships all have a number of common characteristics. In fact, some scientists claim that they can predict, with 90% accuracy, which intimate partnerships are going to fail within a few years. So it is important that you known which behaviors and qualities to look for in your partnership. These actions are like the danger signals we see on the highway. They signal problems which must be addressed and corrected. Otherwise a crash will likely occur.

These behaviors and attitudes include:

  • Increased negative feelings
  • Criticism
  • Defensiveness
  • Contempt
  • Invalidation
  • Stonewalling and withdrawal

Problems arise when couples are not able to talk to each other. They become involved in the Dance, a communication pattern which often ends in little communication. Generally one partner complains and the other defends or withdraws. If issues are not solved, there tends to an escalation in very negative feelings. One does not just complain, but angrily attacks the partner. It seems as if the anger and hurt just don’t go away.

In the next step, partners begin to criticize each other. The complaining and defending becomes very personal. It is not just: “why are you late again?” It becomes: “you never think of me because you are totally selfish. Why didn’t I see this before?” This criticism has a global quality to it. You change your view of your partner. Before he or she had strong positive qualities. But in this stage you believe that your partner has strong negative qualities which cannot be ignored. In anger it becomes easy to point to these characteristics and criticize and put down your partner.

In this negative climate, one or both partners often become more and more defensive. This can take on at least two different forms. Instead of listening to your partner, you protect yourself by giving explanations for your behavior. In the other form you attack your partner by bringing up his or her shortcomings and by confusing the issue. After all offense is the best defense. This is often the other half of the Dance. One person complains, the other one defends.

Contempt is a complex feeling which involves disrespect, scorn, hatred, dislike and derision. It is the polar opposite of admiration. As the negative feelings and personal criticism increase, it is easy to see how you might begin to lose respect for your partner. He or she has no positive qualities. There seems to be almost nothing good about them. In marriage counseling, I have heard people say. “I no longer have any respect at all for him.”

Invalidation goes along with contempt. Part of invalidation is not listening to the other’s point of view. But on a basic level, it is even more serious. In a love relationship, you want your partner to think well of you and to accept you as a good person. At this stage, just the opposite occurs. You no longer see him or her as a worthy individual.

Stonewalling and Withdrawal are logical extensions of the above. After awhile, the anger and pain in the relationship become too great. It is just too much for most people to handle. Either or both partners simply back off. They withdraw emotionally from their mate. Sure, they may be able to talk about the kids or who has to go where. But that is about it. Important conversations never seem to take place. Sex may become non- existent. Couples don’t even touch each other any more. My client recently stated. “I haven’t brought anything significant up in five years. There was no point.”

When any of the characteristics above begin to appear, it is time to do something. Too often couples wait years before they try to find help. Then it becomes all the harder to reverse the trend. I am saddened when a couple reveals to me that they have not been close or intimate for fifteen years. That is a lot of wasted time.

Don’t let this happen to you.

Copyright by Joseph Dragun, Ph.D.

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