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Category: Couples Therapy

8 Signs Your Relationship Might Be In Trouble

#1  You’re walking on eggshells around your partner.

This is a dead giveaway things are no longer ideal. If you feel like you have to tip toe around your partner, just to keep the peace, then you are no longer able to really be yourself. So, it’s only a matter of time before you start building up resentment towards them, if you haven’t started already.

#2 You no longer have the desire to connect with your friends or family.

Sometimes we give so much priority to our marriage; it slowly creeps up to 100% of our time. We no longer think we have room for friends and family. Then as the marriage deteriorates, we tend to isolate even further because we don’t want to negatively impact the friends and family we love.

#3 You feel like you were betrayed by your partner in the past and your relationship has never been the same.

I call this an energetic break. It’s a time when you needed them most and they let you down or even worse, abandoned you. Most people experience a break in the love flow or an energetic break during or shortly after this event, where they no longer feel connected to their partner. Until this feeling of betrayal is released or healed, it will continue to participate in your daily life and the intimate interactions in your marriage.

#4  You are constantly pushing each other’s emotional buttons.

Some people may say, “come on – this is just marriage,” but really it’s a sign that you are no longer in the love flow. You are no longer each other’s biggest fans and supporters. And over time as you continue to consistently upset each other and trigger each other’s wounds and baggage, THEY will eventually become associated with your biggest hurts and pains. People who eventually divorce just call this “growing apart.

#5  Deep down you know you love your partner, but you just can’t feel it anymore.

This is a sign that you may have been deeply wounded by your partner. If you can’t FEEL the love anymore, it’s likely you have a protective wall around your heart blocking it. Although the wall is meant to protect you from further pain, it also blocks the true flow of love both with your partner and others. Most people experience this as feeling numb. You can no longer feel your partner’s pain.

#6  You feel like roommates now and/or no longer have sex together.

This is a dead giveaway that there’s been a significant energetic break and you can expect resentment and blaming to escalate. Some couples still have sex with each other. They just don’t enjoy it! This can also show up in more subtle ways, such as having a sole focus on the kids and/or making money and completely back-burnering your relationship. Marriages in this stage are truly in jeopardy.

#7  You feel like your partner is not the person you married/originally met.

Many women in struggling marriages often report that their husband is no longer the man they married. They wonder which one he REALLY is? This is a significant sign that the relationship is no longer in harmony or flow. It’s now in it’s opposite phase of struggle, triggering and upset.

AND THE BIG ONE…

#8 You feel like your partner might secretly hate you.

This is the big one because it’s so insidious and over time sabotages the entire relationship. Some couples experience it more like they have become secret enemies. This is more of a gut feeling for most people. Your body wants to keep you at a distance and you even start to fear your partner at a deep level. You may feel like adversaries on a daily basis, always in conflict as if they have some sort of control over you. The crazy thing is that most couples never even talk about it!

How Couples Can Reconnect Again After An Affair

If you choose to stay together, how do you recover and come out stronger?

The Gottman Method, a popular research-based approach to couples therapy, breaks down the process of how to reconnect after an affair into three main steps: atonement, attunement, and attachment.

Step 1: Atone.

First and foremost, the cheater must express regret and remorse. According to the Gottman Method, it’s necessary for the cheater accept the blame. “Atonement cannot occur if the cheater insists that the victim take partial blame for the affair,” writes John Gottman, psychologist and co-founder of the Gottman Institute, in his book What Makes Love Last?

During this same process, the cheater needs to become more aware of their needs and vulnerabilities. Oftentimes the affair occurs as a way for the cheater to meet their unrecognized needs.

In the book, Gottman also recommends that those desiring to continue in a monogamous relationship establish the “no second chance” rule, which creates a huge disincentive for cheating again. This helps to give the victim back some of their power.

It’s important to decide what you’re comfortable with going forward and to establish firm boundaries that make your relationship a safe place for both partners.

Step 2: Attune.

In the second phase, partners begin to make each other a priority again. At this point, both partners can look at reestablishing what they want in a relationship and in each other.

Recognizing the roots of the problem.

Relationship expert Rachel Madorsky, LCSW, explains that once you’ve decided to move forward together, “it’s important that both people begin to look at how they co-created the relationship and subsequently the affair. Once you’ve done this, miracles begin to take place.”

The idea isn’t to blame the person who experienced the betrayal but rather to examine the problems that happened between the two people in the relationship that preceded the affair since it’s easy to allow the affair to eclipse all else that happened prior to it.

“Cheaters are not necessarily looking for someone else; they are looking to become someone else,” Dr. Tammy Nelson, psychotherapist, board-certified sexologist, and author of When You’re the One Who Cheatswrites at mbg. “A person may be cheating because they like who they are when they’re with their affair partner. They might feel sexier, smarter, more charming, and more alive when they cheat. With their spouse at home, they might feel invisible, dull, boring, or old. An affair can counteract a person’s negative self-talk, through no fault of their partner.”

The events and context that led up to an affair don’t excuse the cheating, but they do offer clarity as to why it happened—and a path forward toward healing for both parties.

Rebuilding trust.

With that in mind, an important part of the attunement phase is each person regaining trust and unconditional positive regard for the other. Harville Hendrix, relationship psychologist and creator of Imago Relationships Therapy (another popular couples therapy method), recommends one great exercise for rebuilding trust in his book Getting the Love You Want: Each person writes down 20 small acts of kindness they would like their partner to do for them. These can include giving small gifts such as flowers, writing love notes, spending quality time together making breakfast, trying a new restaurant, or cuddling in bed on a Sunday. Once each person has their wish list, they exchange them and attempt to perform one of these acts a day for their partner. Over time, these acts of kindness help couples to rebuild rapport and trust. Slowly they can begin to appreciate and enjoy each other again, even it feels forced in the beginning.

For the person who was cheated on, Madorsky says that learning to trust your partner again can be difficult, but it can also be empowering: “When you don’t own how much power you have in your life, you’re left to feel like a victim. It actually feels better to trust than not to trust. So as long each partner is committed and taking positive action, consider giving yourself the gift of trusting again.”

Avoiding antagonism.

As you begin rebuilding your relationship during this phase, David Ley, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Insatiable Wives: Women Who Cheat and the Men Who Love Them, stresses the importance of avoiding online discussion groups about cheating. “Like the rest of the Internet, they tend to be filled with angry, toxic people who are gleeful when your relationship ends in the same flames of rage that torched their own,” he writes.

He also warns against lie detector tests: “There is unfortunately a steady business out there that promotes the idea that ‘this is only way you’ll ever really be able to trust your partner again.’ Those tests are invalid and merely breed greater antagonism and one-sided coercion.”

Rather than focusing on the negative aspects of the affair, Ley says it’s better to shift your focus onto the good times you’ve shared in the past and all the new ones you’ll find together in the future.

NOTE:  Sara originally wrote this article for Mind Body Green.  You can see it here.

Step 3: Attach.

Once you’ve begun to feel positive toward your partner again, you can begin to work toward the future and regaining your intimate connection. Because healthy sex is based on a strong emotional connection, you want to get to know your partner again only after attunement has taken place.

“It’s important to remember that recovering from infidelity requires us to be able to understand and recognize our own sexual and intimacy needs, and to communicate them to our partner, listening to them, and respecting them as they do the same to us,” Dr. Ley writes.

One exercise that works to help develop and deepen emotional intimacy involves answering that popular series of questions developed by Dr. Arthur Aron and prominently featured in the New York Times‘ Modern Love section. By taking a romantic evening and answering these questions together, you reacquaint yourself with who your partner has become. This exercise can be particularly powerful for couples that have been together for many years.

(If you want more ideas, here are five other ways to connect with your partner again.)

Having fun.

While working through these steps of recovery, it’s also important to continue having fun. “It’s OK to compartmentalize the affair during this process and have fun together, as long as you’re committed to handling the issues,” Madorsky says. “In fact, by having fun together, you can begin to heal more quickly.”

The future.

Once you’ve achieved the three steps of atonement, attunement, and attachment, you can begin moving forward on looking toward your future.

In his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Gottman outlines the Sound Relationship House theory, which features seven relationship “levels.” The top two layers, accessible only after moving through and managing conflicts like affairs, are “making life dreams come true” and “creating shared meaning.” During this period of meaning-making, couples can begin to determine what they want to be important to them as a couple moving forward. For instance, your shared goals might include international travel, creating a business together, or starting a family. You might want to begin by planning a vacation, giving yourselves something to look forward to and enjoy, and continue building from there.

For couples who’ve suffered from an affair, making plans for a future together is the ultimate marker of reconnection. It takes time to get to that place, but if you slowly and intentionally move through each stage of the recovery process, you can access this place of union and commitment once again.

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