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Episode 3: Six Warning Signs That Your Marriage Could Be In Trouble

Announcer: [00:00:00] Today on Hopeful Tomorrows.

Derek Irvin: [00:00:05] Another thing that can happen is that people will try and talk themselves out of the emotions-

Missy Irvin: [00:00:10] Yeah.

Derek Irvin: [00:00:11] … that they’re feeling.

Missy Irvin: [00:00:11] And that used to be me, so I would try to s- tell myself, “It’s not that big of a deal, don’t bring it up, it’s just gonna cause a fight.” And eventually you blow.

Announcer: [00:00:23] The Hopeful Tomorrows podcast is hosted by Derek and Missy Irvin. Each episode, they share key insights for marital success and how to have thoughtful, beneficial communication in your relationship. On this episode of the Hopeful Tomorrows podcast, we take a look at the six warning signs your marriage could be in trouble, and what to do about it.

Missy Irvin: [00:00:40] Today, we’re identifying the six warning signs that your marriage could be in trouble. These warning signs don’t mean that your marriage is doomed, but it does mean that you wanna be proactive in dealing with them. Marriage researchers find that couples wait an average of six years of being unhappy before they get the help that they need. And over those six years, resentment and anger builds, so let’s take a look at what these warning signs are, and what to do about ’em. The first warning sign is that everything’s a fight, you’re fighting about everything, you’re fighting about nothing, and after a while, you just feel like you can’t do anything right because they’re mad at you about how you drink your water, or how you eat, or how you walk.

Derek Irvin: [00:01:25] That’s so true, and another thing that couples do, especially when things get really toxic, is they do what we call negative assumptions. So a negative assumption is when something that happens, it might be a neutral thing, but we decide that we know what is really happening in here. We tell ourselves, “I know what this is about,” and we assign motives for our spouse of what’s really happening. Now, everybody, in fairness, does this to one degree or another. My goodness, we just had this scenario happen just last week-

Missy Irvin: [00:02:01] Yeah.

Derek Irvin: [00:02:01] … on our date night.

Missy Irvin: [00:02:02] Yup. Yeah, so I tell Derek that my last client is gonna be over at five o’clock, and that I had a few things to wrap up and then I’d be home.

Derek Irvin: [00:02:13] Well, that’s not what I heard. What I heard was-

Missy Irvin: [00:02:16] Well you heard wrong. [laughing]

Derek Irvin: [00:02:18] … what I heard was, “We are walking out the door at five o’clock.” And so, I adjust my whole schedule to be able to walk out the door at five o’clock. I have somebody, uh, ask me if I wanna hang out a little bit. I’m like, “Nope, can’t do it, we’ve got a date night, and we’re leaving at five o’clock.” So, five o’clock comes and goes, 5:20 comes and goes, by 5:40, I’m starting to get worked up. I think I sent you a text about that point.

Missy Irvin: [00:02:45] Yeah, you’re like, “I thought you’d be home by now.” [laughs] And I’m like, “What? What does that mean?”

Derek Irvin: [00:02:50] Yeah, that was the moment where I was losing the battle in my mind slowly. And so, s- by the time six o’clock comes, I have made up my mind that I know what is happening here, and the conclusion that I come to is that I care about date night.

Missy Irvin: [00:03:09] Yeah, so then that means I don’t care about date night.

Derek Irvin: [00:03:13] Well, you said it.

Missy Irvin: [00:03:14] [laughing] Well, you implied it.

Derek Irvin: [00:03:15] Yeah. No, I- and seriously though, what I come to is I prioritize it, I make sacrifices, and where are you? And so, you come home to an environment to where- where I’m in a lousy mood, and it makes for a not-so-great date night.

Missy Irvin: [00:03:33] Yeah. He’s angry about something that he misheard, that we just had a miscommunication about.

Derek Irvin: [00:03:40] Yeah, and- and here’s the thing that’s really interesting. In just observing myself, even when I was able to cognitively make the switch that this was a communication, the emotions had already set in, and it’s just a weird phenomenon. I had let those emotions take root, and it was hard to move out of.

Missy Irvin: [00:03:59] Yeah. Yeah, it took a while.

Derek Irvin: [00:04:00] Yeah. Yeah, so the second warning sign that your marriage could be in trouble is when you start to brush things under the rug.

Missy Irvin: [00:04:08] Yeah, there’s reasons why we brush things under the rug because we’ve tried to approach our spouse before, and it hasn’t gone well, so why bring it up. It’s not gonna go well, it’s gonna turn into a fight, so I’m just gonna brush it in the rug, and pretend it’s not there.

Derek Irvin: [00:04:25] Yeah, that’s one thing that can happen, and another thing that can happen is that people will try and talk themselves out of the emotions-

Missy Irvin: [00:04:33] Yeah.

Derek Irvin: [00:04:33] … that they’re feeling.

Missy Irvin: [00:04:34] And that used to be me. I used to stuff my emotions because I really didn’t know what I was feeling and how to approach Derek on this, so I would try to s- tell myself, “It’s not that big of a deal, don’t bring it up, it’s just gonna cause a fight.” And I would stuff, and stuff, and stuff, and the problem with that is eventually you blow ’cause those emotions don’t stay stuffed.

Derek Irvin: [00:04:58] Yeah, and I remember that I would tell you I don’t want you to stuff, I- I don’t like how that ends, but there’s also a part of this that’s on me that when you come to me with things that are still just sort of bothering you a little bit, that I’ve gotta be a person who doesn’t get defensive, who doesn’t try and talk you out of it and tell you it’s not a big deal, because that-

Missy Irvin: [00:05:19] Yeah.

Derek Irvin: [00:05:19] … would reinforce the stuffing behavior.

Missy Irvin: [00:05:21] Uh-huh [affirmative]. Yeah, it would just-

Derek Irvin: [00:05:22] Yeah.

Missy Irvin: [00:05:23] … make me push it down even more.

Derek Irvin: [00:05:25] Right. So, these two warning signs, the first one being everything’s a fight, and the other being that we stuff and put things under the rug, the remedy for both of those is learning to resolve conflict. And so, for some specific ideas on how to resolve conflict, we actually did a whole episode on resolving conflicts, and we’ll link to those in our show notes.

Missy Irvin: [00:05:54] The third warning sign that your marriage could be in trouble is that you have poor boundaries. No one just wakes up and decides they’re gonna have an affair, or that they’re gonna wreck their life with an addiction. These things happen one little step, one compromised boundary at a time.

Derek Irvin: [00:06:13] That’s so true, and people end up in a place that they never dreamed or imagined that they would end up. It- you know, a boundary simply is deciding what it is that’s most important, what is this thing that I need and want to protect, and we build a fence around it, and we keep ourself far away from the edge. The recovery community actually really gets this whole principle really well. So, a person who’s a recovering alcoholic, even if they’ve not had a drink in years, is still very much in touch with the reality that they could end up back in that place if they put themselves in the wrong situations and environments. And the reason is, is that they are very focused on protecting their sobriety.

Missy Irvin: [00:07:00] Yeah, they’ll do stuff like not going to bars, obviously, but I’ve actually known someone who changed their route to work to where they’re not even driving by bars because it’s that tempting. And they take that great of a measure to protect their sobriety. And that takes humility and wisdom.

Derek Irvin: [00:07:20] It does, and applying that to our relationship, it takes humility to basically say, “You know what? I don’t think anything would happen here, but I’m not gonna do…” Fill in the blank.

Missy Irvin: [00:07:33] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Derek Irvin: [00:07:33] I’m not going to have a lunch with somebody of the opposite sex, for example, or whatever those boundaries that you decide are, I’m gonna keep myself far from those. Uh, so it takes wisdom, it takes humility, and it also takes a level of self awareness, a level of what is the wise thing for me to do, and then the second thing is what does my spouse feel comfortable with in this moment?

Missy Irvin: [00:08:01] Yeah, and that’s where the humility comes in. That if Derek’s uncomfortable with me being friends with an old boyfriend on Facebook, then I’m gonna unfriend them. My relationship is much more important than hurting their feelings. And a lot of people, that’s hard to do, but it’s- it’s the wise and healthy thing to do to protect the marriage.

Derek Irvin: [00:08:23] The next warning sign that your marriage could be in trouble is that you don’t trust your spouse. And sometimes you don’t trust your spouse because they’ve broken trust in the relationship.

Missy Irvin: [00:08:34] Yeah, if there’s been an affair, then, no, you’re not gonna trust your spouse, and it would be foolish to trust right away. That has to be built over time. It takes time and consistency to re- rebuild that trust, and your spouse has to do things like if- if you’re the betrayed partner, and you need to your spouse to check in with you three times a day, then your spouse needs to do that.

Derek Irvin: [00:09:00] That’s a great point. If you are the one who betrayed your spouse, you’re gonna have to give up some of your rights for a while. I’ve worked with people and known people who would come to work every day and take a picture of the office building showing, “I’m here.” They are demonstrating time and time again, “I am where I say I’m gonna be.” And that consistency over time builds trust, but you’ve gotta be in it for the long haul. You gotta be willing to give them what they need even when it feels like, “I can’t believe we’re still talking about this, it happened four months ago, get over it.” You can’t be like that or your spouse will not heal the way that they need to.

Missy Irvin: [00:09:40] That’s right, research actually shows that it takes an average of two years to heal from an affair, and that’s two years working with a therapist. So it takes a long time, and the person that betrayed their spouse just has to be really patient.

Derek Irvin: [00:09:55] So sometimes we know that there’s been a betrayal, but sometimes we just suspect that something’s off, there are things that don’t add up, and what do we do with those? What do we do when it just feels off?

Missy Irvin: [00:10:09] Yeah, like, your spouse is on their phone and being secretive, and hiding it, and running to the bathroom when a- a phone call comes in, or they’re working later and later at night, um, they’re not sharing passwords, they changed their passw- passwords, and they won’t share them. Those are all big red flags.

Derek Irvin: [00:10:28] They are red flags, and I- I think there’s two perhaps seemingly contradictory principles that you have to hold onto in this. The first is trust your gut. Oftentimes your intuition is correct, but the second idea that seems somewhat contradictory is hold those conclusions loosely.

Missy Irvin: [00:10:49] I always tell people to gather facts, check the facts, make sure what’s going on really is going on, ’cause it may not be anything, but you need to check it out, and not jump to conclusions. The other thing to do is let your spouse know that what they’re doing makes you feel uncomfortable, so if they’ve changed their password, and they’re, um, hiding their phone, let ’em know, “Those things make me feel insecure and unsure.” And talk through those things.

Derek Irvin: [00:11:15] That’s really important, and all of these things are going to build a foundation in your relationship that you really need to have the trust in your marriage that you want.

Missy Irvin: [00:11:30] Another warning sign that your marriage could be in trouble is you hardly have sex anymore. Sex is a barometer of the relationship. It- it tells you where the relationship is, and it tends to be the first thing to go, and the last thing to come back.

Derek Irvin: [00:11:44] Yeah, there can be good reasons, and it’s worth noting there can be good reasons to not have sex. I- there can be physical issues, past traumas that you’re working through, broken trust, infidelity, or just the crazy busy pace of life, and little kids that are just sucking all of the energy out of you. What’s important to distinguish is there’s a difference between reasons and excuses, and w- you need to work through those things, and either get the healing or the prioritization you need to really get some traction in this area.

Missy Irvin: [00:12:19] Another reason could be you don’t feel connected, and that’s very true for women. A lot of times women need to feel connected to their spouse before they want to have sex. I mean, we need to feel loved all throughout the d- the day, there’s a book called Sex Begins in the Kitchen, and I don’t think it’s literally sex begins in kitch- I mean, I guess it could be, but it’s talking about how a woman needs to feel loved, and cherished, and you need to be nice to us to- for us to want to have sex with you at the end of the day.

Derek Irvin: [00:12:52] That is incredibly practical advice.

Missy Irvin: [00:12:54] [laughs]

Derek Irvin: [00:12:55] The- you know, the- it’s- there’s an old saying that for women that sex is kinda like the icing on the cake. For men, sex is the cake and the icing, and what I mean by that is that oftentimes for women, sex is the culmination of feeling connected. Oftentimes for men, sex is a means or a way to connect. And so, it’s really easy to see what can happen in this scenario if the woman is feeling like she’s giving in, it’s very easy that she’s gonna feel like she’s being used, and if the man is not getting what he needs in the relationship, very easy for him to feel rejected. And it’s no wonder that sex becomes a- a frequent hot topic that couples can really have issues with.

Missy Irvin: [00:13:43] Yeah. The sixth warning sign is you just feel like roommates, like you’re living parallel lives. I live my life, you live your life, we do opposite things, and there’s no romance in the relationship. It really is like a roommate.

Derek Irvin: [00:13:58] Yeah, the opposite of love is not hate, the opposite of love is apathy, and I think that’s what makes this so dangerous is that you really start to get apathetic, uh, about the relationship in general.

Missy Irvin: [00:14:14] And what makes it so dangerous is a lot of times one spouse’ll be really unhappy about this, and they’ll feel like they’ve talked about wanting to be connected, and they haven’t been connected in a long time, and the other spouse feels like, “Yeah, things aren’t great, but it’s fine, I mean, we’ll get back to that, you know, once the kids are grown, we’ll get connected again.” But the one spouse, that’s usually the woman, gets, um, just tired of it. They’re tired of it, and they end up filing for divorce, and the other spouse is totally blind-sided by that.

Derek Irvin: [00:14:50] So what do you do if you find yourself in that place where you’re becoming roommates? Well, the first thing that you’ve gotta do is make some noise. You’ve gotta say something, you’ve gotta make the implicit explicit. Go to your spouse and say, “Look, I am committed to us, but we are becoming roommates. We’re losing our spark. I need us together to make us a priority.” And take the steps that you need to be able to do that. That’s so, so important.

Missy Irvin: [00:15:20] Yeah, another is make sure you are connecting every day. We’ll tell couples every year do something for your marriage, go to a conference, read a book, but also every day connect. Uh, Derek and I, th- at the end of the day will talk about our days, and how things went, and then we watch a show. We’ll binge on Netflix, and- and watch a show, and cuddle up on the couch together, and that just really connects us at the end of the day, and we also have weekly date nights.

Derek Irvin: [00:15:47] Yeah, those things, along with knowing each other’s, uh, most important emotional needs, and doing the caring actions that meet those needs every day make a huge difference as well. In fact, we did a whole episode devoted to what that is, what your spouse’s emotional needs are, and how to meet those. So we’ll link to those in our show notes. Keeping all of these things in mind, learning to connect, and not settling for a mediocre marriage is the best way to have a great marriage.

Announcer: [00:16:19] Thank you for listening to this episode of the Hopeful Tomorrows podcast, hosted by Derek Irvin, a board-certified pastoral counselor, and Missy Irvin, a licensed marriage and family therapist. Derek and Missy are a married couple committed to providing healing for those struggling in their relationships. For information on Hopeful Tomorrows and to register for a weekend retreat, please visit our website at

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