Most marriages don’t jump from “good” to “bad.” Troubled marriages tend to erode over time, with dozens or even hundreds of small decisions that eventually lead to bigger ones, and red flags that would have set off difficult, necessary conversations—if anyone had known what to look for.
Unfortunately, most of us think the warning signs of a troubled marriage are easy to spot: infidelity, explosive shouting matches, sleeping in separate rooms. And sure, those things need to be heeded. But many times, there are chances to address real problems in a relationship before things get this dire. Here are three questions to ask to see if your marriage is in trouble.
When we disagree, do we resolve our arguments through communication and understanding?
Conflict isn’t actually a sign of a troubled marriage. Disagreement is a natural part of any relationship, and learning how to manage those disagreements thoughtfully and maturely is actually a sign of solid communication habits. You shouldn’t freak out if you and your partner are going through a season of conflict. What should be concerning is if those conflicts aren’t being well handled.
Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t necessarily mean that every fight you have ends with smiles and makeup sex. It does mean you have a consistent pattern of seeking mutual understanding in your conflicts. You probably won’t be able to successfully resolve every spat by getting on the exact same page, but you should be able to understand each other a little better than you did before. That’s a sign of healthy, honest communication.
Do I take my partner’s ideas seriously when making life decisions?
We all come into a relationship with individual goals for our own lives. Maybe it’s to go back to school, live in a different country, write a novel or adopt a child. When you get married, those dreams are part of someone else’s life too.
There is a natural and necessary shifting of goals once you get married. You’re probably going to have to compromise or adjust your expectations for a few things. The important thing is that you feel heard when discussing these things with your partner and that you take your partner’s dreams and goals seriously too. It could be easy to dismiss some of their ideas out of hand as being unrealistic or impractical, but there are no bad ideas in a healthy relationship. Part of mutually appreciating each other is taking each other’s intelligence and life experience seriously.
Do my partner and I agree on our financial goals?
You’ve probably heard that married couples fight about finances more than any other issue. That’s true, and it’s why it’s so important to be on the same page financially. What are your personal money goals? To get out of debt? To buy a home? To pay for your kids’ college? How much does your partner know about these goals, and do they agree with them? That’s a question a surprisingly few number of married couples have asked themselves and, more crucially, asked each other.
Make a list of some financial goals for your life and ask your partner to do the same thing, then compare the two and have an honest conversation about which ones you share. You don’t need to map out your entire plan for how to get there right now—the important thing, to start, is just getting on the same page.
Obviously, there are more than just three questions to ask about your marriage, but these are a great start. If you want a few more, take brightpeak’s free relationship assessment here. It’s only takes a couple minutes and can end up saving you a lot of trouble and heartache down the road.
Tyler Huckabee is RELEVANT's senior editor. He lives in Nashville with his wife, dog and Twitter account.