Belfast Telegraph

Subtle signs that your marriage may be in trouble

If any wife had cause to walk out on a marriage it would be Mary Archer. Her husband, the best-selling author and disgraced MP Jeffrey Archer, has cheated on her more than once.

And what's worse, his infidelity has been played out in Britain's tabloid papers.

The biggest scandal was when he was jailed for perjury after lying about why he paid a prostitute thousands of pounds.

It even made the front pages of the posh papers that he and Mary and their friends would actually read.

But this week Mary spoke about her devotion to her errant husband and said that there were far worse things in a marriage than adultery.

She was speaking after cheating death from an aggressive form of cancer -- and she told the interviewer that her husband of 45 years had helped her recovery by looking after her so well.

She said: "It is very sad when people who have been married for a long time split up in acrimony. If marriage doesn't work, it's better that people divorce early."

And what was worse than adultery? "Hostility. Cruelty. A marriage based on affection and friendship and deep knowledge, each of the other, can survive. It can survive infidelity better than it can survive indifference or hostility," she said.

It's clear that the marriage works for them.

But could yours last for 45 years?

The first thing is to be aware of the subtle signs that the marriage may be in trouble.

Hands up if you are guilty of any of the following behaviours:

  • Do you sometimes say 'nothing' in a frosty fashion when your other half asks you what's wrong?
  • Do you regularly stay up watching the news after your loved one has climbed the stairs to bed?
  • Have you ever abandoned the idea of a night out with your partner on the grounds that it's too expensive and the money would be better spent on something more 'practical'?

You have probably never given any of these things a second thought -- once you're past the first flush of love, they're all normal things to do, right?

Well, think again. Because, according to new research, these are not simply unavoidable aspects of being in a long-term relationship. In fact, they could be among the first signs that your marriage is headed for choppy waters.

Richard Benson, who writes for the Middle Class Handbook, an occasionally serious but more often tongue-in-cheek online guide to the anxieties that keep the chattering classes awake at night, believes all three of these things signal that your relationship could be headed for trouble.

And there's more. Benson identifies a total of eight 'problems' which you should watch out for -- again, all things that you'd expect to come hand in hand with any long-term relationship, but, Benson suggests, are all signs that a marital crisis is looming.

They include abandoning the pretence of being nice about one another's families, both partners tweeting or Facebooking while watching TV, or one partner carrying on with their bedtime reading while the other has gone to sleep.

But the most eye-catching of Benson's theories is that partners who stay up alone watching confrontational current affairs shows -- like Pat Kenny's Frontline or Jeremy Paxman's Newsnight -- are actually trying to avoid confrontation in their own lives.

These couples, he argued, are using the up-front and combatative nature of those programmes as a way to vent or alleviate the stress and arguments they are avoiding themselves.

In other words, you're sick to the back teeth of her indoors moaning at you that you forgot to put the rubbish out again, and really you'd like to blow a gasket and tell her exactly what you think of her AND her mother AND all her friends, but instead you've chosen to keep your mouth shut and watch a heated debate about the state of the economy, channelling the high-octane emotions you see on TV as a substitute for your own.

"If Paxman is a pressure valve for people to release emotion, it means that the need to release that pressure has become greater than the enjoyment of being with your partner," wrote Benson.

Taking your frustrations out on an unsuspecting Pat Kenny, Michael Noonan or Eamon Gilmore might seem like a good idea at the time, or even the fastest way towards restoring domestic harmony once again.

But it's a bad move, says Benson -- it simply means you're avoiding relationship issues which would be far better tackled head-on.

Couples counsellor Lisa O'Hara, who works for counselling agency Relationships Ireland and blogs at, agrees. Many couples, she says, are afraid of having huge rows when something is really bothering them because they're afraid of where it might lead.

In other words, who knows what you might say to one another once the floodgates are open? But we shouldn't shy away from the odd row, O'Hara argues.

"A good argument can help clear the air, but sometimes couples are afraid to argue because there might be an underlying fear that it will somehow threaten their relationship.

"In fact, it might be just what is needed to sort out any underlying tensions and bring to life that dampened-down passion.

"Equally, it's unrealistic to expect your partner to guess what is going on if you aren't clear with them, so saying 'nothing' when something is clearly amiss is a lost opportunity to be close."

Not going to bed at the same time as your partner might be a way of avoiding an argument -- but it might also be a way of avoiding intimacy, something relationship experts see a lot of.

O'Hara says three in 10 of her clients will cite a lack of sex as being a big problem in their marriage.

"Staying on to watch TV can mean lots of things from one having an earlier start in the morning, or needing more sleep or it might also be an avoidance of sex -- either you don't want to be rejected or you don't want to disappoint the other by saying 'not tonight'," she says.

"Sex is a deep form of intimacy between a couple and, after sex, a couple will often find themselves feeling closer and opening up to each other more.

"If this was important to them, then lack of it will have consequences for their relationship unless they understand why it has happened and sometimes it's as simple as just not making enough time for it, especially when you have children.

"About 30% of clients at Relationships Ireland will say sex -- or lack of it -- is part of their problem and we help them to explore how it happened and how to change it so they can improve the connection between them."

The good news is that for those of us who can't help but have the odd blow-out row, we're probably doing our relationships more good than harm. And the other piece of good news is that there's a simple solution to all this marital angst, according to the ever-practical Middle Class Handbook.

How do you get that loving feeling back?

"A bracing walk on a beach or a long session with a Wallander box set usually does it for us," they write.

Your marriage is in trouble when you ...

  • Say "nothing" when your partner asks you if something is wrong
  • Stay up to watch current affairs shows while your other half has already gone to be
  • Secretly think, God, I wish they'd stop moaning about work, when you should be feeling supportive
  • Drop the pretence that you really like visiting your partner's relatives
  • Are both tweeting while watching television
  • Having a night out together, only to realise that you've nothing to talk about except for the kids
  • Agree that a night out isn't worth the colossal cost of a babysitter
  • Stay up reading "a couple more pages" while your loved one turns off the light to go to sleep

With additional reporting by Elizabeth Grice

Irish Independent

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