Silly as it is, the very public divorces of our favorite celebrity couples like Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner — or Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert — can be depressing for those of us who want to believe love can last.
Yet, relationship experts agree that breakups rarely happen overnight. We’re usually given clues when there’s trouble in paradise. Waiting too long to tend to the trouble, of course, often brings on new problems.
To get to the bottom of it all, TODAY talked to three relationship experts who shared five warning signs couples should never ignore.
1. The sign: Excessively busy lives that keep couples apart
The problem: A neglected relationship
Learn from watching the mistakes of those famous folks, says Siggy Flicker, matchmaker and author of several books including the upcoming “Write Your Own Fairy Tale: The New Rules for Dating, Relationships, and Finding Love on Your Own Terms.”
“Once people start going on their own way and getting busy and they stop making a point to spend time with one another one-on-one, their relationship starts to go sour,” said Flicker, who compares a relationship to a dance that one person can’t do alone. People become so immersed in their careers and so used to spending time alone, she says, “they forget how to be a couple.”
The solution: Make time for one another. Talk to each other. Do activities together. Here, the matchmaker follows her own advice.
“Every three days I say to my husband Michael, or Michael says to me, ‘Honey, it’s just for us,’ and we go out. It doesn’t have to be a fancy schmancy restaurant. The other day, we made garlic shrimp together and then we took a drive out to Greenwich.”
Flicker also recommended partners say no to jobs and other obligations that keep them apart for too long.
2. The sign: Chronic nitpicking and criticism
The problem: Underlying disdain
When partners let negative feelings take over, they begin to see each other through a disdainful lens, said Dr. Gail Saltz, a New York City psychiatrist and TODAY contributor. When she hears her patients criticize even the simplest things about one another — such as how one partner chews his food — she knows they’ve let disdain get out of hand, and that, she says, “is a hard thought train to reverse.”
The solution: “One of the first things I do is to really discuss what brought them together in the first place, and get them to focus on that,” said Saltz. “The question is, are you able to dig out and resurrect what you liked that outweighed what you didn’t like? When you see your partner, do you see the positives outweighing the negatives?”
3. The sign: Not offering support when it matters
The problem: Loss of trust
“It’s a biggie,” Saltz said, adding that a loss of trust isn’t always the result of a dramatic betrayal. Often, it’s a matter of little things adding up.
Saltz gives the example of a husband sharing about a bad episode at work and his wife responding that he was the one at fault.
“It’s lack of support in a vulnerable moment,” Saltz said. “And the repetition of that kind of thing; you start to feel like, ‘I just can’t bare my soul to my partner,’ and that can be difficult to recover from.”
The solution: According to Saltz, couples need to recognize what’s happening and learn how to talk about it. Seeking help from a therapist is a good idea, however, couples often come to her too late.
“It’s not that they can’t be fixed, but by the time couples reach this point, often no one wants to,” she said.
4. The sign: Not talking about the elephant in the room
The problem: Poor communication
When a couple knows the relationship has hit a tough patch, they often avoid talking about it and that’s bad news, said Amy Levine, a sexologist and sex coach based in New York City.
“Avoiding the conversation, whether it’s about sex or something else, can lead to one or both partners feeling a range of negative emotions even if on a sub-conscious level,” said Levine. “And if they are in La La Land and putting up a front that all is OK at home, playing this game in and of itself can be exhausting and take its toll.”
The solution: Have a conversation with each other, no matter how awkward.
Levine suggests breaking the ice by talking about how uncomfortable you both are. Then, share what you most want to change and what you ideally want for your relationship. Levine recommends seeking out an expert to help you as you work through the issues.
“Having a neutral third party that you trust, whether it’s a sex coach or sex therapist, can be a game-changer,” she said.
5. The sign: Cheating
The problem: A neglected partner
Surprisingly, only one-third of relationships break up because of cheating, studies show. But people don’t cheat if they’re happy, according to matchmaker Flicker. It’s another case of one or more partners not nurturing the relationship and leaving the other feeling neglected, she says, using celebrities Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert as an example.
“With Blake and Miranda, he’s saying she cheated and she’s saying he cheated — it doesn’t matter. They were never around!” Flicker says. “For 30 days out of the month, they didn’t even see each other. The relationship came apart because they didn’t spend any time together. They didn’t compromise.”
The solution: Flicker says a couple can come back after cheating if they get to the core of their problem and talk about it. The partner who’s feeling neglected needs to say so, and the other partner needs to step up.