4 Unexpected Signs You Need Couples Counseling

05/09/2014 08:25 am ET | Updated Mar 12, 2015

What's normal in a relationship and what's a surprising signal that it's time to call in the professionals?

By Ashley Nelson

  • 1 1. You're Mean To The Cat
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  • Confession: In the months before my ex and I landed in counseling, I was a bitch to our cat. I also yelled at moldy strawberries and chewed out telemarketers. It turns out displacement and unhappy marriages go together. "It's safer to blame other people or situations than a spouse who, on the surface at least, seems unwilling to change," explains Michele Weiner-Davis, marriage therapist and author of Divorce Busting. Anger isn't the only sign: "Any change in you -- eating more, sleeping less, crying lots, fatigue -- can be a marital red flag, even if you're not diagnosing your spouse as the problem."
  • 2 2. Your Heart Might Be Telling You Something -- Literally
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  • A new study suggests that whether your partner has your back may have serious consequences for your heart. Researchers at the University of Utah have found that people may have better cardiovascular health if they perceive their spouse to be supportive during times of need. Using a CT scanner to check for calcification in participants' coronary arteries, researchers discovered that when both spouses viewed each other as ambivalent in their support, their calcification levels were highest. If even one spouse felt unequivocally cared for, those levels decreased significantly.
  • 3 3. He Stays In Touch Via Texts
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  • Researchers at Brigham Young University have found the more men text, the less happy they are with their relationship. The thought is dissatisfied men prefer the more detached digital approach over direct confrontation. In contrast, women associate more pings with stability. "Women use texting as an additional way to reach out, while men actually may use texting to stay avoidant," explains researcher and family therapist Lori Schade.
  • 4 4. You Just Know He'll Freak Out
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  • In life, sometimes we brace for the worst. We clench when Cathy from Floor 9 calls. We book a massage when his mother visits. Turns out, we do this with our spouses too. Keith Sanford, associate professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Baylor University, believes our expectations of how a conflict will resolve often dictate it. That is, when you expect him to freak out, chances are he will -- and well, you're okay with it, because that's just how you two react. In some cases, when we have a negative expectancy, we become angry ourselves, regardless of the other person's initial behavior or response to us. As Sanford explains, "If I expect you to be angry with me I might preemptively criticize you, and if I preemptively criticize you, you might indeed get angry with me, so it becomes a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy."

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