Unhealthy Relationship Signs: Can Poor Compatibility Ruin Marriage?

Update - 2016.11.16
Unhealthy relationship signs, clashes or just a reminder that love conquers all no matter what?

unhealthy relationship signs

Does incompatibility equate to unhealthy relationship signs?

Today’s internet-based society loves cultural diversity, loving everyone and getting along. These trendy topics spike upward everyday. When do we just accept our differences on blind faith and when do we address them?

Or how about when do we decide not to rush into marriage due to the insurmountable differences?

Compatibility’s Role in Marriage and Long-term Relationships

Looking for a one-night stand or a quick fling? Compatibility means little then.

Desire a long-term relationship? A family? Soulmate? Want a “’til death-do-us-part relationship”?

Then yes, compatibility means everything. And these unhealthy relationship signs could spell the demise of your relationship if you do not respect the challenges they present.

Please note that nowhere in this post do we look at “commonality” or “common interests”. I’ll take a crack at that topic in the future. Today we look at the traits that could potentially derail the bond that keeps two people together for a long time.

By no means do these qualities guarantee relationship failure, but instead create a challenge that you must address rather then “sweep under the rug” because you underestimate their risk to your relationship’s well-being.

Uniqueness Great, but Respect the Challenges It Creates

Do not let love blind you.

Difference excites most of us, it gives us identity, and yet it still could challenge the health of your relationship down the road. You’d best confront and handle them early on or face some very uncomfortable disputes later.

“We’ll figure it out,” won’t solve your underlying unique views, values and beliefs.

Soulmates stay together due to a match of deeper core values rather than a mismatch which brings unwanted, undesirable surprises later.

What types of core value differences create mismatches?

Deep issues like these carry heavier weight in a serious relationship:

  • Communication styles to steer the ship out of choppy waters
  • Goals each partner deems most important in pursuit of happiness
  • Opinions on the purpose and importance of relationships
  • Emotional attachment styles pertaining to romantic relationships
  • Positive outlook on life when things look bleak or how one perceives the severity of life’s challenges: the difference between a temporary problem which will end soon and a recurring problem that won’t go away unless a change occurs.
All relationships possess some mismatches, but too much incompatibility could indicate a list of insurmountable unhealthy relationship signs. This most likely results in either one partner suddenly fleeing “without warning” or someone cheating.

10 Unhealthy Relationship Signs (or Challenges?)…you decide


1. 10 – 15 Year Age Gap Difference (and higher)…Can people from different stages of life love each other?

Sorry fellows. This one concerns you more and yes, hurts to talk about. Younger women draw us in like a tractor beam, full of life, big beautiful smiles and all the right parts in the right places. And hey, if you want some quick excitement, some young women find older men hot. HOWEVER want something more meaningful than a fling and you set yourself up for disaster.

You may not recover well from the disappointment of maintaining a relationship with a younger women more than 10 years younger, say for a year or more that ends terribly.

I know because I lived it.

Once you spend too much time with a gorgeous girl (or handsome stud) the desire to date someone closer to your age can diminish. Young women live in a phase of their lives where they want nothing but to have fun. They don’t have time to focus on the suck-ass parts of life. Regardless how much sense it makes to date someone more compatible you could struggle for a while to accept reality.

Unfortunately the statistics do not favor a long-term relationship when the age gap disparity spreads too large.

Relationship Age Gap Statistics in US (in Marriage): According to the 2013 US Population Survey when the husband is older than the wife, roughly 82% of ALL marriages possess an age difference of just 1-9 years. BUT when that difference reaches ten years and up it only pertains to 8% of marriages. A 15 year and higher difference only pertains to 3% of marriages fall.

Check out the numbers for yourself here on this spreadsheet.

2. Emotional Attachment Styles…(are you desperate for love and affection?)

As it turns out, people smarter than me (much smarter) discovered a while back that we all perceive the purpose and importance of relationships differently. Some of us cannot breath for a nano second without our partner next to us. Others can only stand the sight of significant other for a short period of time before running for the hills.

Regardless of the differences between how secure one person is in or out of a relationship opposites still attract (go figure). So imagine how the measuring stick of happiness plays into relationships when two people with different attachment styles “fall in love”.

So what relationship attachment styles exist?

According to this article at Psychology Today each of us predominantly fall into one of four categories (while we each contain traits for all of them):

  • Secure Attachment Style: emotionally strong when involved in deep relationships or alone; do not draw self-worth from relationships; feel comfortable expressing intimate feelings or receiving them. Navigates patiently, calmly and successfully when handling disputes with their partner, grieve well and can move on after dissolution.
  • Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment Style: tend to feel nervous, jealous, needy and possessive in romantic relationships; stress over real or imagined circumstances, jump to negative conclusions and fear conflict resolution; need their lover to stroke their low self-esteem for reassure their worth, cannot stand loneliness.
  • Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style: don’t need love, just feels good sometimes; independent and self-sufficient; intimacy creates discomfort for them. Prioritizes work, friends and personal passions over romantic relationships; have many acquaintances, but few deep friendships; often times passive-aggressive or even narcissistic (hmm, sounds familiar- oh, yeah, my ex).
  • Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Style: experience fear of abandonment; desire intimacy but also push others away; lack trust in others’ intentions.  Lives with much grief, inner pain and tend to believe relationships end negatively and do not last, afraid the worst will happen to them.

A mismatch in emotional attachment styles leads the way of a long list of unhealthy relationship signs to watch out for.

Any of these sound familiar to you?

Makes sense of the “Chaser and Chasee” theory (the needy one chases the strong, independent one).

3. Cultural Background Differences…can cause massive misunderstandings (trust me)

Relationships are tough. When two people come from the same country it doesn’t make relationships easy. It perhaps makes them a little easier, but not easy.

Now just imagine when you both come from two different cultures, especially if they are very different in their political, religious and family views (like family member roles, communication and expressions of love).

I consider myself worldly and accepting of other cultures. I’ve lived in another country, learned another language and yes, have married women from two different cultures other than my own.

Make no mistake, a difference in cultural background creates a HUGE challenge in marriage. Too many differences could raise a red flag pointing to a list of unhealthy relationship signs to heed.

Cultural Differences that Create Problems in Relationships:

  • Language miscommunication– When you communicate in a language that one of you does not speak extremely well then good luck conducting deep conversations.
  • Food– Some cultures (ok, most) think Americans eat like pigs. All our dishes contain fat, preservatives and the proportions are too big. Believe me, this causes arguments (I don’t know why).
  • Family Roles– What exactly does be the “man of the house mean”? What happens when a man who is used to sharing household chores meets a woman who believes it’s her duty to clean the house (based on what the society she was raised in believes)? Confusion that’s what, and yes, fights.
  • Affection (Especially public display)- Japanese girl meet American guy. One could easily interpret lack of a display of affection as a lack of interest. So when it happens does that mean they truly lost interest or is it cultural?
  • Religion– In some countries religion matters more than in others. Of course, this could be a case-by-case situation depending on the family in which you were raised. Now imagine each partner coming from the opposite situation.
  • Manners– Eye contact, bowing, hand shakes, greetings, good-byes. What you consider polite in your country could be interpreted as intrusive to someone from another or the omission of an action could be seen as rude. I’ve lived through scoldings for misunderstanding what was the correct way to act by my ex wives.

Shoot this is a short list. I could create a whole website on this topic.

4. Religious Beliefs

Some people structure their whole lives around their religious beliefs. Others could care less. Yet many couples with opposite religious values like end up marrying one another believing that they can resolve these polar stances.

Even when we may not feel emotionally tied to any religion most people I would say do not want their partner to force a religion on them either.

In the early years of my marriage to my first wife her Catholicism did not affect us. As time moved on I started to resent her insistence on me attending mass. I didn’t agree with many of the religious rituals they practice. While not vastly different than the religion in which I was raised it still was different enough to cause friction.

The other areas that religious differences can cause high hurdles in marriage are:

  • How to raise and discipline children.
  • Donating money.
  • Role of prayer or meditation.
  • Where to spend holidays.
  • Attending religious ceremonies together or not.
  • Family member’s acceptance of your religious upbringing.

Check out this article I found on a couple’s counseling site regarding religious differences in marriage, one couple’s story and how to resolve your differences.

5. Personal Finances…Financial Infidelity…Spend Thrifts and Savers

Financial Infidelity

Will two people in a relationship ever completely agree on money matters? Probably not. But ongoing rifts and financial infidelity point to unhealthy relationship signs.

When couple’s don’t trust each other regarding their personal finances many open secret credit card accounts and bank accounts for shopping. Even worse, they save up towards their exit plan to leave their marriage. Yes, that scares the bejesus out of you, doesn’t it?

And it reeks hell on your heart when you find out. It happened to me while my ex looked for a way to escape and live “the good life” in NYC. And I hate to admit this, but while I dated a married woman many years ago we briefly opened a bank account together. We intended to use the money to purchase items to place in my apartment to make he feel more at home (AKA her “crash pad”).

As many as 1 of 5 spouses (in US) commits financial infidelity according to this article.

Find out quick and find out early about your future spouse’s view on how to spend, earn, invest and save money. And if you already married you’d better start discussing this topic sooner than later.

5 Marital Financial Problems

Many see this as one of the most unhealthy relationship problems. Differences in financial behaviors and values can easily create resentment between a couple.

1. Both Work and Stash the Cash for Themselves

This habit paves the wave for financial infidelity. It also leads to bickering when the two pool money together for large purchases like furniture, a house, a new car or vacation. One claims they cannot contribute for lack of funds while the other scolds them for spending too much on shopping.

2. Cousins, Uncles and Unemployed Siblings

When her brother loses his job or his unemployed cousin’s car breaks down dissension builds up when one spouse guilts the other hand over their hard-earned cash. “Why can’t we use the money for our own problems?”

3. Spending vs Saving 

My ex loved shopping. She left a long time ago and I still have boxes of “never-worn” brand new clothing I’m selling online. When it came to sharing the bills, ironically, she had no money to pitch in. I saved for vacations and fancy dinners out.

4. Debt 

My first wife married another man without batting an eye. Unfortunately for her this hasty decision led to her bailing this poor soul of several thousands of dollars worth of credit card debt and bad loans. When he left her for another woman do you actually think he paid her back? That decision to marry into debt damages her credit to this day. You must not ignore unhealthy relationship signs which can damage your own personal life.

5. Poor Investments or Lack of Investing 

Bad shopping habits (both overspending or paying top prices without looking for deals), poor allocation of funds (dining out rather than cooking at home), bad energy management (wasting electricity on air conditioning when not home, extra laundry loads rather than combining, using oven rather than the stove, etc.) all take away from investing towards retirement or saving in an emergency fund.

Now what about removing money from IRAs or 401Ks due to lack of emergency money or worse not even investing at all. You can see how much trouble this causes especially when one doesn’t want to invest and the other constantly keeps track of the Dow and Nasdaq.

Poor personal finance management by one spouse and good sound decision-making by the other creates polar opposites. If you find yourself in this situation you must find a way to work together. If not, then this is one of the unhealthy relationship signs that needs your full attention now. Agreeing on how to handle money matters presents one of the toughest challenges in marriage today.

6. Poor Marriage Conflict Resolution Strategies…set the stage for explosive battles

Arguments will happen. Tempers will flare. They should. You’re married. But mishandle your disagreements and you could help strip the happiness from the relationship thus resulting the two of you becoming glorified roommates or worse one of you cheating.

With professional help and a desire to maintain a happy marriage you can improve some interpersonal relationship skills, but when two people tend to approach conflict in two different ways then this compatibility mismatch may send your “love boat” for a crash course into an iceberg.

Which conflict resolution tactics should you avoid?

A Few Unhealthy Relationship Signs How NOT to Handle Disputes in Marriage

When searching for ways to protect unconditional love in your relationship simply ask yourself, “How would a happy couple handle this?”. Then compare that to your approach.

Name Calling

At no time will disrespecting your spouse through name calling improve your closeness. No matter how frustrated you feel choosing to insult your husband or wife will leave a lingering pain in their heart. You alienate your partner and they fear discussing matters in the future. No problem resolves itself. You must work as a team.

Raising Voice

Even children disdain screaming. So how do you expect your husband or wife to feel? Trust me they can hear you, no need to yell. Most spouses yell due to a feeling of hopelessness. They do not believe in their abilities to successfully negotiate their differences in the marriage. Screaming means they give up and resort to venting frustration. Happy couples do not scream at each other. Period.

Temper Tantrums

I can’t even believe I must include this one on the list, but my first wife would throw these- regularly. Adults often act no different that children. My ex would actually run (yes, run) to the bedroom, lay down, cover her ears and scream so she didn’t have to hear me. That’s how she routinely handled disputes. Now I don’t write this to bash her personally, but any form of temper tantrum to vent frustration will certainly not cultivate a peaceful environment in which to settle disputes with our spouses.

Blame Game

How often do we own up to responsibility for not achieving what we want or for completing everyday tasks? Not often enough. So we resort to blaming others around us for our shortfalls. Lashing out at our spouses becomes common place. “If you only did (fill in the blank), we’d be able to (fill in the blank).”  Every one gets sick of feeling like a punching bag.

Insulting Body Language

You attempt to aggravate your partner by rolling your eyes, turning your head, walking away or sarcastically showing him/her the thumbs up sign. Again ask yourself here, “What do happy couples get along?” Certainly not by routinely displaying immature body language. Two people who genuinely wish to fix their misunderstandings will demonstrate caring, open-to-suggestions body language or at least attentive when angry.

Attempt to Change Our Partner’s Behavior 

Some people cannot shake the idea that women and men must adhere to strict marriage roles. Perhaps predictability makes them feel safe. But life throws many obstacles and challenges at us. Men take care of children and clean around the house. Women work two jobs. Decades ago that didn’t happen. When we push our partners to behave a certain way which does not come natural to them or in which current life circumstances won’t allow it then we add unnecessary stress to the marriage.

When you ask for more than your spouse can give and then make things worse by complaining they do not live up to your expectations do not expect a positive response. Newsflash: you don’t meet all their expectations either. They accept you for who you are and that is why you don’t hear about it.

Lack of Empathy

If your spouse does not care for your feelings or dare to understand your wants and needs your relationship probably will not last very long. Or you will just feel like roommates. Lack of empathy presents a huge danger to the health of a marriage. It appears on my list of repeat cheater traits. Lack of empathy stems from selfishness and lack of trust. Not two traits you’d expect to see in happy couples who play as a team. People with lack of empathy cannot change in my opinion and this is one the deadliest unhealthy relationship signs.

Conflict Avoidance

Nasty name calling, blaming responsibility on your spouse and screaming breaks families apart. Avoiding the problem all together leads to secrecy and many of the other problems on this list. “When the going gets tough, the tough doesn’t get going.” A little twist on the well-known expression which describes spouses that run from problems. Cheaters tend to jump from one partner to another hoping this time their new boyfriend/girlfriend won’t have as many problems. They never look in the mirror. While one of the unhealthy relationship signs to make this list I believe you can fix it with professional therapy.

7. Intellectual Compatibility (simple minded vs deep thinker)…can create spousal disconnect

Can a couple where one partner finds stimulation in deep, philosophical discussions coexist for a long time with a partner who prefers small talk and simpler conversations?

According to this article I read, the psychologist believes that each partner must be able to comprehend the ideas, issues and problems of daily life. Meaning they have the potential to share insights and perspectives in a way they both receive value from.

You have to read this great Reddit post, “How important is intellectual compatability in a relationship?“. The author mentions a Harvard study that claims that relationship partners have the highest odds of staying together when their IQ falls within 10 points of each other.

Not all unhealthy relationship signs point to a budding of heads. In this case I would imagine a slow slipping of friction like two tetonic plates sliding past each other eventually turning into a full out ground shaking earthquake. The two just do not stimulate each other.

My first wife while smarter than me in terms of IQ did not enjoy deep philosophical discussions like I do. She preferred to control too many of the conversations which dealt with stories about family or people I never met. At first for a while I adored it. It made me feel like part of her family. Later on it annoyed me. She recanted many of the same ones.

Deep discussions overwhelmed her and frustrated her. I could go on for hours.

We mismatched in our intellect (even though I would say she is smarter).

Here’s an article that seems to touch base on the importance of intellect mismatching in relationships.

What’s your take on intellectual compatibility?

8. Marrying Young…can stunt personal development…cause panic

How easy we fall in love with falling in love. We live in a society that glamorizes romance, self-expression and self-fulfillment. And somehow we believe that just because we dated a while that this will transition us into marriage more easily. We make relationship choices based on feelings and we enjoy feeling good.

Marrying before you have figured out many basic areas of your life causes additional stress and pressure to get up-to-speed. You almost go out of order. I’d venture to say involving yourself in a serious relationship in your late teens or early 20s creates the risk of not achieving a stable and fulfilling life.

This unhealthy relationship decision affected me personally twice- once when I married young and then again when I married someone too young to be ready for marriage.

List of Unhealthy Relationship Problems Arising from Marrying Young

Let’s just look at a few items.

Still Developing Your Career

The normal responsbilities pay a toll on your career as you need time to network, spend extra time at the job to earn the right to advance or even the possibility of transfering locations due to company needs. It takes time to develop your skills and find the right fit.

Imagine if your company wanted to transfer you for advancement purposes. How would your spouse feel about that if he/she is establishing themselves at their job?

What about if your husband worked 10 or 20 hours of overtime a week? How does that affect your quality time together? The loneliness could begin to eat. You start to think will this was the rest of my life will look like?

Wanting to Travel

Everyone deserves to travel. Basically as I see it there are two best times of your life for this. Either when you’re young before you get married and have the time for it. The other time is when you have earned the money and you’ve already established your career.

Now imagine the desire to travel when you both are still young in your early 20s. You don’t have much money yet (most likely) so what do you do? You charge it to credit cards, become addicted with the idea of traveling and keep charging more. Even if you save up for trips how do you plan to save for a house, emergency funds, future kids college education and retirement?

Alone Time and Jealousy

When you haven’t handle enough problems in life or been exposed to thousands of human interactions you tend to panic in the face of adversity and misinterpret other people’s intentions.

So when the mismatch of work schedules or your spouse having to work numerous hours of overtime leaves you stranded at home what do you do? You go out of course and hang out with friends. Most of those friends are single (because they are young just like you) and want to do single life activities. Or they want to look for mates.

This causes problems.

Imagine your wife hanging out with her single friends at a bar. A group of single men approach them. Most of the girls like the attention. And now one of the guys flirts with your wife. Do you think he’ll back off just because she’s married? Let’s be real. No he won’t.

Now also imagine when your wife or husband finds themselves at home alone too often. They start to go out regularly with their young, single friends. Do you really think this is healthy for the relationship?

No, this is one of those unhealthy relationship signs that will eventually spell disaster.

Once you find out that your young, attractive wife or husband hangs out with their single friends doing single activities you will explode in jealousy. And you know you will.

More mature couples who value relationships after living through bad ones, who have stable careers, have the same work schedules and who also now have kids do not face this problem that often.

Let’s move onto to the next item on the list. I’ll have to create a whole different post (or more) for marrying young.

9. Different Work Schedules…kills closeness and intensifies loneliness

Lack of quality time and even the simple ability to resolve family problems face-to-face places undue stress on marriage. Over time aggravation sets in as undone chores pile up, lack of intimacy or even just eating dinner together.

You married, but you don’t live the married life. And due to your different work schedules after many years the strain on the relationship begins to show unhealthy relationship signs that can no longer go ignored.

“What if we cannot align our schedules?”, you might think to yourself.

Making small alterations to your daily routines or schedules can healthy results.

This article here suggests some creative ways to achieve harmony in your lives while seeing each other less because of work challenges.

Dr. Willard Harley at MarriageBuilders.com suggests the two most important ingredients to a healthy marriage are 1) meet each other’s emotional needs, 2) don’t be the cause of each other’s unhappiness. He believes that without quality time together you cannot meet these needs. He suggests to one of his site visitors who emailed him a questions about finding more time to spend with her spouse that they schedule 15 hours a week minimum of undivived attention.

What are simple ways you can turn an unhealthy relationship around and find time to spend together?

10. In-laws Can Cause Civil War…if you let them

You can feel like an extension of the family or feel like an unwanted intruder. And you know what they say, “When you marry someone you marry their family too.”

If you and your spouse allow the in-laws to get too involved in your family’s matters, yes, it can cause major problems, especially if your spouse sides with them.

When you decide to create a team with your partner (and that is what marriage should be- a team), then the interactions with your siblings, parents and relatives must change. That is if you prioritize the health of your marriage and immediate family.

Although you may wish to help solve your parent’s, brother’s, sister’s or cousins’ problems you’d be wise to consult with your spouse before making final decisions.

In her blog MarriedMySugarDaddy.com Melissa Chapman wrote an insightful post “8 tips to keep your in-laws from SABOTAGING your marriage“.  She suggests how to avoid allowing troublesome in-laws to sour your marriage into an unhealthy relationship and set off civil war between you and your spouse.

She advises to prioritize your husband or wife’s needs first, put your spouse in charge of managing his/her parents and to set boundaries (what information to keep secret, child raising advice to take, how to celebrate holidays, etc). Good stuff!

From my own experience in my first marriage despite the fact that I endeared my in-laws, I would say my wife did a decent job managing the relationship with her family, but not always.

She never consulted me about having her mom stay with us for months on end, gifted money to relatives (without asking me) and attempted to bully her way to negotiate what she wanted rather than asking.

Many of you probably know the feeling. Perhaps your in-laws act as a decision committee. Instead of you and your spouse working out your own problems you instead consult various in-laws to have final say. Maybe your husband even sneaks behind your back for his family’s approval like this wife’s did. She claims her overbearing in-laws meddling behavior poisoned her unhealthy relationship with her husband and made life unbearable.

She decided to divorce- both her ex and his family!

How have your in-laws affected your marriage?

Come Back…Not Finished…More Unhealthy Relationship Signs to Come

I’ve only completed part of this list of potential unhealthy relationship signs. I had no idea the list would extend as large as it did when I first came up with the idea many months ago to tackle this issue.

Return again in the future to see the complete list. I will also offer a free download to accompany this post.

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