In John Gottman's, book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail (1994), he summarizes four ways of interacting, which can quickly erode positive feelings and mutual respect. These include:
The Four Horsemen
Criticism vs. Complaining
Attacking one's character and personality with blame
Making global accusations rather than specific complaints
Contempt vs. a Culture of Appreciation
Intent to insult and abuse your partner psychologically
Includes name calling, hostile humour, mockery, and body language (e.g., sneering, rolling eyes)
Defensiveness vs. Accepting Influence
Denying responsibility. Young fighting couple as part of common problems in relationships
Negative body language (e.g., arms folded across chest, hands touch neck)
Stonewalling vs Self-Soothing
One partner does not react to the other's distress
Leaves the room during an argument
Responds by sarcastically saying, "whatever", or "you're right" as a way to get the other person off his/her back
When to seek professional help
If you drove up a dirt driveway the exact same way for years you'd get ruts. The longer you keep driving in those ruts, the deeper they'd become. It will get harder to turn the wheel left or right, and drive up a different way. And the more expensive the repair to that road becomes.
This is just like a troubled marriage. Couples who seek help when they (1) begin to notice trouble, (2) they feel distant from each other, or when (3) resentments don't go away, are able to stop that pattern before it becomes entrenched.
However, for all marital problems, couples therapy helps you learn new ways of relating, and resolve problematic patterns. More importantly, you learn how to discuss these problems in the future.
Once troubles begin, the average couple waits six long years before seeking help. Only fraction of those who file for divorce have ever seen a marital counselor. Those who do, only go 4 times. This is true despite the high emotional and economic consequences of divorce.
If your relationship is suffering, don't make the mistake of waiting to get professional help only as a last resort. Problematic patterns become entrenched if they are ignored.
There May Be Good News...
I've noticed, also, when stress taxes an overall strong marriage, it is hard to see how healthy the relationship actually is. Couples are relieved to learn that they have a sound marriage. In these cases, what's needed are adopting particular skills, not a complete overhaul.
The Gottman Method is helpful for most couples because it focuses on pragmatic, skill-building techniques that anyone can learn. The thorough assessment lets you know up front, the specific types of skill-building you'll be focusing on. Ongoing treatment helps to walk you through a new way of relating to each other, step by step.