Which ones are you guilty of?
You might think I’m the last person who should be giving advice about how to stay married; after all, my marriage went up in smoke just before we hit the 10-year mark.
On the other hand, having weathered the end of a marriage I thought would last forever, I know whereof I speak. When I was deciding whether to stay or go, I read a ton of relationship books, went to therapy, and learned everything I could about relationships. And while it was too late for me to save my own marriage, I’d like to think that next time around, I’ll do better because I’ll know better.
One thing I know is that not every marriage is worth saving. Sometimes we marry the wrong people; sometimes we settle for less than we deserve. Divorce isn’t the end of the world – you can move past it. But if you’re in a marriage you want to go the distance, or hope to be in one someday, these seven bad habits – backed by experts and research – are things you’ll want to avoid…
1. Ignoring your partner
Picture this: you and your partner are cuddled up on the sofa, reading. Your partner snorts with laughter while you’re in the middle of a particularly interesting part of your book. Do you look up and ask him what was funny, or ignore him, annoyed, and keep on reading? Your marriage could be riding on your answer.
Relationship researcher John Gottman, PhD, author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, calls that snort of laughter a “bid for connection,” and says your response can predict whether your marriage will last. He’s been observing couples for years in his “Love Lab” and has found that happy couples respond to each other’s bids about twenty times more often than unhappy ones.
When Gottman studied newlyweds and then followed up with them six years later, the ones who were still married had turned toward each other’s bids for connection 86 per cent of the time. The ones who were divorced had only turned toward each other 33 per cent of the time. So next time your partner clears his throat, nudges you, or says “Hey, guess what?” throw him a bone with a”What’s up, honey?”
2. Checking your phone during dinner
Have you ever been out to dinner and looked over to see the couple next to you both staring at their phones, blank-faced and dead-eyed, scrolling like zombies and completely ignoring each other? Or maybe you’re actually part of one of those couples – because let’s face it, they’re everywhere. Whether we’re out at a bar, eating at home, or even walking down the street, many of us are glued to our screens practically every minute. But this can be deadly to a marriage.
Psychotherapist Tina Tessina, author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, says phones can “seduce you into neglecting your partner. Surfing Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter when you could be with your partner is a bad choice.” And while social media is often the culprit, it could also be checking work email incessantly, reading the news, or playing games. At the very least, make mealtimes – and your bedroom! – screen-free zones.
3. Neglecting your sex life
Once the thrill of living together has worn off, it can be easy to fall into a routine – one that doesn’t include tons of sex. Between working all day, taking care of things around the house (possibly including kids), and stressing out about increasingly upsetting world events, it’s easy to be too exhausted or not in the mood. But letting your sex life dwindle is a mistake. As couples therapist Valerie Shinbaum says, “you can’t set a potted plant in a corner for 20 years and expect it to live.”
If your marriage is a potted plant, sex is its water and sunlight. Sex fosters intimacy, gives the two of you a chance to focus solely on each other, and is fun. Why wouldn’t you want to do it as often as possible? One reason couples let their sex lives go to seed is simmering resentments between them that go unaddressed. Tessina says that constant fighting, criticism, and negativity – an infamous relationship-killer – keep couples from connecting in the bedroom (or the kitchen counter, the sofa, the bathroom floor, etc). “You need to feel good about each other to be intimate,” says Tessina.
4. Not touching each other
Sex isn’t the only thing that keeps a couple connected; touching each other regularly is just as important as giving each other every kind of mind-blowing orgasm under the sun. Cuddling, kissing each other hello and goodbye, holding hands, squeezing each other’s knees under the table at dinner – all of it helps cement your bond and make you feel closer. And touching each other isn’t only good for your relationship. It’s good for your health.
A 2013 study of men and women ages 20 through 49, conducted by the Centre for Brain Research at the Medical University of Vienna, found that a hug lasting at least 10 seconds lowered participants’ blood pressure and caused their brains to be flooded with oxytocin, also known as the ‘love hormone.’ Stress hormone levels also fell. So if you want to keep your partner, yourself, and your marriage healthy, go give your partner a long squeeze.
5. Rolling your eyes
Dr John Gottman – the one who found that failing to respond to each other’s bids for connection leads couples to divorce – actually found another, even bigger predictor of divorce. The worst thing couples can do, says Gottman, is be contemptuous of each other. He studied over 2,000 couples over the years, and found that contempt, along with criticism and defensiveness, almost inevitably drives a couple apart. Think about that next time you’re tempted to roll your eyes or scoff at your partner.
Relationship expert and author Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who wrote Kosher Sex and Kosher Lust, explains what causes the eye-rolls: “Contempt comes about when you harbor resentment that you’ve never worked through.” He says it’s important for couples to show each other respect and not to dismiss each other’s words, either verbally or through body language.
6. Not getting enough sleep
In the grand scheme of things, this one should be the easiest things to solve. After all, everyone needs to sleep, and we all feel better when we get it. And yet, many of us are perpetually sleep-deprived. Blame our devices, glowing up at us when we should be trying to wind down for the night; blame our overworked, stressed-out brains that go into overdrive as soon as we lie down; or blame the pharmaceutical industry that keeps us popping Ambien instead of learning proper sleep habits.
Whatever you want to blame, the fact remains: lack of sleep is ruining our relationships. A 2013 study out of the University of California at Berkeley found that poor sleep caused couples to be less sensitive to each other’s needs. The study looked at more than 60 couples ages 18 to 56 and also found that the poor sleepers we also less likely to express gratitude to one another. Insensitive and ungrateful: not a great combination.
7. Putting other people ahead of your marriage
Whether it’s kids, parents, friends, or exes, no one should come before your partner – no one. As writer Lydia Netzer said in her viral blog post, 15 Ways to Stay Married for 15 Years, “you and your spouse are a team of two. It is you against the world. No one else is allowed on the team, and no one else will ever understand the team’s rules.” If there’s a particular relationship that’s causing problems in your marriage – a needy friend, a too-friendly ex – end it. “Your husband and your marriage are more valuable than any friendship. Any friendship that troubles the marriage should be over immediately,” says Netzer.
Of course, if your kids are the troublemakers, you can’t get rid of them – but you can make sure they don’t come between you. Illinois-based social worker Mark Meyers, a social worker from Illinois, says it’s important to present a united front. “If there’s something you don’t agree upon, don’t undermine your partner in front of your child.”
Netzer puts it this way: “Protect [your marriage] with knives and teeth, not because it’s fragile, but because it’s precious.”
Images via pinterest.com, wifflegif.com, giphy.com, tumblr.com, hbo.com, and reactiongifs.com.
Comment: What bad relationship habits are you guilty of?