When you’re married or in a long-term relationship, there are plenty of things best left unsaid.
Negative thoughts can be just as harmful. Below, marriage therapists share six of the most damaging thoughts you can have about your relationship or your spouse.
It’s common for people to worry if their partners have become less invested in the relationship over time. But wondering if your S.O. loves you can create a cycle of negativity, especially if you ask them about it, said Pepper Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington.
“It can create what psychologists call a self-fulfilling prophecy: Even though the partner might protest and say ‘of course I do,’ asking might make them start to wonder if there’s cause for concern,” she said.
Instead of asking if they still love you, try ending phone conversations with a simple “I love you” or kissing each other goodbye before work, Schwartz said.
“It may not tell you everything but affectionate behaviors are a good barometer of emotional connection,” she said.
Tardiness is a placeholder for anything here: Your spouse’s lack of interest in sex, their seeming inability to load the dishwater. What matters is that you’re being unnecessarily critical of your spouse and using generalizations, said Greg Cason, a psychologist based in Los Angeles. And judgemental thoughts are very likely to end in contemptuous behavior, he said.
“We default to criticism as a way to punish our partner and try to get them to act differently in the future,” he said. “It’s better to zero in on a single behavior and express your feelings about it. For instance, ‘You’re late and that upsets me’ or ‘I’m disappointed because I was hoping to get physically closer to you.’”
For the most part, idly daydreaming that your partner was more like Ryan Gosling or your ex-girlfriend from freshman year is innocent ― but don’t get carried away, said Leslie Petruk, a marriage and family therapist based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“If there are qualities or traits that you admire in someone else, then let your partner know you wish they did more of that and find out if it’s something they are willing or want to change,” she said.
Of course, nothing breeds discontent more than fantasizing about being with someone else, said Kurt Smith, a therapist who specializes in counseling men.
“Thinking is not too distant from actually doing it and it will destroy your relationship faster than just about anything else,” he said.
It’s completely unfair to expect your spouse to know exactly why you’re reacting so negatively to something they’ve done. And even if you don’t say anything about your expectations, your silent treatment and eye rolling likely speaks volumes.
“It’s such a common issue with couples but 99 percent of the time, their interpretation is inaccurate or incomplete,” Petruk said. “If you think you know the motivation behind their actions, check it out before coming to your own conclusion.”
There’s nothing wrong with reminiscing about the days when you couldn’t keep your hands off each other. But look back with a fair perspective, said Abby Rodman, a psychotherapist and the author of Should You Marry Him?: A No-Nonsense, Therapist-Tested Guide to Not Screwing Up the Biggest Decision of Your Life.
“Sometimes I’ll look back and ruefully say to my husband, ‘Remember when we...?’ or ‘Remember how great that was...?’” she said. “He’ll smile and say, ‘Yeah. Wasn’t that great?’ He doesn’t say, ‘Yeah. Why don’t we have that anymore?’ or ‘It sure was. What happened to you or us?’”
The point is, while it’s important to treasure the past, none of us can go back to a time to when everything about the relationship was new and exciting, Rodman said.
“For the relationship to go on, that needs to be OK,” she said. “Sure, remaining in love is absolutely possible, but to lament that your mature marriage is no longer what it was in the beginning will only invite disillusionment and discontent.”