So often when we talk about why a marriage ended, we point to big events - an affair, a major argument, etc. However, these events don't happen in isolation. Very often they are the result of spouses engaging in behaviors that at first seemed harmless, but that ultimately undermined their relationship.
Consider the following list. Are these behaviors that you engage in? If so, think long and hard about how they may end up affecting your marriage:
Teasing: If you observe couples who tease, there is always a subtext underlying the teasing. Couples with happy marriages, tease as a way to compliment their spouse publically. So for example, let's say Bob and Betty are happily married. Betty might say at a party, "Bob can't stop fixing things. If the neighbors would let him through the front door, he'd remodel their kitchen just for fun!" The subtext is that Bob is a manly guy who can repair just about anything. That kind of teasing is very positive for a marriage.
However, in unhappy marriages, spouses tease as a way to hurt each other. The teasing will be about a spouse's negative quality. So if Betty and Bob are unhappily married, she might say, "Bob tried to repair the kitchen sink last weekend. He was so good at it that we had to pay a plumber $500 to fix Bob's repairs." The subtext here is that Bob doesn't know his ass from his elbow when it comes to fixing things. That kind of teasing, in the guise of lighthearted joking, is the coward's way to insult their spouse. Typically the offended spouse will say, "That hurt me," and the cowardly spouse will fire back, "Oh don't be so sensitive. Can't you take a joke?" And the offended spouse is left helpless to stop the behavior.
Marriage Saver: Don't tease your spouse, unless the subtext is a compliment.
Correcting: You may know the difference between a honeybee and a bumblebee, or the difference between magenta and mauve, but don't correct your spouse regarding those differences. Why? Let's start with the fact that people who correct others on unimportant facts are irritating. But more importantly, when you correct your spouse, you undermine your spouse's confidence and inhibit communication. How can your spouse talk freely to you if you are poised to nitpick at everything they say? There are areas where spouses need to focus on accuracy - taxes, bank statements, items that need repair, etc. However, everything else in the world is just fodder for pleasant conversation. Employ conversation skills that bring you and your spouse closer, rather than those that make your spouse (and everyone else) want to leave the room.
Marriage Saver: Stop showing off by correcting your spouse. You aren't in third grade anymore.
Commenting on the Attractiveness of Others: If you want to guarantee that your spouse will have an affair, start commenting on the appeal of other men and women. Here's a news flash. Your wife isn't interested in how you think the lady next door could be a fashion model. Likewise, your husband doesn't want to know that you think your male boss is brilliant and he drives a Mercedes. This is not information that you need to share with your spouse. Why? Your spouse adores you and wants to be the apple of your eye. If they don't feel like they hold that place in your heart, they will find someone else who feels that way about them. The best thing you can do in your marriage is to give your spouse regular positive reinforcement, and zip it when it comes to talking about other men and women.
Marriage Saver: The best insurance policy for a happy marriage is to give constant praise solely to your spouse.
Negativity: When you are married, you are part of a team. It is an "us against the world" partnership. Unfortunately, the world can be a challenging place. That is why both spouses need to remain positive in order to weather life's inevitable storms. A negative spouse can sink the whole ship. Now this isn't about being a Pollyanna and ignoring the fact that you are facing a problem, like debt. This is about staying positive, and saying, "It's OK. We can budget, save and knock down this debt. There is no problem that we can't solve together." Being positive is about believing not just in your spouse, but in the power that naturally results when the two of you come together as a unit to face life.
Marriage Saver: Be a cheerleader for not only your spouse, but for you both as a team.
Labeling: Labeling is a neurosis that occurs in big families. Everyone has to have a label. Becky is the "smart one," Bob is the "creative one," Jack is the "screw up," and so on. The problem with spouses labeling one another is that it is hard to ignore a label put on you by the person with whom you eat dinner and share a bed. So when you speak to your spouse, be careful how you end the sentence, "You are -" They will carry that label with them. If the label is a negative one, you are sowing the seeds for resentment to grow in your relationship. It is better to tread carefully in this area. When you describe your spouse, make sure it is in terms of high praise: "Bob is mechanically minded. He can fix just about anything." Or "Sue is musically gifted. I can listen to her play Chopin all day."
Marriage Saver: Label your spouse in complimentary terms only. Show how proud you are to be married to your spouse by carefully choosing the words that you use to describe him or her.
What is interesting about the above habits is that they are "harmless." No one gets physically hurt by them, and they don't involve overt emotional abuse. "Nice" people can do all of the above, and still be perceived as nice. However, these subtle behaviors attack the foundations of a marriage. And before you know it, two seemingly nice people are headed to divorce court, and everyone stands back and scratches their heads. Don't let that be you.