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Forget about infidelity or lying to your spouse about your finances: there are other, less-talked behaviors that are just as destructive to a marriage ― and you and your partner are probably guilty of some of them.
Below, marriage therapists share six behaviors that can silently kill a marriage.
Spending time together as a couple is important, but don’t let your friendships fall to the wayside in favor of yet another night of takeout and Netflix. It’s unrealistic to depend on your S.O. to fulfill all your socialization needs; giving each other space by heading out for girl’s night out or a meetup with the guys could do your marriage some good, said Ryan Howes, a psychologist in Pasadena, California.
“It’s so important for both of you to build and sustain friendships with others,” he said. “Through your friends, you can gain other experiences, perspectives and support that may actually enhance your relationship. You have to have confidants outside the relationship.”
If you rarely reach out and touch each other ― or have reached the point where you only have “special occasion sex” (birthdays, anniversaries and vacations) ―it may be time to address the elephant in the bedroom: You’re well on your way to a sexless, passionless marriage, said Debra Campbell, a psychologist and couple’s therapist in Melbourne, Australia.
“You don’t have to be having sex every day, but some kind of near-daily sexual or erotic acknowledgement is important in relationships,” she said. “It might be the slightest touch; it’s not always about orgasms and getting hot and sweaty.”
In a long-time relationship, Campbell said, partners need to remind each other that they’re still wanted.
“You need to know that nobody else in your partner’s life is their chosen lover or compares to you.”
While it’s important to maintain close friendships, surrounding yourself with the wrong type of friends could negatively affect the health of your relationship, said Laura Heck, a marriage and family therapist in Salt Lake City, Utah and the creator of the online couples therapy series forBetter.
“Your friend’s actions are actively influencing your marriage, whether you realize it or not,” she said. “In private, do your friends complain or vent their frustrations about their partner? Do your friends flirt or hit on others behind their partner’s back? Bad relationships and boundaries are toxic and are actively at play in changing your own habits.”
On the other hand, surrounding yourself with married people who practice healthy boundaries can benefit you and your partner, Heck said.
“You need to take inventory of the relationships in your inner circle and be intentional about how you choose to allow these relationships to influence your mindset, for better or for worse,” she said.
When your spouse is responsible for the lion’s share of the laundry and cleaning, it’s bound to create resentment and hinder your connection. In fact, a 2015 study from the University of Alberta found that couples who didn’t split chores had less relationship satisfaction and less sex than couples who divvied up their chores.
As Howes has seen firsthand, the question of who’s tidying up may not be a big issue at the start of a relationship but it tends to become a major point of contention later on.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re the clean one or the messy one, what matters is whether or not the clean partner can flex and the messy partner can clean up once in a while,” he said. “Resentments can build over time so it pays to have an honest discussion about your priorities regarding the orderliness of your home.”
Thoughtful, engaging communication ― not just “how was your day, babe?” and “what are our plans this weekend”? ― is essential for love to last, said Liz Higgins, a Dallas, Texas-based couples therapist who works primarily with millennials.
“Having intentional conversations about your relationship means asking deeper, more open-ended questions: ‘What did we do well at as a couple today?’ ‘What is something I did today to contribute to our relationship?’ ‘What is something I can do for you?’ ‘When did you feel the most connected with or loved by me today?’” Higgins explained.
Broaching these kinds of conversations may feel a little awkward at first, but over time, you’ll see the value.
“I encourage the couples I work with to implement time once a week to come together and talk solely about their relationship,” she said. “Once you start, you’ll notice it often bypasses the need to get defensive, angry or disconnected with one another.”
Roommate syndrome is a silent but common relationship killer, Heck said. When you’ve reached roommate status, you feel like you’re living parallel lives, connected only through your shared space, bank accounts and kids.
“When you’ve fallen into the lock-step of living as roommates, you must be very intentional about shaking up your routine and bringing back the fire and passion to the relationship,” Heck said.
To inject some novelty into the relationship, Heck recommends couples make a concerted effort to spend time together by working on a passion project as a team.
“It needs to be something both partners have energy and excitement around,” she said. “Maybe it’s flipping and remodeling a home, starting Crossfit together, finally take that RV out on the weekends or learning to cook vegan. Figure out what works for the two of you and then do it.”