When your career requires getting up close and personal with divorce settlements and negotiations, you observe firsthand which behaviors are most likely to sabotage marital bliss. Here are some common behaviors I’ve noticed that couples should avoid in order to maintain strong and healthy relationships.
Don't Shy Away From Honest Communication
Spouses who refuse to address their issues transparently with one another never learn the vital skills of listening, identifying and ultimately understanding their partner’s perspective. Couples often withdraw from any conversation that might result in conflict. However, suppressing emotions until they fester into resentments will eventually cause an outburst, catching the other person off guard and escalating into major disagreements.
My Advice: If you cannot communicate openly and effectively, your marriage will invariably suffer. So, next time a cause for discussion arises, instead of bottling up those feelings, state your case in a diplomatic manner. Then, listen carefully to your partner’s response, absorbing his/her words before opening your own mouth again. This even exchange of talking and listening will develop open dialogue and foster mutual respect.
Don't Attempt to Cover Up Financial Matters
Many couples approach saving and spending habits, credit card usage, or monthly bills from two different angles. Typically, a compromise can be agreed on if both partners are willing to hold each other financially accountable. However, if one person becomes secretive with unwise splurges, or single-handedly micromanages all household expenses, then money can gradually alienate relational trust, openness and stability.
My Advice: Before broaching this subject, observe your spouse’s spending habits and non-accusingly address any concerns. Then, plan a budget collaboratively; since every financial decision will affect you and your partner, both voices should be heard. Next, discuss your savings goals such as retirement or a dream vacation. Finally, list your regular expenses, long-term objectives, emergency funds and any debts accrued.
Don't Fall into Destructive Patterns of AddictionRegardless of how it manifests—whether through alcohol, drugs, infidelity, gambling, pornography, etc.—any addictive behavior consistently revolves around deceit, self-absorption and emotional distance or imbalance. An addict goes to extreme lengths for a fix, and these reckless actions cause spousal suspicion. This resulting frustration and heartbreak forces the couple to live in denial, eroding their relationship’s entire foundation.
My Advice: Rather than ignoring the problem or enabling your partner’s toxic cycle in an effort to keep the peace, face this issue head on. Acknowledge to yourself that the addiction exists, then calmly yet directly tell your spouse that it’s time to seek professional therapy or treatment. Stress the point that you will get through this ordeal together as a team; even offer to attend couples’ counseling for moral support if necessary.
Don't Shirk Hands-On Parenting Responsibilities
Within a family unit, it is crucial that both partners assume active roles within their children’s lives and upbringing. When a couple raises and engages with their kids as a unified front, this not only strengthens parent-child bonds, but forges teamwork between spouses as well. Although one person might make excuses to sidestep their commitment, this self-centeredness should not be tolerated as caretaking is not a spectator sport.
My Advice: Each of you should be familiar with your children’s daily routines, attend parent-teacher conferences together, share carpooling duties, and make joint medical decisions. When interacting with the kids, stay emotionally present because children will remember those little moments more than you may realize. Nurturing an environment of security, warmth and acceptance lays the groundwork for a harmonious family.
Don't Get Caught Up in RetaliationPracticing the “eye for an eye” method of settling disputes is counterproductive for any relationship. When one partner makes a mistake, the other person should never react by adding insult to injury. Not only is this a juvenile behavior, but it exacerbates the situation and puts both people at fault. In a marriage, each spouse deserves the freedom to openly address when they feel wronged without the fear of being lashed out at in anger.
My Advice: Before the grievance turns into a grudge, implement a communication plan. Jot down key points that you want your partner to understand, then begin by asking that they simply hear you out. Explain in clear, concise terms how your spouse hurt you and give them an opportunity to make amends. Even if the response is not ideal, avoid seeking retribution or dragging unrealistic expectations into the conversation.
Don't Take Quality Bonding Time for Granted
That popular adage, “The couple that plays together, stays together,” is based on a universal truth: shared interests and experiences create intimacy. Partners who regularly invest in one another’s passions, hobbies and habitual routines build a deep, meaningful friendship, while keeping the romance alive as well. However, spouses who lead distant or separate lives merely coexist and, eventually, just stop knowing each other.
My Advice: Develop your own couple rituals, even if they seem trivial. For example, talk for 10 minutes every night before going to bed. Sip your morning coffee side by side. Read the same book and then discuss your favorite parts. Engage in a physical activity like biking, hiking, tennis or golf. Split the housework between you two while blaring sappy love songs. Surprise each other with spontaneous date nights or romantic getaways.
Don't Suppress or Disregard Emotional Needs
Marriage vows attest to the importance of both spouses satisfying one another’s needs and desires, “for better or worse.” However, over time, each partner can become so wrapped up in their own routines, obligations and objectives, that this pledge they once made at the altar gets overlooked. Selfish ambition, complacency or even unresolved past issues decrease the drive to prioritize the other person’s happiness.
My Advice: Pay attention to how your partner identifies with you because, chances are, their treatment of others indicates how they want to be treated. Taking cues from your partner’s behavior helps you to determine what mode of expression will yield a positive response. Similarly, when validating your own emotions, train your spouse on how best to care for those needs. People are not mind readers, so set the example.
Don't Fall into the “If ___ Then ___” Trap
It’s tempting to think, “My marriage would be easier if only we had more money,” or “We’ll be happy once I get that promotion at work.” Research shows that such statements are typically excuses to distract from underlying discontent. For example, one study found that couples living paycheck-to-paycheck actually argue less than financially stable couples. Material wealth or success will not compensate for relational rifts.
My Advice: Focus on the aspects of the relationship that you and your partner can control, rather than stressing about those superficial “quick-fixes” that only mask the issue. By investing time, energy, commitment and affection into your regular interactions with one another—regardless of the circumstances—you will feel equipped to weather any annoyances or problems outside your control... because you’ll be facing them together.
Don't Neglect the Sexual Part of the Equation
If water-cooler talk can be believed, a ring on the finger equals the end of an exciting sex life. However, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Not only does research show that married people have more frequent and satisfying sex than unmarried people, but scientific studies have also shown that a thriving sexual partnership is crucial for maintaining physical intimacy and keeping mutual attraction at the forefront.
My Advice: Make sex a top priority within your marriage instead of allowing your physical needs to slip between the cracks or become stale. Communicate your individual expectations, desires, preferences and opinions. Then, agree to put equal effort toward building and sustaining an active, consistent sex life that gratifies you both. When your physical drives are sated, you’ll become closer on an emotional level as well.
Don't Focus on Trying to Change Your SpousePressuring someone to amend their actions, words or lifestyle habits usually leads to frustration and sadness if the other person remains uncooperative. Human beings are never going to achieve perfection, and each partner will invariably bring faults, baggage and weaknesses into a marriage. However, being preoccupied over which areas the other person needs to improve on leads to more problems, not solutions.
My Advice: Before demanding that your spouse change their attitudes or attributes, look inwardly at your own character and determine which improvements you can implement. It’s unrealistic and perpetually disappointing to base your personal contentment on how another person acts. Take the lead in rooting out any questionable behaviors or negative responses, and your partner might just surprise you by following suit.