At a recent visit with my therapist, I asked how a person's life can turn out so different from their original plan. To paraphrase, he said that, in most cases, it's not something that happens in the blink of an eye. He compared it to getting lost in the woods. Beginning with a small step off the beaten path, you're unaware that each subsequent stride leads you farther and farther away from the trail. That analogy works in relationships as well. There are tiny habits that could undermine your marriage without you realizing how much distance has been created.
If you feel like you woke up one day and felt like the easy harmony you had with your partner has suddenly shifted, you're definitely not alone. In fact, most of my friends who have either gone through a legit rough patch or ended up splitting have said it seemed like they were completely oblivious until the problem had reached critical mass. That's not to say every single habit spells disaster for your marriage, but it might help you regain balance by being more mindful of how your actions can impact others. So check out these little ways you could be undermining your relationship and see if any sound familiar.
1. You Settle
Making compromises here and there is a normal part of any relationship. But when you get into the routine of settling, that can create an unhealthy precedent. Relationship expert Rachel Sussman told Women's Health that when it comes to staying silent about marital concerns, "people might not bring things up because they don’t want to rock the boat, but it’s very important to make sure you’re on the same page." You may even discover that your partner agrees with you and was simply hesitant to discuss things themselves.
2. You Clam Up
It doesn't matter if you've known your partner for a decade or less than a year, being emotionally vulnerable can be scary. As Dr. Lisa Firestone, Director of Research and Education at The Glendon Association, told Psychology Today, "people pull back the moment things get close." If you're consistently shutting down every time your partner attempts to connect, that can take its toll over time.
3. You Forget To Explain
Plenty of people have wished for crystal balls to figure out what's gone wrong in a relationship when they're feeling clueless. Author and clinical psychologist Dr. Carol Ummel Lindquist told Parents that your marriage could be headed for trouble if you're in the habit of expecting your partner to respond to your needs when you haven't fully communicated them. It's helpful to remember your significant other isn't a mind-reader.
4. You're Not In Touch
Work, kids, and overfilled schedules can create a pattern where you never press pause. Though you don't need to bring out champagne and rose petals every night, continually putting off physical contact could undermine your marriage. According to research Dr. Dacher Keltner published on the University of California's Greater Good Science Center website, daily touch maintains a sense of trust, gratitude, and compassion. That's why falling into a rut where physical interaction takes a back seat can negatively affect your relationship.
5. You Compare
Drawing similarities or differences between things can make understanding the world around you easier. But, examining your spouse against your experience with previous partners is problematic. In an interview with Cosmopolitan, relationship expert Chiara Atik said that frequently comparing your partner to your exes can sabotage your relationship. If you catch yourself bringing up an old flame, consider how it could make your significant other feel.
6. You're Beating A Dead Horse
As Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, told Psychology Today, arguing about the same things with no resolution only creates a sense of hopelessness in a marriage. If there is an issue that deserves attention, go into the conversation with the intention of finding a solution instead of simply airing your grievances.
7. You Don't Unplug
Relationships, romantic or otherwise, struggle to survive when they're not nurtured. Though it's a habit virtually everyone is guilty of, being glued to your smart device can undermine your marriage. Dr. Sherry Turkle, a professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), told The New York Times that, "submission to digital technology has led to an atrophying of human capacities like empathy," which is integral to a healthy marriage. When you consistently choose scrolling on your phone over having real-life conversations, you could be damaging your relationship.
8. You Don't Respect Bathroom Boundaries
Admittedly, this one comes primarily from experience. Though it may seem trivial, little things like leaving the toilet seat up or monopolizing counter space can create a sizable rift in a relationship. I shed like a dog and never really paid attention to the fact that my hair was everywhere. Similarly, my husband didn't think it was a big deal to leave his wet towel on the bed. In the end, what you perceive as a "silly" habit can actually send the message that you don't respect your partner enough to make a tiny change.