As spouses, we sometimes do seemingly innocuous things that end up being much more harmful to our marriage than we realize, especially if we do them repeatedly over time.
In other instances, what might look like “normal” behaviors can actually be a warning sign of underlying distress within the relationship.
To keep the allegorical “slowly boiling frog” out of your marriage—in which you fail to notice the gradually increasing levels of damage until it’s reached the point of no return—it’s helpful to be aware of common ways that spouses (often unknowingly) undermine their relationships. Becoming more aware of these actions, and others like them, can help you sustain a healthy bond with your spouse.
Here are five to look out for.
1. Complaining About Your Spouse to Others
Some people use grievances with their spouses as social currency, as if whomever among a group of friends has the most exasperating spouse “wins.”
The truth is, there’s a difference between confiding in a trusted loved one and complaining just to complain. Always speaking negatively about your spouse, even in jest, can color your perception of your marriage and slowly erode the trust between you (especially if your spouse hears through the grapevine the things you’ve said).
So, the next time you’re with friends who are all airing their grievances, dare to be different: switch out a complaint for a compliment. Observe how it makes you feel or how it shifts the mood.
2. Being On Your Phone Too Much
Cell phones, social media, and the internet can have a compulsive-like appeal to many of us. But constantly scrolling on your phone when you’re around your spouse is a huge form of disengagement.
This is true even when you’re just doing “passive” things together, like watching a movie or lying in bed at night. By sticking your nose in your phone, you’re essentially saying to your spouse that the phone is more important than they are.
It’s simple, even if difficult: put the phone down. Switch it to airplane mode. Leave it in another room. Be more present with each other. Make eye contact, listen, and communicate. You don’t have to give up your phone completely—just stop allowing it to overtake your spouse’s presence in your life.
3. Forgetting About The Little Things
“Little things” like doing a chore without asking, sending loving text messages “just because,” or bringing your loved one a snack or drink are like incremental deposits into your marriage. Over time, they really add up to something valuable!
The conscious decision to enrich your marriage through small, caring actions done often is one of the best ways to avoid undermining your relationship. Make it a game and see how many creative ways you can show you care.
4. Avoiding Conflict at the Expense of Authenticity
Do you frequently bite your tongue or not express a need to your spouse simply to avoid an argument? While this may “seem” good-intentioned, you’re essentially saying that it’s safer not to be yourself in your marriage. Careful: this can breed major resentment over time.
Of course, it’s healthy and worthwhile to be discerning about when to dig in and when to let go. But that doesn’t mean you need to abandon your needs and principles, either. Working with a marriage counselor can help you develop healthy skills and strategies to navigate conflict effectively.
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5. Not Following Through
Imagine you have a friend who always shows up to things late or bails at the last minute. How long would it be before you stop inviting them to hang out?
Failing to follow through in your marriage leads to that same level of disconnection. Your spouse will learn not to trust you nor take you for your word, even if only subconsciously.
So, show up. Pay attention to the things you promise to your spouse—whether that’s a date later this week, a night of physical intimacy, or a Saturday morning to tackle a major household project—and do your absolute best to follow through. Even if something comes up, make sure to touch base and reschedule. This tells your partner that you respect their time and energy.