In our 30 years of helping families, Susan and I have noticed that what tears at the seams of many troubled marriages is not one big, egregious event, but a series of small, repetitive habits that hurt a marriage. If left unchecked, they become problems that never get resolved.
Sure, there might be a triggering “last straw” that causes it to crumble, but the weakening work was done by lots of small damage over time. Unhealthy habits can have a corrosive cumulative effect on marriages. Here are 6 habits we see hurting marriages today.
1. Device Dependence
You may not think you’re addicted to your phone or tablet or favorite apps. But just try taking a half-day or even a few hours without looking at them. We are getting more and more dependent on our devices for news, entertainment, connection with people, and validation. When spouses look at their screens more than at each other, the harm to connection, intimacy, friendship, and support for each other over time can be disastrous. Try putting down your devices for tech-free times throughout the week when you can focus on each other—during meals, in your bedroom, on dates, and while playing with your kids or grandkids.
2. Mind-Reading Expectations
It’s so important in marriage to communicate clearly with each other, to learn to listen well together. But communication can be derailed quickly when spouses start assuming that the other should “just know” what they’re thinking without saying it. It’s human to assume that something you’re thinking should seem logical or apparent to others, but it’s not a fair expectation. Being willing to explain yourself, and offering your spouse the grace to ask questions if he or she doesn’t understand, is important to healthy marriage communication.
3. Me Time
This is a prioritization habit. Putting off quality time with each other in order to preserve time for yourselves individually might be necessary on occasion, but no marriage is going to flourish if “me time” is more important than “we time.” Sure, circumstances might get in the way of some planned time together, but beware the personal hobbies and distractions that become the habitual substitute for the time you could and should invest in your marriage.
4. Getting Defensive
Defense may win football championships, as the sports proverb goes, but it does not earn you a stronger marriage. Constant defensiveness conveys that you don’t respect your spouse’s perspective. It also shows an unwillingness to admit to your own mistakes and weaknesses. Instead of jumping to defend yourself, it’s important to acknowledge and consider what your spouse is saying, even if you don’t agree with it. Whether you do agree (and make amends) or don’t (and talk through your disagreements), you will build up your spouse’s sense of security, and your marriage, by not reacting defensively.
5. Taking Your Spouse for Granted
Many times at funerals, we have heard the deceased person’s spouse lament over realizing the impact the lost loved one had on his or her daily life. That’s when spouses regret that they can’t say “thank you” or “I love you for that” any longer. It’s so important that we open our eyes regularly to actually see, appreciate, and acknowledge the big and little contributions our spouses bring into our everyday lives.
6. Resisting (or Expecting) Change
A spouse who is constantly resisting change in themselves is basically saying “I’m unwilling to be something better for you, and you need to accept me as I am.” A spouse who constantly expects change in the other is basically saying “I’m waiting for you to fix your issues so we can be happy.” In a way, both spouses are right and wrong. Marriage should change us, as we learn to meet our spouse’s needs sacrificially. And marriage also is strengthened by the unconditional love that accepts the shortcomings we all have.
There are other behaviors that can tear at a marriage. Whatever you’re dealing with, please check out this past post, where I provide more ideas on how to deal with your spouse’s bad habits.
What other habits that hurt a marriage would you add to this list? Share in a comment below.