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20 Surprising Habits That Are Putting Your Marriage at Risk

Avoid these patterns.

Sometimes marriages end not with thunderous fights but with a series of whispers. Two people can grow apart unintentionally, almost without knowing it, with habits that can compound over time and slowly chip away at a relationship. We asked experts to pinpoint some of those behaviors. These are 20 surprising habits that may be putting your marriage at risk. 

Never Fighting


"I can't tell you how many times I've spoken with couples who believed they were in a healthy relationship because they never fight—right up until their partner asked for a divorce," says Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, a licensed psychologist, marriage and family therapist, and founder of Growing Self. "Having zero conflict in your relationship is a telltale sign that you and your partner are not being emotionally vulnerable with each other. You are not sharing your inner worlds — because if you were, it would occasionally put you at odds with one another." She adds: "Relationships grow stronger through the tear-and-repair process that happens within healthy conflict. When you avoid conflict, you avoid intimacy."

Chronic Arguing That Suddenly Stops


"Interestingly, couples who fight a lot and then suddenly stop fighting are also in trouble, even though it can seem like the relationship just spontaneously improved for no clear reason," says Bobby. "When the conflict suddenly stops, that is a sign that somebody has given up. They are no longer fighting to improve the relationship, they are withdrawing emotionally."

Nursing a Secret Crush


"Having a little crush on someone who is not your partner feels innocent. But every affair begins with an innocent crush," says Bobby. "I've seen so many people destroy their marriages and their families with affairs that they never expected they would have."  Her advice: "When you find yourself flirting with your attractive co-worker, fantasizing about them or looking for excuses to spend time with them, take a step back, notice what's happening, and be real with yourself about how destructive it will be if you continue down this path. Crushes don't mean you're with the wrong person or that you'd be happier with someone else. Take that energy and use it to reinvigorate the real, meaningful connection you have with your partner."

Avoiding Conflict to "Keep the Peace"

Sad woman

"This is a biggie," says Amy Armstrong, LISW, of the Center for Family Resolution in Worthington, Ohio. "So many people buy into the power dynamic where one person dominates decision-making, and the other accommodates to 'keep the peace.' I did this one so wrong in my first marriage! Avoiding conflict leads to resentment and halts the growth of the relationship. Being gently honest about the stories in our heads helps a couple gain trust, self-reflect, and nurture the relationship. When I couldn't tell my first husband how much I wished he would join the family for dinner regularly, the chasm grew between us. We ended up with separate lives and eventually separated."

Spending Too Much Time On Your Phone


"As we are always connected and stuck on our phones, we often end up prioritizing our screens over our partners, which can create a distance. Imagine you're sharing a personal story with your partner, and they're nodding along while scrolling through their phone. It doesn't feel great, does it?" says Bayu Prihandito, a life coach and the founder of Life Architekture.  His advice: "Try to set aside specific times in the day when your phone is off to help reconnect with your partner. Imagine if you'd spent your evenings talking, laughing, sharing… instead of just watching TV or being on your phones. The quality of your bond would be so much deeper and more fulfilling."

A Long, Slow Fade in Communication


"Many couples are surprised by how easily communication can break down over time. Small issues left unaddressed can fester and become significant sources of conflict," says Marissa Moore, MA, LPC, a Missouri-based licensed professional counselor with Mentalyc. "Regular, open, and honest communication is key. Create a safe space for discussions, actively listen to your partner, and address concerns as they arise rather than letting them build up."

Gradually Becoming Self-Centered


Ever feel like you've been ambushed by the accusation that you don't care enough about your partner? Self-centeredness can creep up on you while you aren't looking. "Over time, some individuals may become more focused on their own needs and desires, leading to a sense of neglect or distance in the relationship," says Moore. To avoid this, "Foster empathy and continue to show interest in your partner's life. Regularly check in with each other about your feelings, needs, and goals."

Openly Disagreeing With Your Partner in Front of Others


"Everyone wants their partner to have their back. And while disagreement can actually nourish a relationship, it's important to show support and put each other in a good light in front of others," says Armstrong. "For example, when my husband couldn't finish a small construction project in our home, it would show support for him at a family party to say, 'We don't always see eye-to-eye on the timeline, but I love how Charlie takes his time to do the work himself so it is done right.'"

Not Following Up on Conversations


"Many people actually hear the concerns of the other person but don't say it aloud, never closing the loop of understanding," says Armstrong. "For example, Michael says how much his mother is asking him to come to check on her after her surgery, and Lisa recognizes his struggles between obligation and genuine concern for his mother. It would help Michael feel connected to Lisa if she circles back later and asks, 'So what are your thoughts about checking in on your mom tonight?'"

Weight Gain


"As superficial as it sounds, weight gain makes for a significant chunk of marriage turmoil," says clinical sexologist Rachel Sommer, Ph.D. "In most cases, considerable weight gain might cause one partner to be less attractive to the other. For others, the change can take a toll on their self-esteem and ultimately affect their relationship with their significant other."  How to deal? "I recommend having an honest conversation with your partner," says Sommer. "Communicate your concerns about their weight gain and why you think it'd be great if they'd let you in and let you help in the process of losing weight. Remember, they might be going through an emotional phase you don't know much about, and the best thing is to offer your help to understand the root and be a part of the process. Most importantly, practice empathy and accompany your spouse on whatever activity they want to pursue."

Neglecting Emotional Intimacy


"Couples may underestimate the importance of emotional intimacy and emotional connection in a long-term relationship," says Moore. Her advice: "Prioritize emotional intimacy by spending quality time together, sharing thoughts and feelings, and expressing appreciation and affection regularly."

Having Low-Quality Fights


"A low-quality fight is one where nothing gets resolved and instead of relief, it leads to resentment," says Callisto Adams, Ph.D. "A high-quality conversation between a married couple involves a conversation where both feel free to convey their feelings, thoughts, and opinions without feeling that they're being judged. Such conversations paint your partner in a positive light making them resemble a safe space where you're understood and accepted as you are.  The contrary – lack of quality conversations – tends to lead to a sense of alienation from the relationship and a lack of support from one another."

Neglecting Quality Time


Married couples may find themselves busy with work, family, and other commitments, leading to a lack of quality time together. Moore advises scheduling regular date nights or quality time to maintain your connection. It's crucial that you prioritize your relationship, no matter what life is throwing at you.

Growing Apart


So many marriages collapse because the spouses say they "grew apart." But it doesn't happen overnight. "Couples may be surprised by how they can drift apart over the years due to changing interests, priorities, or life stages," says Moore. To avoid that, it's important to stay present. "Continuously work on shared goals and interests while allowing room for individual growth. Stay attuned to each other's evolving needs and make an effort to reconnect."

Financial Denial


It's easy to bury your head in the sand about your personal finances for a prolonged period. Not talking about financial priorities and stressors with a spouse for the same amount of time can wreck a marriage. "Financial difficulties can place significant stress on a marriage, and some couples may not anticipate the impact it can have," says Moore. "Maintain open and honest discussions about finances, budgeting, and long-term financial goals. Seek professional advice when needed."

"A Thousand Little Cuts"


"Many people believe that their relationships will endure as long as no big, terrible thing happens," says Bobby. "As long as they don't cheat, no one gambles away the kids' college fund, etc., then their partner will have no cause to leave. But usually, marriages that fail do so because of cumulative damage that happens over a long period of time. Your partner shows you in small ways every day that they're not really there for you, that they don't care about your feelings or take your concerns seriously. They leave their clothes on the floor, even though you've asked them to put them in the hamper a thousand times. Or they forget to ask you about what happened at your doctor's appointment, even though you told them you were feeling really nervous about it. These little cuts can add up to a big wound that eventually kills the relationship. The final straw may be something insignificant that doesn't seem like it could possibly be important enough to end your marriage, but it's just the final straw.*  She adds: "To avoid this relationship ender, take your partner's feelings seriously. Don't dismiss them, invalidate them, or tell them they're getting worked up about things that don't really matter. Your partner's emotional reality is real, and it determines the quality of your relationship from their perspective. If they don't feel like you care about their feelings, they will feel alone."

Domestic Management Issues

Young Woman Looking At Smelly Clothes Out Of Washing Machine In Kitchen

"In any team, if one player consistently does more, they'll eventually feel drained and overlooked," says Sophie Cress, LMFT, CGT, a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified Gottman therapist. "In the same way, at home, if one person is always handling the chores, they can start to feel taken for granted. It's less about the chores and more about sharing responsibilities and feeling valued.

Holding Onto Grudges

Woman pushing man aside during argument on the couch

"Holding a grudge can make both people in a relationship feel stuck," says Cress. "They end up talking about old problems instead of moving on. It's like being stuck in a loop, going over the same thing again and again. It stops the relationship from growing and moving forward."

Keeping Score


"When partners start counting favors, the relationship becomes a game of who owes who," says Cress. "Instead of feeling united, it feels like they're constantly trying to settle a score with each other."

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Arguing to Win


When you approach conflict with a spouse with a goal to "win the argument instead of solving the issue with a sense of partnership," your marriage is in trouble, says Adams. "It's often why couples don't solve any issues hence the fights between them become repetitive, leading to resentment and negative thoughts for one another. These can be avoided with clear and honest communication and active listening. No judgment, no race to win the argument. Just pure desire to be there for your partner, understand them, listen to what they have to say, and get over the fight."

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