Marriages are unique in many ways, created by two different people with different thoughts, ideas, emotions, histories and habits. So the undoing of marriages should also be different depending on the marriage, right? You might think so, but marriage-ending mistakes tend to fall into just a few categories.
Here are four common mistakes that destroy marriages, and a few ideas on how to undo some of the damage if you find yourself having made these particular mistakes.
Neglecting Your Spouse
Too many people work extra hard during the early courtship phases of a relationship. They put their beloved’s needs and happiness before their own. They bring gifts, chocolates, flowers, take their boyfriend or girlfriend out to delicious meals or on fantastic trips. They write them love poetry or actual love letters on real paper. They send them sweet, flirty texts in the middle of the night. They have long, deep, intimate conversations with each other, and they actually listen.
But all too often, this behaviour is abandoned after the marriage. This doesn’t necessarily happen overnight – often it is a slow, creeping process. As you each get caught up in your lives – the hard work of pursuing a career, making money, raising a family, doing chores and keeping up house – you run out of energy to pour into romance. Also, spouses tend to grow accustomed to each other, and that familiarity can turn into indifference or even boredom if it isn’t carefully monitored.
Eventually, if no corrective steps are taken, you can end up hardly speaking to each other, or only talking about the mundane, everyday chores that need to be done, the bills that need to be paid, the kids that need to be taken here, or picked up from there.
Perhaps you come home and complain endlessly about your job, or your spouse complains about theirs, but you don’t actually have a conversation – it’s more of an endless monologue.
What’s happened is that you are both beginning to ignore and neglect each other.
The best way to fight against this is to work on your communication skills. Think about your conversations – learn how to take turns (using a timer if needed) talking and listening to each other. Make sure you know how your spouse is feeling – what is their mood today? Are they happy, sad, frustrated, angry, ecstatic, pensive, guilty, bored, giddy, suspicious?
Ask them and listen to what they say. It may take time for you to relearn your conversational skills. But even fumbling around at it will do a lot to keep you from becoming strangers to each other, which is something that kills all too many marriages.
This may not seem like a marriage killer, but it’s a big one. You are one half of your marriage, and if you fail to take care of yourself, you are dooming fifty percent of your marriage already. That leaves your spouse the difficult job of taking on a hundred percent of the responsibility for your marriage’s success, and that is likely to be too much for them, or for any person.
What do I mean by neglecting yourself? I mean ignoring your basic needs for health, both emotional and physical. I mean ignoring your mind and your creative side, both of which were part of what attracted your spouse to you in the first place.
Everybody, or nearly everybody, probably gains a few pounds after being married for a while. It’s not unusual as you grow older. But if it’s more than “just a few pounds,” then you are not taking care of yourself. Remember that obesity and other serious health problems affect you, but they also affect your spouse – the one who will have to take care of you when you get sick or end up with major health complications. Do both of you a favor and attend to your health. Eat right, get some exercise every day (doing this together, like a morning or evening walk, or even both, is also a great way to connect with your spouse), go to the doctor and dentist and optometrist for annual checkups, and be kind to your body.
Besides your physical health, be sure to pay attention to your mental, emotional and spiritual health, too. Read some books, see some interesting films, go to some interesting places, and discuss them with your spouse. Take a class, either alone or together with your spouse. Use your mind to keep it fit – your mind is a big part of what makes you interesting and attractive to other people.
Emotional health means finding appropriate ways to feel and express your emotions, particularly toxic feelings like anger or jealousy. Spiritual health is best addressed by finding some quiet time for yourself regularly.
A no-brainer. Too many married couples never talk about cheating, or the possibility of cheating, until it happens. They mostly go about thinking, “Cheating happens to other people, not to us,” and then are blindsided when it happens to them. Be honest with each other about the possibility and take steps to decrease the risk.
A genuine, honest connection with your spouse is the best defense against cheating, either by you or by them, but it is not a guarantee. If one of you travels for work, the risks are higher when you’re on the road, staying in motels with no company. If you need to, build some support into your life – make a deal with a sympathetic, trustworthy friend you can talk to if you feel like you might be tempted to cheat on your partner. And call them when you feel like you might be in trouble. Having someone who listens honestly to you, who doesn’t judge you, and who isn’t your spouse can really help to take the pressure off.
If you have a more serious problem with pornography, affairs, prostitution, strip clubs, whatever, get professional help or join a community support or 12-step group that addresses that problem.
If you have cheated, or been cheated on by your spouse, that doesn’t automatically end your relationship. But it will take time, honesty and hard work to recover.
Lying is a small habit that grows and grows until it becomes a serious, marriage-destroying monster. Avoid the lazy habit of telling even little white lies to your spouse. Don’t lie about where you’ve been or what you were doing, and don’t lie about what you think or feel. It takes work to be honest with each other, but the rewards are worth it. Make an effort to be honest and to communicate clearly with each other. Don’t let small, everyday lies get you in the habit of deception.
Remember that “intimacy” means knowing your spouse nearly as well as you know yourself. So don’t lie to yourself, either. Be honest with yourself about how you feel about your marriage. If it seems broken, don’t ignore it. Take steps to fix it.