HOLDING GRUDGES OVER MINOR ANNOYANCES
A stark reality occurs when you move in with your partner: Your swoon-worthy lover—the very same one you couldn’t wait to see every day—is suddenly also the person who leaves their damp towel on the floor and puts the empty milk carton back in the fridge. These minor irritations can grow into serious annoyances over time, leaving you far angrier than the situation warrants.
The Fix: The solution is simple, although that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easy to stick with: Don’t let anger over small things fester. “Great couples learn not to let those little things distract from the major things, like love and commitment,” explains Beverly Hills family psychologist Fran Walfish, PsyD. That said, if you know it makes your partner nuts when you forget to clean the lint trap or empty the bathroom trash, try harder to remember to tackle these small tasks.
UNDERVALUING YOUR PARTNER’S OPINION
Most of us know that we’re not right all the time, but it can still be hard to really let ourselves value another person’s opinion with the same weight we give our own views. But respecting your partner’s opinion, and assuming that they’re acting out of the best intentions—not the worst—is important for a healthy partnership. “If you believe your spouse’s intent is to make your life miserable, then you will most likely never have a good relationship. If you actively work to believe the best in someone, then it changes how you view what they do,” says Vancouver, WA-based therapist David Simonsen, PhD.
The Fix: Try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes, recommends Simonsen. “It could radically change a relationship if couples are willing to do this more often.” A lack of valuation not only causes conflicts, but can stall a couple’s overall progress, says Arlington, TX-based therapist Jim Siebold, PhD. “If couples do not feel loved and valued, they are less likely to engage in difficult topics from a collaborative perspective. We approach conversations with adversaries much differently than we do partners,” he explains.
Most couples agree that labor, both physical and emotional, should be split fairly evenly between both partners in a relationship. But if you make it an obsessive proposition, worrying more about perfect equality than happiness, the relationship will suffer.
The Fix: Break the habit of tallying up your contributions and comparing them to your spouse’s efforts. As long as no one feels taken advantage of, or like they’re doing the lion’s share of the work, there’s no need to count percentages. A better way to reach equality is to keep communicating honestly and make your own needs known “Relationships require two willing particiP@nts who understand and accept that sometimes one needs more than the other emotionally or $exually,” explains Walfish. “There are days when he will need 95% of you and vice versa. As long as you get enough of what you need, it’s a good working relationship.”
STARTING OFF ON THE WRONG FOOT
You may feel confident in the strength of your love and the fundamentals of your relationship, but even strong communicators can benefit from an expert’s input and strategies. That’s particularly true in the early stages of a marriage. “My hearty recommendation to newer couples is to see the value of building a good foundation of trust on the front end of their relationship, before significant damage is done to one or both partners,” says Gary Brown, PhD.
The Fix: Put in the work early. It will help you and your partner establish good communication and conflict resolution skills, says Brown. “When couples work on their emotional foundation early on, they dramatically increase the chances of enjoying the type of relationship that others will envy, and hopefully try to emulate.”
FORGETTING YOUR OWN EMOTIONAL SELF-MAINTENANCE
A lack of physical self-maintenance can be a difficulty for some couples, but Anjhula Bais, PhD, a New York-based psychologist who is trained in Buddhism and other forms of spirituality, believes emotional and spiritual self-maintenance is just as important (these 8 simple meditations can change your life). She recommends mindfulness training, which helps people learn to self-regulate their emotions. Plus, this practice helps couples stay in the present moment, which improves communications.
The Fix: Hugs. “Partner driving you crazy? Hug them anyway,” says Bais, who practices her own advice. Every morning, along with her husband, she engages in a mindful hugging meditation by Buddhist monk and philosopher Thich Nhat Hanh. “We look deeply into each other’s eyes for about 30 seconds, hug each other, and think to ourselves in the present moment—no matter what is going on in our lives and with each other—’thank you for being here, where will you be 300 years from now…’ It may sound slightly out there, but I encourage people to try it. It really does shift things.”
HAVING UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS—INCLUDING $exUALLY
It’s natural to have expectations of your spouse. But if you don’t express them clearly and verbally, meeting those expectations becomes a near-impossible puzzle for your partner to solve.
The Fix: Instead, make expectations clear with a regular “marriage meeting,” recommends marriage expert Megan Caston, who runs Marriage365, a relationship education nonprofit, along with her husband, Casey Caston, and also hosts the Un.clad Conversations webcast. “We sit down once a week and we talk about everything: our schedules, our budget, our date night, all of it,” says Caston. Every detail gets covered during these check-ins. “When we schedule s*x, we say, who’s going to initiate, and how much foreplay? A lot of couples don’t, and then they have those missed expectations.”
Caston says that the spontaneity lost by scheduled s*x is made up for by the fact that, well, you’re having s*x. “If a couple has spontaneous s*x all the time, they shouldn’t schedule, they should just keep doing what they’re doing. But the reality is, most people aren’t doing that. And if you know you’re going to have s*x that night, you have the whole day to get excited for it.”
Couples don’t need to tell each other absolutely everything—go ahead, maintain some mystery. But if you’re avoiding telling your partner something because you’re afraid it would anger them, that’s more problematic.
This holds true for small things, like making a frivolous purchase when you’d both agreed to stick strictly to a budget for the month, and also for big secrets, like infidelity. “Infidelity is far and away the biggest relationship shatterer,” says Jeffrey Hoffman, who specializes in family law as a partner at Lowe Stearns, a New Orleans-based law firm. But as relationship expert Robert Weiss, LCSW, who specializes in s*x addiction and infidelity, points out, “It isn’t the Cheat!ng that is really the profoundly painful thing for the spouse. The greatest wound to a couple dealing with infidelity is the breakdown of trust.”
The Fix: Think twice before keeping that secret—even if it may mean some uncomfortable moments or conversations. “It’s more important to be real than to look good. It’s more important to let your partner know your truth than to try and get validation or just not get in trouble. It’s more important to be known, even if in the moment it’s going to cause pain. Because that is intimacy,” says Weiss.