This guest article from PsychCentral is written by Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
A marriage is made up of not just the big moments—the wedding, moving in together, starting a family—but of an infinite many small moments. It's what partners do day-to-day that affects the health, happiness and well-being of their relationship. In other words, daily habits can make or break your connection with your partner.
Sometimes we're much kinder and more pleasant to strangers than we are to our own partners. For instance, "Many couples don't say good morning to each other or goodnight," said Christina Steinorth-Powell, MFT, a psychotherapist with a private practice in Santa Barbara, Calif.
They also don't "thank each other or say please," she said. This may seem silly. But as she said, "Simple, little things like this make huge differences in the overall health of a relationship."
Make it a point to thank your wife when she cooks you dinner. Thank your husband when he picks up around the house. "Positive reinforcement always works better than negative reinforcement, so if you see or hear something that you like in your partner—say so."
For instance, Steinorth-Powell's new husband thanked her for sitting with him as he finished his dinner. In his previous marriage, his wife would leave the table after she was done eating. "Even though I was sitting with him because I wanted to, his thanking me makes me want to sit with him more because now I know it's important to him and I want to make him happy."
Perpetuating pet peeves.
"Repetition of habits like leaving dirty coffee cups in your bedroom, stacking papers or boxes in your living quarters, and even leaving the cap off the toothpaste can poison a good feeling," said Fran Walfish, PsyD, a clinical psychologist who has a practice private in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Research has found that, over time, seemingly small things—everything from dirty dishes in the sink to interrupting your spouse—can swell and chip away at a relationship.
"He just doesn’t like doing the dishes" can become "He doesn't care about me." "She just loves to talk" can become "She doesn't care about my feelings."
Running late or not following through on even simple errands sends the message that you don't care about your partner's needs or feelings, said Steinorth-Powell, also author of the book Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships.
"If you're not someone your partner can count on, eventually your partner will stop coming to you for things." If you're going to be late, call. If you're not able to follow through on a promise, share your reason: "Be someone your partner can count on."
Having superficial communication.
Couples can get caught up in hyperfocusing on work, money and other issues without really connecting with each other, according to Walfish. They also might tune each other out.
"Nothing can inflame a partner more than having to repeat themselves because their spouse or companion ignored them when they commented the first time around. Partners need to feel like they're being heard and validated," she said. "Talking is the glue that holds relationships together." In fact, not communicating well can affect a couple's sex life. "When communication goes, people become distanced." Women, especially, don't want to be "close physically, emotionally or sexually."
Men feel this way if they feel criticized or judged. Communicating well involves taking turns talking about how you feel in the moment, Walfish said. It means listening to each other and reflecting out loud what you hear. She gave this example: A husband might say, "I'm feeling stressed and worried about my job performance interview that's coming up next week." The wife might respond, "I hear you are concerned about the feedback you will get from your bosses at work."
Again, daily habits—even the seemingly small stuff—can make a big difference in the health of our relationships. As Steinorth-Powell said, even "Simple manners and pleasantries go a long way in romantic relationships."
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