3 Critical Behaviors Unhappily Married People Neglect

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Couple with foreheads together understanding each others needs

Many couples have neglected vital aspects of their relationships, and as long as the neglect continues, the relationship's shape declines.

If more couples practice certain relationship-maintaining behaviors, fewer would need couples therapy and more couples could be happily married.

These preventative measures could save you time, money, and emotional energy.

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Here are three relationship-maintaining behaviors most couples neglect

1. Emotional and mental health on an individual level, in addition to couples therapy.

Going to therapy is like going to the gym for your emotional muscles; over time, people build greater self-understanding and understanding of others. When individuals neglect their own mental health health and emotional growth, their partner may feel burdened and find themselves taking on more emotional labor in the relationship.

Our past experiences have a significant impact on our current relationships. Unpacking childhood wounds can help you understand where you get stuck, what your triggers are, and how all that impacts the way you relate to your partner. Without self-knowledge, couples will struggle to understand why they feel the way they do and why some arguments repeat without resolution.

Often, an individual issue gets in the way. When a partner “blows up” over something small, the trigger may be historical, or related to an experience they had in a past relationship or while growing up.

Partners who haven’t done their self-work sometimes fail to identify and discuss their feelings. This can lead to acting out behaviors and cause a deeply unhappy marriage.

For example, someone who doesn’t know how to address their anger may react by shutting down and getting passive-aggressive or exploding in rage. Therapy could help them practice talking about their feelings so they can build emotional intimacy in their relationships rather than damage relationships with reactive behaviors.



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2. Using rituals of connection to add to their emotional bank account.

A relationship is like a plant that must be watered and carefully tended over time to thrive. Just because you’ve made a lifetime commitment and wear a ring every day doesn’t mean you stop paying attention to your relationship.

To keep the emotional bank account full, certain rituals of connection are necessary to maintain the connection between a couple, from marking special days like anniversaries to daily rituals of talking, sharing, and physical affection.

For example, a quick kiss in the morning before work goes a long way. There’s actual research on this one. John Gottman, a well-known relationship researcher, found that a “six-second kiss” is correlated with relationship satisfaction.

Busy partners who share childcare or domestic duties can chat for as little as fifteen minutes at night before bed to help them reconnect. However, many couples turn on the TV once the kids are in bed, and then they fall asleep.

While understandable, this won’t maintain their relationship for the long term. When partners get busy with life and start to take their relationships for granted, unaware that maintaining a relationship requires intentionality and focus over the long term, they can drift apart. Without daily connection, they start to feel like roommates instead of lovers.

Couples can celebrate with rituals of connection around special days like anniversaries. This doesn’t have to follow a Hallmark movie formula.

One person I knew wanted to do something for their wife on their anniversary, so they bought her a gift card for a massage. However, their wife was incredibly busy with childcare duties and felt more stressed by the gift. It just felt like another task to her. A better way to mark the anniversary would have been to ask their wife what she wanted or needed, whether that was a physical gift or perhaps just some time alone without the kids.

3. Going above and beyond to consider things from their partner’s perspective.

Many couples get entrenched in their side during an argument and struggle to validate their partner’s feelings. It’s hard for them to stay grounded and calm enough to recognize how the other person’s experience makes sense, even when disagreeing. This can shut down the possibility of collaboration or compromise.

It takes work to maintain relationships in the long term. Couples will benefit from imagining the world from their partner’s eyes. Not just during arguments, either. This can be a daily practice of empathy for their partner.

For example, in couples where one is the breadwinner, the breadwinner might fail to consider the household manager's daily experience. They might take the emotional and mental burden carried by the household manager for granted.

When the roles are reversed, nurturers are more likely to take extra steps to support their breadwinners, for example, hiring a cleaning service to help with household chores.

We see positive benefits to our relationships when we put extra effort into understanding and empathizing with our partner's experiences in the world.

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It goes all ways. Humans struggle to empathize with their partner’s experience.

All couples face challenges in this area.

This failure of imagination has a damaging impact on the couple. When you and your partner disagree, try to put yourself in their shoes and imagine the argument from their perspective. You may still disagree, but your empathy can soften the edges around the disagreement and leave more room for compromise and collaboration.

Many couples are empathic, emotionally attuned, and care deeply about their relationships. Yet, some struggle to express care for their partners or who have poor interpersonal behaviors that sabotage relationships.

All couples, even those doing well, would benefit from practicing relationship-maintaining behaviors.

A relationship thrives rather than withers away over time when the couple is taking care of their individual mental and emotional health outside of the relationship, honoring rituals of connection (both large and small), and maintaining a practice of imagining things from their partner’s perspective can help.

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Susanna Guarino, LMHC is a couples therapy expert licensed in NY, RI, FL and AZ focused on helping couples go from being at odds to being close and connected. She can be found at Good Earth Counseling.