A friend and I were just laughing over how quickly kids can form unhealthy habits. You buy them a cake pop one time during their sibling’s practice, and suddenly every time their sibling practices, It’s time for a cake pop! Though somehow it takes approximately 2,304,982,340 reminders for them to remember to close the toilet lid quietly.
Now that I think about it, even as an adult, healthy habits take longer to stick than unhealthy ones. I could get into the swing of eating a bowl of ice cream after dinner a lot faster than I can sync up my life with rhythms of exercise.
Unhealthy Habits in Marriage
Unhealthy habits in marriage can be a bit like that, too. When we open the door to a less than helpful behavior, it can feel easier to repeat again later. At our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways, one of the biggest takeaways is that the natural drift in marriage is toward isolation. And if the drift toward isolation is natural, our unhealthy habits lead us there even faster. Connection and intimacy don’t happen by accident, it takes intentionality.
So with the help of some friends, here are 16 unhealthy habits in marriage to keep an eye out for and to nip in the bud.
1. Not greeting your spouse.
Wrapped up in work or parenting, it’s all too easy to not take a moment to pause and greet your spouse when they come home. Or, arriving somewhere where our spouse is, sometimes we greet everyone but our spouse. They’re your person! Greet them with eye contact and your words. Or better yet, a kiss.
2. Not using eye contact when you speak.
You may see each other all day, but have you looked your spouse in the eye? I’m certainly guilty of talking at my husband whilst doing dishes or typing an email, and some of that is fine. We like multitasking. But we also like our spouses’ faces. Let’s practice looking at them.
3. Not celebrating milestones.
Life gets busy and celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, or life’s other milestones (promotion, new digs, good news) takes planning and effort, but it’s important to mark the good whenever possible.
4. Speaking negatively about your spouse to others.
As a friend put it, always speaking negatively about your spouse “is a bad look.” More importantly, it’s not honoring to your spouse and is toxic to all involved. Yes, sometimes it’s important to talk through an issue with a trusted friend who is for your marriage. But let your spouse’s name be safe in your mouth.
5. Backing your spouse up in front of the kids.
Kids need to see you and your spouse as a united front. Your spouse needs to know you respect them. If you really disagree with what your spouse says, then that warrants a conversation before you change what they said.
6. Assigning negative intent (vs. believing the best).
Did your spouse leave their dishes in the wrong place or send a text message with a questionable tone? Rather than assume they are out to make your life harder or make you miserable, try believing the best. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but this is a big one, folks.
7. Using anything less than respect.
Do you treat strangers better than your spouse? That’s a problem. No matter what, we can treat our spouses with decency and respect—a low bar we should far exceed.
8. Not touching.
A little affectionate touching goes a long way. Not the time or space for words? We can communicate care with touch. Also, the difference between a husband and wife and roommates? Touching.
9. Letting kids interrupt your conversations.
If you have littles, this is difficult. But working to teach them not to interrupt Mom/Dad communicates respect to your spouse and to them.
10. Avoiding conflict.
If you never have any conflict with your spouse, are you even married? Are you really human? Conflict is a normal and necessary part of intimacy.
11. Using “always” and “never.”
Speaking of conflict, if you use “always” and “never” (other than I will always love you or I never want to be without you) things will not go well for you.
12. Not asking for input on decisions.
You don’t need to consult your spouse about what you’ll wear or have for breakfast, but if a decision affects them or your finances, you likely should get their input!
13. Not saying “I love you” or “Thank you.”
You may think they already know, but you really can’t say these two phrases (or other forms of appreciation) enough.
14. Interrupting your spouse.
This just isn’t polite or respectful—and it speaks volumes to those around you.
15. Expecting your spouse to read your mind.
The longer I’m married, the more I realize erring on the side of over-communication is probably better than the alternative. As well as your spouse knows you, they cannot anticipate your every thought and feeling. Please give them a break.
16. Expecting them to meet all your (social/emotional) needs.
There are some needs that should only be met by your spouse (i.e., sexual needs). But there are others that can and should be met by others in healthy ways.
Have you noticed any of these unhealthy habits in your marriage? Take a moment now to envision the alternative and make a point to replace the unhelpful habit with a better one.
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Laura Way serves with FamilyLife as a writer and lives in Orlando, Florida with her husband, Aubrey, and their two vibrant young daughters. She and Aubrey lived in East Asia for seven years until relocating unexpectedly a couple years ago. She enjoys writing about becoming more fully human while sojourning through different places, seasons of life, and terrains of mental and spiritual health at hopeforthesojourn.com.