Here are five huge mistakes that many couples make.
1. Dismissing your spouse’s concerns.
We can forget that our spouses are different from us. They come from different homes. They have different personalities and needs. They are worried about things that we may not be worried about. Afraid of things that we maybe can’t relate to. Anxious about things that we think are irrational.
But dismissing each other’s concerns or fears just because we ourselves don’t share them is a big mistake. Our job as life partners is to do our best to understand where the other person is coming from and to try to work with them. Feeling dismissed is not only hurtful, it also creates subtle emotional distance in the relationship every time it happens.
2. Believing love comes before respect.
Love is the result of a complex combination of giving to each other, respecting each other and believing in one another. It isn’t a stagnant, fixed feeling that remains the same throughout marriage. Love is either growing and deepening or weakening and become more shallow. The more specific and focused our respect is for our spouse, the deeper our love can become. And the more we believe in our spouse’s inherent goodness and capabilities, the stronger our love becomes.
3. Treating strangers more politely.
When we live 24/7 with someone, we sometimes forget our basic manners and usual niceties that we naturally extend to strangers. One husband remarked that his wife is friendlier to the clerk at the supermarket than she is to him. Spouses can get sloppy with how they speak in their own home when they are tired or frustrated or just not focusing on their words. But constantly forgetting to maintain a basic level of politeness with one’s own spouse is not just a bad habit; it can dangerously and rapidly erode an otherwise solid relationship. Extend at least the same level of politeness that you do for strangers to your spouse.
4. Allowing contempt to enter your marriage.
Dr. John Gottman has found in over four decades of research that contempt is the number one predictor of divorce among married couples. Some people don’t even realize that they’re allowing to contempt to creep into their marriages because they don’t know what it is.
Contempt is sarcasm, hostile humor, any kind of name calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mimicking or mocking. It’s poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust, and it’s impossible to deal with any problem if your partner feels like you are disgusted with him or her. Contempt is usually formed gradually, a result of resentful and negative thoughts about one’s partner that remain unexpressed and therefore, unresolved. Even the slightest sign of contempt should be dealt with right away before it spreads into the crevices of a marriage, sometimes without either spouse realizing that it is there.
5. Believing a good marriage takes care of itself.
If the relationship is healthy and going well, the couple often believes that “it can take care of itself’ and that it doesn’t require focused investment. But even the best of relationships require ongoing nurturing and care. Both spouses need to make the marriage the most important thing in their lives. It’s not necessarily the time that is put into a marriage that matters the most (but it surely helps), but rather the cherishing and the prioritization of the relationship that makes a difference.
Don’t let these five mistakes derail your marriage. Focus on the most important relationship in your life. Cherish your marriage and keep building a stronger foundation. A loving, growing marriage is a precious blessing. Don’t take it for granted.
*These ideas are based on a class given by Rabbi B. Shafier.