It’s so easy to fall into these traps.
When you walked down the aisle, of course you felt “at one” with the man you love (you probably wouldn’t have married him otherwise). But emotional distance can build up over time—often sneaking up on you without you even realizing—and before you know it, it feels like the two of you are miles apart, disconnected, and maybe not even in love. Unfortunately, it happened for a reason…and you may have played a part in that. These inadvertent behaviors build walls and divide the two of you—but it doesn’t have to stay that way. Learn how to bridge the gap and get your marriage back on the blissful track.
You subtly bash him.
His boxers all over the bathroom floor are irritating, but it doesn’t give you permission to call him a slob. Criticisms are harsh character knockdowns, and they can seriously harm his self-esteem. “I’m not disputing that your spouse might be annoying,” says Guy Winch, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Emotional First Aid. “But there has to be a balance of negative to positive things you say.” Because if criticisms or redirections (“do it like this”) are the bulk of your conversations, it’s likely he’ll withdraw, which might cause you to become even more critical, launching a vicious cycle. Winch’s suggestion: Find a balance of 80 percent positive comments to 20 percent negative. Or for every mean thing you say, follow up with five nice things. It forces you to choose your most important critiques to bring up, rather than spiraling into an all-out b*tch-fest.
You bring outside stress into the relationship.
Let’s be honest: When you’re up against a thousand work deadlines and worried your kid will never learn how to potty train, you’re probably not the kindest (uh, none of us are). Gary Lewandowski Jr., Ph.D., co-founder of Science of Relationships, says that’s because once you start feeling stressed, it becomes an egocentric experience. “You stop caring as much about anyone else. The focus is on your plight of excessive demand and inefficient resources,” he says. That can also lead to wandering eyes, he says, and a tendency to take what you already have for granted. And since we already know having an emotional affair can be just as harmful as a physical one, nip it in the bud and find a fun way to relieve stress, whether that’s checking out that brand-new Buti dance studio in town (shake what your momma gave you!) or finally figuring out this whole meditation thing.
You treat him like he’s your kid.
Just because you’re the mom of the house doesn’t mean you should act like his, too. “Talking to your husband from a position of superiority creates contempt,” says Kathy McMahon, Psy.D., clinical psychologist and president of Couples Therapy Inc. “Not only does it damage his self-esteem, but it physically harms him and increases his risk for infectious illness.” (Seriously.) You may think you’re helping by, err, encouraging him when he’s running late, but the bottom line is that it increases resentment, says McMahon. It tells him he needs to be better; he needs to be more like you. “Your husband is capable of deciding how to live his own life,” says McMahon. “If he’s repeatedly doing something that makes you upset, figure out why it bothers you and then talk with him about it, rather than trying to ‘correct’ or punish him like you would your children.”
You never quit scrolling through Instagram.
Here’s a shocking statistic for you: Couples with kids talk to each other for about 35 minutes per week, according to research reported by John Gottman, Ph.D., a professor in psychology known for his work on marital stability. We get that you’re busy, rushing to work and ushering kids to soccer practice, but if you’re sitting right next to each other it’s important to connect with him instead of your phone. Gottman’s research revealed that couples who responded positively to their partner’s bids for attention (winks, conversation starters, smiles) 86 percent of the time stayed hitched, while those who divorced only paid attention 36 percent of the time. Missing these attempts to engage can make your husband (or you) feel unimportant, so take a clue and set the technology down. McMahon suggests having a conversation about current events or—gasp!—taking him to the bedroom. “A little attention can go a long way toward investing in your relationship,” she says.
You assume he’s going to be there forever.
Thinking you and your husband “can always reconnect later, when the kids are older” is a bad plan, says McMahon. “Both of you are changing through that process, and many couples have their kids leave only to realize that they’re now living with a stranger.” Instead, Dr. Anjali Bhagra, associate professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, suggests the two-and-two rule. “Practice two minutes of early morning gratitude, thinking about (and maybe even telling him) what you appreciate, and then don’t critique anything about him in the first two minutes you see him in the evening (no “your shirt would look better tucked in” remarks),” she says. It’ll create a closer connection between the two of you, she says, because just like mom always said—it’s the thought that counts.
You never talk about your dirty laundry.
Literally. When couples get together, there’s usually an understanding of who does what, says Winch (one of you gravitates toward dish duty while the other handles trash takeout). But the division of labor needs to be revisited each time the demands of life change (a baby is born, he gets a promotion that requires more office time). “Otherwise partners can get annoyed or overtaxed, and then they start harboring resentment,” says Winch. If it’s been a while since you’ve looked at how things function day-to-day, get it on the calendar (seriously, just schedule it so it actually gets done). Then you can redistribute tasks so that you both feel happy and like the workload is fair.
You always turn down sex.
“No two people are in the mood at the exact same time all the time, which means there will always be negotiating,” says Winch. “But if you’re rebuffing your spouse’s advances regularly, he’ll eventually stop trying and become emotionally detached in the process.” It may not be your conscious decision to drive him away (sometimes you’re just really freaking tired), but he will be annoyed, confused, and assume he’s not attractive to you anymore. Winch also says you need to communicate exactly why you’re not interested. If he did something to upset you, he may not even be aware because, yes, guys really do need women to spell things out, he says.
You forget to celebrate the wins.
Cheering him on during good times is just as important as supporting him through a job layoff or a serious fight with a family member. “In our hectic lives, it’s easy to gloss over positive achievements because they’re a signal that everything is going well,” says Shelly Gable, Ph.D., professor of psychological and brain sciences and director of the Emotion, Motivation, Behavior and Relationships (EMBeR) Lab. But capitalizing on life’s happy moments—and really celebrating them—shows your husband that you understand what’s important to him, and reassures him that you’ll be there when something doesn’t go well, she says. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to throw a party every time he reaches a goal. But ask him to tell you one good thing that happened that day, then discuss the details. “You know him well, so elaborate on why and how this is good for him,” says Gable. “It can increase his sense of self-worth, which is great for him and your emotional bond.”