When it comes to things that end relationships, we tend to think about the big stuff: Infidelity, betrayal, blowout fights, one person being terrible. But often, the real undoing of a good relationship lies in the much smaller details, the daily habits we develop that create distance between a couple. And most likely, we’re all guilty of doing these at least some of the time.
Here are the almost unnoticeable patterns that can eat away at even the best relationships according to two relationship therapists.
We have all heard that communication is key, but that doesn’t mean we’re good at it. “Talking is the glue that holds relationships together,” Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist and costar on Sex Box on We TV, tells SheKnows. While she says it’s natural that we sometimes get busy with other priorities, it’s important that we make a concerted effort to come back to communicating with our partners and set aside time to reconnect, like a weekly date night. “When couples stop talking, sex immediately follows,” she says. “You’d be surprised how many young, healthy people are living in sexless marriages.” So get to chatting.
If you find yourself keeping track of all the things your partner did or didn’t do — and all the things you did or didn’t do by comparison — you could be setting yourself up for failure. That’s because it doesn’t typically help us communicate effectively, says Kate Balestrieri, licensed psychologist and cofounder of Triune Therapy. “It really complicates our ability to be authentic and to get our needs met, which is what we’re frustrated about in the first place,” she tells SheKnows.
Imagine you’re keeping a mental tally sheet of the fact that your partner has left the dishes in the sink, their shoes on the floor and not taken out the trash, and now you’ve had to pick up the slack. If you’re keeping a tally, the next time your partner requests something of you, you’re more likely to think (or say!): “You don’t do anything around here anymore! I have to take care of everything!” That puts you both on the defensive, and it’s hard to communicate what’s underneath that — which is that you’re feeling overwhelmed — and hard to hear what’s going on with your partner, which may be something they’ve been bottling up and haven’t felt comfortable sharing.
That doesn’t mean you don’t tell your partner about the dishes. “ I think it’s appropriate to say, it would really mean a lot to me if you would do XYZ like you said you would, and when you don’t, I feel disappointed,” Balestrieri says. “But that’s really different than using a tally sheet and using it as a way to get power or express feeling disempowered indirectly.”
Saying yes when you mean no
This is a bad habit that almost all of us are guilty of from time to time. “Yes, I’ll stop by the grocery store” (even though I’m going to be working late and have no idea how I’m going to juggle that responsibility). “Yes, honey, I’ll go to your work event” (even though I’m feeling completely exhausted this week and desperately need time to myself). And then we either fail to do what we’ve been asked — forgetting, procrastinating or canceling altogether — and we disappoint our partner or we get resentful for taking on a task we didn’t have space to deal with.
But what’s so bad about these tiny white lies? “[It] creates a context of instability, and your partner feeling like you’re unreliable and like their needs are not important,” Balestrieri says. If you’re saying yes to things even though your partner knows you’re miserable or you’re failing to accomplish what you’ve said you would, your partner slowly stops knowing when they can trust your word.
“I always tell my patients, ‘A hell no is the same as saying a hell yes to somebody,’ because if you can definitively say no to your partner, then your yes is very valuable,” she says.
Yep, it goes back to the airplane mask analogy: You need to secure your own oxygen mask before helping others. “When we feel depleted, we can’t show up for ourselves let alone our partners,” Balestrieri says. “And that can create a lot of distance and disconnection.”
So if you’re not taking time for yourself, don’t be surprised if you’re struggling to connect with your partner. Carve out some me time to replenish your own sense of self, and you might be more willing to connect with others.
Getting lost in technology
Who here is guilty of occasionally trying to listen to their partner talk about their day… while answering a few texts you hadn’t gotten to or scrolling through a social media? Or having the TV on while our partner is talking? Unfortunately, this super-small habit has really heart-wrenching side effects. “If we’ve got one ear with them and one ear on our technology… then we’re not really being present fully, and that creates an intrusive sense of loneliness and can feel very abandoning to partners,” Balestrieri explains.
So leave the multitasking at work and notice when you’re reaching for a distraction when your partner is speaking with you, then mindfully reset your focus to the conversation.