If you’re reading this and you’re still married, you just survived another divorce season. That’s right, divorce, like strawberries or changing leaves, is seasonal, and January is high season for splitting up. My hubs and I didn’t just survive divorce season—we dominated it and logged 15 years of wedded bliss. Yes, we’re normal and have arguments, and in 15 years, I admit, we have even gone to bed mad (which really is a terrible idea, listen to all the advice on that one) on more than one occasion. But we’ve been close to plenty of marriages—among friends and family—that disintegrated, and there are five things that contributed to most of them. If you are feeling a relationship strain, then you are probably doing one, if not more, of the things on this list. The good news is each of these behaviors can be identified and worked on. If not, these five relationship booby traps can cripple your marriage.
1. Keeping score
Being in a relationship is not a game. If your partner goes out with his or her friends one night, it does not mean you bank that and are automatically owed a night out. On a smaller level, if you do the laundry, it does not mean your partner then has to do the next load. It’s not tit for tat. You can’t constantly keep score, about finances, housework, or fun. You are in this together, not separately, so stop keeping score.
2. Pretending it’s the 1950s
Hello, it’s 2015. If any of the old conventions (wife should stay home with the kids, husband brings home the bacon) are stuck in your brain like gum on the bottom of your shoe, you need to have them surgically removed—and fast. Maybe your mom stayed home and didn’t have to work or your dad came home each night and put his feet up to be served dinner and an after-work cocktail by said apron-wearing mom. That is quaint, but the reality of today is that most parents have to work, and many want to work. It’s been more than 40 years since Title IX passed, and females outpace men in college enrollment. Being a parent is incredibly gratifying, but having children does not automatically reinstate the traditional roles of the days of yore. Relationships that share equal responsibility, financially and on the home front, thrive. When you pigeon hole yourself or your partner into one of these antiquated roles there is bound to be resentment. As far as who works and who doesn’t, anything goes, but nothing should be assumed or taken for granted. You are not a princess who shouldn’t have to work or a business woman who doesn’t have to take care of the house. It’s not the 1950s, and we should celebrate that we can be both.
3. Forgetting your manners
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but it often gets lost, especially if you are guilty of #1. Too often I see couples show more manners to strangers than to their life partner. On any given day, you go out into the world and thank the person in front of you for holding the door or thank your co-worker for grabbing you something off the printer. So why would you forget to thank the person who took care of the laundry or worked a 10-hour day and still made dinner? When you get too familiar with someone it can be easy to let those small kindnesses fall through the cracks, but remembering lets the other person know they are valued and not taken for granted.
4. Letting the kids rule
If you have children, you may not remember a time in your relationship before they arrived—when you thought you were on the same page about having kids. Then, all of the sudden, the baby is screaming, and you have two totally different ideas on how problems should be handled. Fast forward 5 years, and you disagree on what school they should be attending, how many afters school activities they should participate in, or how much screen time they should be allowed. My husband and I have one simple rule—it’s us against them. Obviously, we love them with all our hearts, but we were here first, and we will be together long after they have left the nest. So when we find ourselves in a heated disagreement, and one of the small people has managed to turn us against each other, we have to stand strong together. You can’t let the kids rule. It’s you against them, and together you’re stronger and can win—just remember that.
5. Making it a family affair
While your mom, dad, and siblings may be a source of comfort for you, just remember that when you bring your marital problems to them (through your lens) they are less likely to forget about it when you and your spouse actually make up. This can create friction between your family and your spouse, which has a tendency to turn up the heat on the problem. Just be aware that, depending on your family dynamic, when you let your family members inside your marriage, you may also make your marital problems much, much worse. Consider choosing a friend, a co- worker, a therapist, or even strangers in a chat room to vent. That way you can navigate through the small stuff without making it a family affair.