It’s been said that money and sex are the leading relationship killers. True? Perhaps.
But, like death by a thousand paper cuts, little things kill relationships, too.
For nearly three decades, I’ve had a front-row seat to thousands of relationships. My ongoing research—a long-term study funded by the National Institutes of Health since 1986—gives me the opportunity to study, closely and over time, critical patterns in marriage and divorce, romance and relationships. Today, here’s what I know for sure:
Small stuff is a big deal.
To create a truly happy, healthy relationship, every couple, of every stripe, should take the most overlooked and under-discussed relationship killers to heart. Here are seven:
1. Skipping me-time. Among unhappy couples, more people point to a lack of privacy or time for themselves as the reason (11.5%) than they do to their sex lives (6%).
2. Staying mum on “minor” annoyances. A lot of couples sweep little annoyances and pet peeves under the rug. Over time, though, small everyday irritations can add up and put a relationship on life support.
3. Holding on to feelings about exes. Expending energy on a past love can be deadly. Men and women who say, “I don’t feel much of anything for my ex” are more likely to be happy in their present relationship.
4. Keeping old secrets, even small ones. Ninety percent of people in happy relationships say they “never” feel that their partners aren’t completely truthful about their past.
5. Sparing little signs of affection or approval. Too many couples wait for special occasions, such as birthdays, anniversaries, or Hallmark-type holidays, to express loving feelings to one another. Sometimes a goodbye peck on the cheek or a thoughtful compliment is all it takes to make a partner feel loved and appreciated.
6. Spending too much or too little time with the parents. Married couples are 20% less likely to divorce when a man feels close to his mother-in-law. When women feel close to their in-laws, however, the couple is 20% more likely to divorce.
7. Seeing the glass half empty. Many couples only talk about what’s going wrong in their relationships. But couples that also focus on what’s working well—on the glass half full—are much happier over time than those who purely try to “fix” their problems.
Finally, countless couples make the mistake of assuming they know everything about one another. Unlike when they were first dating, they cease asking questions and learning more about each other. Such loss of curiosity, like other overlooked relationship killers, can be lethal.
It is small stuff—and a big deal.
About the Author
Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology at Oakland University and a research professor at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. She is a marriage and family therapist, and is the best-selling author of five books, including Finding Love Again (Sourcebooks, 2012). Her upcoming PBS special, “Secrets From The Love Doctor,” will air nationwide starting November 30. Order the dvd HERE