Want to push back against the decline in satisfaction that marriage research suggests you will (or do) have in your relationship? If so, you need to get out of these three habits that I bet have already crept into your interactions:
Bad Habit #1- Too many reminders: You know what this is – one partner is more invested in making sure the ‘to do’ list gets tackled than the other, and so starts to remind the less interested partner. “Did you do the dishes as I asked?” or “Have you paid those bills yet?” If there are kids it might be “Have you cleaned your room yet?” It seems helpful on the surface. But over time, the net result is that the partner who is pushing becomes a person to avoid. Because all those reminders mean that a large percentage of his or her interactions with others are around negatives – what has not yet been done, how you have failed in your duties, or what needs to be done.
Instead of becoming the reminder person in the family (known less positively as ‘the nag,’) create a system where everyone gets to contribute to setting priorities, and all are responsible for their own follow up. One tool for this is a weekly chore meeting. This way the meeting becomes the tool for accountability and learning, rather than a person.
Bad Habit #2- Texting instead of talking or doing: Those dings from your phone are addictive. But if you are physically with another person (as we often are) they are also destructive. Because every time you move your attention from the person you are with to answer a text, you send a clear message: “You’re not very important to me.” Even sitting in a room with another who would love to talk with you, and ignoring them in favor of whomever is texting, is harmful. It says the same thing – “Really, I don’t care about you as much as this other person here.”
‘Love the one you’re with’, as the song says, and leave the return text for another time. Reorient your behavior. If you care enough about a person to physically be with him or her, then strengthen and nurture that relationship by engaging with your full attention. Talk or do something together. If your family has a habit of texting really important or urgent information, create a pact that says that if it’s a crisis, they’ll call, instead. That way you get rid of the ‘I wonder if it’s really important?’ factor.
Bad Habit #3 – Forgetting to play: No surprise here, adult life has a lot of responsibilities. But couples thrive when they have a chance to ‘play’ together – doing things that are enjoyable and happy, which remind them of the positive and light sides of their love for each other. Particularly when there are kids at home, couples tend to double down on staying organized and put aside thoughts of themselves as a couple. They focus on: driving to practices; helping with science projects; making sure the house stays neat and more, rather than focus on attending to each other. It’s a logical response to the pressures of raising a family as there is only so much time, but it hurts your relationship, which weakens the family in the long haul.
So make it a priority – for the health of everyone in the family – to set aside time each week to make sure you and your partner ‘play’ together. That might mean nightly crossword puzzles; hiking; going to a bar to play pool; or making music. Whatever it is that helps you remember just how great it is to be with your partner. The warm feelings you have while playing will go a long way towards also helping you get through all the nitty gritty of everyday life.