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Three Surprisingly Common Marriage Mistakes that Lead to Divorce

by Jeannie Assimos - July 23, 2013

You’ve heard of cheating and fighting leading to divorce, but what about selflessness and lack of hugs? Behaviors such as cheating and fighting are the manifestation of deeper behavior patterns that undermine marriages. These three common marriage mistakes are at the root of what make many unions fizzle:

1. Altruism

Altruism, also known as selflessness or even self-sacrifice, sounds like a good thing in a relationship. It’s comforting to know that your partner would do anything to protect or help you, and you would do the same for him or her. Unfortunately, outside of the occasional emergency situation, altruism is a damaging habit. The happiest and most enjoyable marriages are ones in which both spouses feel that their concerns, desires and needs are met and valued. You and your spouse should feel that each of you has power and significance in the marriage. Altruistic behavior denies that importance. Over time, constantly suppressing your desires and needs for those of your spouse can lead to a disorder of power in the relationship, which, even if voluntary, can lead to depression and resentment.

Avoid this marriage pitfall by speaking up. Make your preferences and needs known to your spouse, even if you think the matter isn’t a big deal. Want Italian for dinner when your spouse wants Chinese? Say so! Just remember to speak your mind pleasantly and tactfully. And make sure you have the marriage skills to turn the occasional difference of opinion into a discussion rather than an argument.

2. Negativity

Negativity is the number one contributor to an unpleasant environment that can eventually erode the whole marriage. Negativity includes small gestures such eye rolling, out of place humor, sarcasm, and signs of frustration, as well as more obvious negative comments such as disparaging your spouse’s opinion, mocking, and insults. Every piece of negativity, big or small, can have an enormous impact on the climate in your marriage. Negativity breaks down the trust you have for your partner to be a loving and supportive haven from the world’s challenges. It makes you not want to be around each other. It can also instantly trigger arguments.

Monitor yourself carefully for negative body language and speech patterns and try to eliminate them completely. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get frustrated or upset at something your spouse has done. Simply tell him or her about your feelings using, calm, neutral language. Focus on yourself by using the phrase “When you … I feel …” instead of inviting defensiveness with you-statements. Also explain to your spouse how much it hurts when he or she uses negativity towards you.

3. Loss of non-sexual intimacy

Since physical intimacy depends on feeling comfortable with your partner, physical affection is one of the first victims of rampant negativity in a marriage. This is unfortunate because physical affection is the glue of marriages. Loss of physical intimacy can precipitate the loss of emotional intimacy, increasing distance in a relationship, sexual affairs, and finally divorce.

Physical affection means much more than sex. It means, cuddling, hugs, kissing, holding hands, a gentle squeeze on the shoulder or stroking an arm.  New couples display this non-sexual intimacy constantly and it signals that they are attracted to and interested in each other.  In addition, researchers have found that non-sexual intimacy is a significant contributor to long-term marital happiness. This warm, positive, skin-to-skin contact releases the same bonding chemicals in your brain as sex. While a marriage may be fine without sexual intercourse (as long as both spouses are on the same page about it), it will likely struggle mightily without any physical intimacy.

The homework to remedy this marriage problem is easy: set the goal of touching your spouse in a positive way ten times daily. Then increase that frequency! Adding non-sexual intimacy to your marriage is a more low-pressure goal than initiating sex. And since regular physical contact can make you both more receptive to sensual experiences, it can by a good way for a sexless marriage to ease into more frequent sex.

Have you noticed any of these common marriage mistakes in your marriage or new relationship? Not to worry. In fact, noticing them is the first step in fixing them and building the foundation for a strong, happy future together. It is never to late to start your happily-ever-after.

Naomi is the editor and blogger for the Power of Two Marriage blog, a project of Power of Two Marriage Online. This online marriage counseling and coaching program focuses on teaching scientifically-backed skills couples need to stop fighting and build trust, intimacy and love.