Anyone who’s married can tell you that getting through the marriage ceremony is easy. Staying happily married? That’s a different story.
While both men and women adopt behaviors that can challenge, even ruin, a great marriage, there are certain things that women in particular commonly do that can affect the health of their union.
Here are six common mistakes that can potentially hurt marriages:
1. Being too accommodating.
Some wives are too willing to give up on what they want, says Susan Heitler, PhD, a Denver-based clinical psychologist and author of http://www.poweroftwo.org, a marriage skills-building course.
Heitler calls it “appendage-itis,” in which the wife is basically being an accessory to the husband, instead of being a full and equal partner in the marriage.
Some women tend to be “all about him” rather than all about themselves, as men tend to be, Heitler says.
“Usually, they’re afraid it could make a fight or some unpleasantness, or they just think somehow, on a subconscious level, in order to preserve the relationship, they have to diminish what they themselves want,” she says. The sense of helplessness leads to anger that eventually boils over, she says.
Her solution? Express your concerns rationally, whether about housework or parenting duties, or about not getting enough time with your husband or for yourself. He may like golfing on weekends while she may want him around for family time, for example. “If she spoke up, they might be able to work out a better arrangement,” Heitler says. “Maybe they’d switch to a softball league in the summer where it would be a family event.”
2. Not being clear about expectations.
Couples that function the best in marriage have made their expectations clear from the outset about division of labor, parenthood, and money, says family and marriage therapist Eli Karam, PhD, an assistant professor of couples therapy at the University of Louisville.
But many couples don’t have those discussions and are operating on auto-pilot. “Lots of couples operate on what they assume in their head because they grew up that way, that if it works for them, it works for their partners,” Karam says.
Resentment can easily build if expectations differ or are dashed on the rocks of hard reality. For example, he says some women “think having a baby will change their husband or bring him closer. What we know about marriage satisfaction is that it takes a massive dip when the first child is born. If they knew that before marriage … it would help them navigate normal roadblocks and not freak out when it happens.”
3. Underestimating the effect of tone of voice.
No matter who’s speaking, man or woman, tone of voice can be an issue if it’s even tinged only slightly with negativity.
If you have concerns, Heitler encourages “verbalizing them in a respectful way,” rather than speaking in a frustrated, irritated voice.
By all means, discuss what’s bothering you. But do it in a way that searches for solutions and alternatives, rather than venting in a way that puts a peaceful solution further out of reach.
4. Mismatched communication styles.
If you feel you aren’t being heard by your husband, you may want to revisit your communication style.
Some women repeat their complaint or a concern a few times in an effort to get their husband’s attention. Some men may call that nagging, but it may just be about having different communication styles.
Karam calls it the “demand-withdraw” dynamic: One person wants a conversation, but the other hasn’t figured out how to respond or appears to have shut down, so the speaker presses further. “That’s a vicious pattern,” Karam says.
If that happens in your relationship a lot, remember to pause to let your spouse absorb what you’re saying and have “a chance to validate what they’ve heard,” Karam says.
It might be useful to take a hard look at what is fixed — personality quirks, for example — and what can be changed. Citing the work of marriage/couples researcher John Gottman, Karam says nearly 70% of marital problems are “perpetual,” meaning that these are entrenched issues that drag on.
The challenge is to recognize what can’t be corrected. It helps to “move toward acceptance,” Karam says. “You’re not going to change a cautious person into a risk-taker or an introvert into an extrovert.”
5. Not making yourself (and sex) more of a priority.
Whether it’s a hectic schedule, fatigue, or perhaps even guilt, many wives don’t make enough time for themselves. They look out for the health and care of everyone but themselves, and after running themselves ragged…aren’t very interested in, or are too tired or busy for, sex with their husbands. That’s a serious mistake, say Heitler and Karam.
“The reality is, what is best for everybody — for them, their spouse — is feeling great as a person and having a healthy sex life,” says Heitler. “It keeps the family a happy family. And what their kids need more than anything is parents who have a strong, positive bond.”
Karam says women need to build in time — and by extension, desire — to both take great care of themselves and to feel good about themselves, ensuring that they’re trying to do more of the things they want to do with their lives. In addition, it’s important for women to communicate to their husbands what they want and need to feel more in the mood for sex. Feeling sexy is a good way to start the process called intimacy, and that means a woman must make herself, her happiness, her desires and her health a priority.
“They can’t just drop everything and have sex with their husbands,” Karam says. “It’s a product of many other things, including taking care of themselves, spending time with their husbands out of the bedroom, and building up anticipation.”
“Generally, if you’re a woman, you have to prioritize self-care,” Karam adds. “If you feel good about yourself, you’re probably going to feel more sexual,” Karam says.
6. Forgetting to show their partner that they like them.
Some women get so focused on kids, work, and home that they forget to make the small gestures that go a long way to solidifying their marriage.
“In healthy relationships, there are dollops of positivity, very frequently doled out,” Heitler says. “They can be smiles, eye contact, hugs or touching, or verbal comments that let your spouse know you care. Those gestures remind both partners that they like each other, and friendship is at the heart of successful marriages, Karam says. Married people often “operate on out-of-date knowledge of self,” he says, leading them away from true appreciation of their partners.
“It’s a myth that a good marriage sustains itself,” he says. “It’s learning yourself, learning your partner. What you are at 24 is not what you are at 34.”