You're fully aware that meddling in-laws, money troubles and even your (usually) sweet children can wreak havoc on your relationship. But the things that can really drive a wedge between you and your husband might be much more subtle. Before blaming the classic culprits, learn how to recognize these unexpected instigators of marriage distress and minimize their potential effects. Photo by Getty Images
1. Digital Communication
Sending texts, emails and Facebook messages can be faster than sitting down for a face-to-face conversation. But an Oxford University study found that couples who talk more through digital channels are likely to be less satisfied with their relationships. It could be because technology strips away the emotion that comes with communicating in person. "The further you get from expressing yourself fully, the more room there is for couples to miss each other," says Jenev Caddell, PsyD, founder of My Best Relationship Psychological Services, PLLC. Be sure to balance the occasional "thinking of you" text with face time, especially for pressing concerns.
2. On-Screen Romances
Can't get enough of fictional couples in movies and TV shows? That actually may distance you from your spouse. Research has shown that marrieds who believe strongly in TV depictions of romance are less committed to their current relationships. Despite rocky times for sitcom and romcom twosomes, viewers come to expect roses and adventures as everyday treats from their spouses, which just doesn't happen. "They remove themselves from their own reality," Dr. Caddell says. Using storylines as inspiration to try something new together can be wonderful, as long as you remember real relationships don't operate exactly as scripted ones do.
3. Poor Sleep
Getting enough rest is a health must-and maybe a marriage must, too. A UC Berkeley study revealed that couples engage in more intense spats after a bad night's sleep. "If you're sleep-deprived, you have poor concentration and can't think clearly," says Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD, psychologist and expert for WebMD's Relationships and Coping Community. So it's no wonder difficult discussions can turn ugly. If things get heated with your partner, own up to feeling more tired than usual. Then, readdress the issue after you've had some decent shut-eye.
4. Grand Gestures of Affection
The occasional fancy getaway can't compensate for a missing daily spark. In 2011, the National Marriage Project discovered that parents who do small, helpful things for each other, like making coffee or expressing affection, are less likely to get divorced than those who don't. "If you haven't nurtured the close relationship, your partner might not care much about the grand gestures," Dr. Becker-Phelps says. Learn the little things your spouse enjoys and find ways to incorporate them into your routine. And don't forget to acknowledge how much your husband's acts of kindness mean to you.
5. Never Arguing
Just because you don't fight doesn't mean things are peachy. "No differences is a sign couples aren't being honest with each other," Dr. Becker-Phelps says. Besides, arguing is good for your health, according to a University of Michigan study. Avoiding conflict can increase stress hormone levels, something your relationship could do without. The best way to broach an uncomfortable topic: Start with positives. "Let your partner know you feel good with him, and be clear that you're talking only about a particular behavior," she suggests.
6. Divorcing Friends
Be wary of rifts between married pals. Research has found that divorce spreads through social networks, families and even workplaces. "It's less about what's happening in others' relationships and more about how you perceive it," Dr. Becker-Phelps says. For instance, if your friend's spouse cheats, your trust in your partner may waver. What matters, though, is how your marriage ticks, not that of those around you. "Have other relationships be secondary to what you know about your own," she recommends.
7. Date Night
Deciding what to do together can be as frustrating as making the time. "Women prefer planned activities while men tend to be spontaneous," says Howard Markman, PhD, co-author of Fighting for Your Marriage. A romantic dinner out may be up your alley, but your hubby might be hoping for a casual movie night at home. In truth, you both need to be open to what the other thinks is fun. Suggest something he'd like without having all the details beforehand. And next time, encourage him to set aside an hour or two for an activity you like. You'll both end up winners.
8. Apologizing Too Much
Saying sorry isn't what your spouse really wants after a fight. "An apology by itself likely won't address your partner's main concerns," says Keith Sanford, PhD, a researcher on a Baylor University study that found most couples would prefer their better half give up power or contribute more to the relationship than say sorry. Instead of apologizing, try compromising. Speak up about what you need, say, more involvement around the house, and hear out your husband about his needs. Disagreements go more smoothly when you deal directly with the issue.
9. Your Dreams
A nightmare about a cruel or unfaithful husband can lead to a real-life argument with your saint of a spouse, according to new research. "They wake up and that idea is active in their minds and affects how they behave," says Dylan Selterman, PhD, the study's author and a psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland. Such dreams could stem from your insecurities, like thinking your partner will abandon or cheat on you. While you're awake, discuss together what may be sparking those feelings. You could end up with sweeter dreams-and fewer fights.