We all know that couple: The one that bickers at dinner parties and makes snide remarks behind each others’ backs. The one that prompts the question: Why are they still together?
But contemptuous couples don’t get that way overnight. To help you and your partner avoid the same fate, we asked relationship experts to share some of the biggest mistakes people in unhappy relationships make — and how to course-correct if you’ve made them. See what they had to say below.
1. They compare their behavior now to their behavior when they dated.
Couples are never more romantic (or PDA-inclined) than in the early days of a relationship. It’s inevitable that some of the romance will fade over time — and while it’s important to address it, bringing up the past rarely helps the matter, said Anne Crowley, an Austin, Texas-based psychologist.
“A spouse in an unhappy marriage might complain ‘you used to be so romantic!’” she said. “Unfortunately, the other partner’s response is often a defensive one — ‘Hey, that was before we had three kids!’”
Instead of getting bogged down in the past, “see what happens when you tell your spouse you miss him or her,” Crowley said. “Oftentimes it is intimacy that we are seeking with our spouse and anger only serves to push him or her away. Communication is the bridge to intimacy. When we feel connected with our spouse, we feel loved and valued.”
2. They’re pros at passive aggression.
The road to divorce is paved with passive aggressive digs and eye rolls, said Marina Sbrochi, a relationship expert and the author of Stop Looking for a Husband: Find the Love of Your Life.
“If your partner models contemptuous behavior, you’ll most likely pick up that vibe and escalate the issue,” she said. “You’ll both walk away silently cursing each other.”
To put an end to the silent treatment, you need to get smarter with your argument style, Sbrochi suggested.
“The next time you argue, take note of how one person’s attitude is contagious,” she said. “Instead of matching attitude, stop the bad-attitude train. Listen respectively and try to figure out what exactly your partner is trying to say to you.”