Some unhealthy behaviors in a relationship are obvious—things like lying, cheating, shouting, and name calling. But there are more insidious habits that couples develop without realizing how damaging they can be in the long run.
We asked therapists to figure out the seemingly inconsequential things couples do all the time that are secretly damaging to the relationship.
1. You ignore your partner’s interests
This is normal – even healthy! – Have interests that differ from those of your partner. Just because your significant other loves country music doesn’t mean you have to put on a cowboy hat and rush to the Luke Bryan concert. But you can still find small ways to support your partner’s passions, even if they’re not necessarily your thing.
“For example, if your partner wants to share a song with you, it’s important to show interest in what they like about it or to listen to it, even though you may not have a taste for that genre of music,” Los Angeles Marriage and Family Therapist Abigail Makepeace said HuffPost. “Otherwise, ultimately, a lack of recognition of your partner’s interests can leave you feeling that their passions — or that they themselves — are not accepted in your relationship.”
“You don’t have to enjoy the song, but just listening or chatting about what your partner might enjoy about it provides the support you need,” she added.
2. You don’t say thank you for the little things
You show your appreciation when your partner buys you a gift, plans a weekend getaway, or books you a massage. But you may forget to acknowledge them for the little things that they make everyday easier. Failure to recognize these efforts can lead to resentment over time.
“Good relationships are not about grand gestures. They are built and sustained by the small, everyday moments,” the therapist said Nicole Saunders from Charlotte, North Carolina. “If you fail to notice and acknowledge your partner for all the work they’ve put into the relationship — even if it’s something they ‘should’ be doing, like emptying the dishwasher — that’s it a missed opportunity to build a positive connection.”
Don’t take these small acts for granted. Whatever your partner does to make your life easier deserves recognition.
“Good relationships are not about grand gestures. They are built and sustained in the small, everyday moments.”
– Nicole Saunders, therapist in Charlotte, North Carolina
“It could be getting your favorite snack from the store, making the bed the way you like it, or greeting you with a hug because they know physical touch is your love language,” Saunders said. “Then tell them a real thank you! Bonus – it’s also a great way to reinforce behaviors you want to keep seeing.”
3. You have become careless about your personal hygiene
Skipping the occasional shower isn’t a big deal, but when skipping basic grooming becomes a habit, it can get in the way of intimacy and create conflict in the relationship.
“Not brushing your teeth, showering, shaving, etc. can be inconsiderate to our partners, especially when we know it’s bothering them and we still have no intention of handling it better,” said the Northern California therapist KurtSmithwho specializes in counseling men.
It is worth noting that sometimes poor hygiene can be an outward manifestation of mental illness like depression. If you’re struggling with motivation in other areas of your life, feeling worthless, or becoming socially withdrawn, talk to your partner and consider making an appointment with a mental health professional as well.
4. You criticize your partner instead of asking for what you need
Criticism is when a grievance in the relationship is voiced as a character flaw, couples therapist Zach Brittle previously told HuffPost.
For example, you could snap at your partner and say something like, “You’re always late for dinner.” Why can’t you always be on time? You are so inconsiderate.”
When we resort to criticism, we put our partner on the defensive, which often leads to a fight — not the positive change we’re hoping for, Makepeace said. Over time, these harsh words can affect our partner’s self-esteem and create an emotional distance between the two of you.
“If we want our partners to do something differently, we should make a specific request for a change in their actions, rather than making a negative judgment,” Makepeace said.
So, using the example above, you could try saying, “I feel disrespected if you don’t tell me you’ll be late. I want you to call ahead so I can plan dinner accordingly.”
5. They have no life outside of the relationship
When you’re dating someone for the first time, it’s not uncommon to find yourself going through a honeymoon phase where you spend most of your time together. But if after a while you still focus all your energy on your partner and your friends, family, and other interests are left behind, it could bode bad for the future.
“When couples get too involved, it puts a lot of pressure on the relationship,” Saunders said. “Keeping the relationship alive at all costs can become a goal because neither partner has a separate living or support system to fall back on. It can feel like life will end when the relationship ends.
To avoid this toxic trap, make sure you continue to nurture your identity, interests, and meaningful connections outside of your romantic relationship.
“It’s important to have regular time to yourself, whether that’s going out and doing different things with different people, or just enjoying different shows on weekdays, or pursuing different hobbies in different rooms,” Saunders said.
6. You check your partner’s phone without asking
Peeking at your partner’s text messages or Instagram direct messages may seem harmless, but it is actually an invasion of their privacy and a sign of underlying issues between you.
“If you depend on accessing your partner’s phone to confirm their fidelity, it reflects a huge lack of trust in the relationship,” Makepeace said.
It’s reasonable—not suspicious or dishonest—that people in relationships want to maintain some degree of privacy and autonomy from their partner.
“A lot of people in relationships want a piece of their own benevolent independence,” psychologist Ryan Howes previously told HuffPost. “It doesn’t mean they want to break up. They often love their relationships and want them to last, but they also want a small part of their lives to themselves — and that’s not necessarily a problem.”
Resist the urge to check each other’s devices. Instead, be vulnerable enough to talk about the insecurities that drive you to snoop in the first place.
7. You make promises you can’t keep
When you keep your word—even when it comes to small things—you go a long way toward building trust and making your partner feel loved and valued. Conversely, if you get in the habit of saying you’re going to do something and then consciously or unconsciously dismissing it, it can drive a wedge between you and your partner over time.
“This can take many different forms, from tracking and managing the lease process for their car, to getting the baseboards in the living room finished, to emptying the dishwasher every day as promised, to not being able to go anywhere at the agreed time,” said Smith.
Try setting reminders to complete important tasks on your phone or write them down in a planner so you don’t forget them. Only take on tasks that you know you can handle and set a realistic time frame for them. (In other words, don’t promise too much to please your partner.) And if you don’t seem to be able to pull it off, tell your partner as soon as possible.
“Explain exactly why you’re not making it,” says relationship author Sheri Stritof wrote for Verywell Mind. “Make such a situation the exception rather than the rule, especially if you are working to build trust.”