6 Things a Relationship Therapist Is Begging Married Couples To Stop Doing

Married couple sitting outside working on their relationship

The word "perfect" is often used to describe a married couple—"perfect fit," "perfect match," etc. The truth is that no one is perfect, and promises of forever can be challenging to keep. The journey to fulfilling vows of "Til death do us part" can be a long one full of sickness and health, good times and bad, and changes aplenty.

In some ways, that's a good thing—going through the rollercoaster of life together means you likely spent many years with one another. On the flip side, it means navigating imperfect circumstances with one another, and you won't always see eye to eye. But these challenges are not roadblocks. Consider them opportunities for growth and learning, individually and as a team.

That doesn't mean marriage—or those moments—must be chronically miserable and align with the other post-wedded-bliss cliche that involves referring to your partner as a "ball and chain." Marriage takes work and learning which habits to embrace and which to avoid.

A therapist specializing in secure-functioning relationships and a TEDx speaker whose talk boasts more than 1.7 million views discusses the latter. Here are six things a relationship therapist wishes married couples would stop doing pronto for a happier ever after.

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6 Habits a Relationship Therapist Wants Married Couples to Break ASAP

1. Thinking that "love is all you need."

Let's start with a plot twist: "Love is not enough," Dr. Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT, a clinician, researcher, developer of the Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy (PACT) and author of Wired for Love (second edition out June 2024).

Feeling weak at the knees? Take a seat and hear Dr. Tatkin out.

"For love to be protected and for earned love to be achieved, you must make your relationship based on purpose, not emotion," Dr. Tatkin says. "Relationship is an invention of the mind. Make sure you are inventing the same idea."

But how?

"Sit down and do what all other free and fair unions do: Organize and structure your relationship," he says. "You wouldn't start a business, a music band or a dance troupe without a stated purpose, vision and rules of engagement. Think teams, only here you are two...leaders."

Dr. Tatkin suggests asking yourself:

  • What does your union mean?

  • What's its purpose (can't use feelings or emotions)?

  • What are the shared principles by which it functions?

  • How will you govern each other to keep you both safe and secure?

2. Trying to prove that you are right and your partner is wrong.

You know the saying, "You can be right, or you can be in a relationship?" Dr. Tatkin says there's truth to it.

"If you want to put your relationship first instead of yourself, you're going to have to fall on your sword and accept that if your partner saw it, heard it and experienced it, it happened and you probably did it," he explains. "The relationship must be protected at all times as the relationship is a shared idea between the two of you. It should be greater than the two of you."

3. Working on each other when you should be solving the problem.

"Trying to solve each other is war," Dr. Tatkin says. "Nothing will be accomplished except a fight."

The words sound intense, but the point is that important. Instead, Dr. Tatkin suggests treating problem-solving as a jigsaw puzzle. The two of you are on the same team.

"Get something done for now and make sure it's good for both of you before you walk away," Dr. Tatkin says. "If a decision or problem is solved and the result isn’t win-win, you are courting trouble for yourself and each other. Neither of you can afford to lose, so work it out and bargain if necessary."

So, here's another plot twist: "Do not compromise," Dr. Takin says. "Win-win or go home."

4. Talking about emotional matters while driving in the car.

Marriage can be a wild ride, figuratively speaking. Resist the urge to make that comparison a literal one, though.

"Table all emotional conversations until you either park and look at each other face-to-face and eye-to-eye or change the subject to something nonemotional or stressful," Dr. Tatkin says. "The person who is driving does not have the resources necessary to do the task. An emotional conversation will tip that person over, and they will likely go into fight or flight."

Which isn't safe for your relationship (or that of other people on the road).

5. Having emotional conversations via text, email or phone.

You have options for modern-day communication. However, good old-fashioned in-person conversations are the best way to communicate emotions.

"We are visual animals, and we need our eyes to error-correct mistakes we make through other sensory input," Dr. Tatkin says. "For this reason, save emotional or stressful conversations until you go face-to-face, eye to eye, at a relatively close distance."

6. Forgetting or neglecting to reunite and separate from each other.

You had me at hello (and goodbye).

"Separations and reunions, whether you feel it or not, are very important to human beings," Dr. Tatkin explains. "How you end the day together and start the next day together affects your sleep, your health, happiness and wellbeing."

Related: 12 Phrases to Never Use in Your Texts if You’re Divorcing

The No. 1 Habit for a Healthy Marriage

Learning how to fall on your sword.

Dr. Tatkin discussed it in No. 2 and went deeper for this tip.

"Falling on your sword means you apologize sufficiently for any perceived harm experienced by your partner," Dr. Tatkin explains.

For example, "I'm sorry I did that" or "I'm sorry I said that." He recommends following it with an, "I was wrong, and I understand it hurt you."

"Do not qualify, explain, excuse, counter complain or otherwise dismiss your partner’s experience," Dr. Tatkin says. "Just apologize—full stop."

And, yes, he knows this advice can feel like a challenge. 

"We want to disagree, correct our partner’s perception and protect ourselves from blame," Dr. Tatkin. "As natural as that can be, it’s a one-person solution that will simply make you more threatening to your partner. No one ever wins an argument over perception."

Up Next: What Happens When You Ignore a Gaslighter? Psychologists Break It All Down

Expert Source

  • Dr. Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT, a clinician, researcher, developer of the Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy (PACT) and author of Wired for Love (second edition out June 2024).