Ten surprising things sabotaging YOUR relationship: Tracey Cox reveals how grand romantic gestures and NOT arguing could spell trouble – and says couples who marry after 32 are more likely to split
- Tracey Cox reveals 10 surprising things that can sabotage your relationship
- She says to pay attention if you or your partner are trying to buy love
- She also says that daily acts of kindness are better than grand gestures
We all think we know what makes a good relationship fail.
After all, most unhealthy behaviours are glaringly obvious. Cheating on your partner, being abusive, not being affectionate and avoiding sex are all well-known red flags that indicate all is not well.
But there are other, seemingly innocent factors that can insidiously harm your relationship, without you even noticing.
Here’s some of the more unusual – all research backed.
Pay attention if either of you are…
Tracey Cox says there are seemingly innocent factors that can harm your relationship, without you knowing (stock image)
Trying to buy love
Grand gestures like a surprise weekend in Paris are, well, grand. But it’s the small but daily acts of kindness that keep couples close.
The now infamous Enduring Love study shone a light on this when it followed 5,000 people for two years to find out what kept their relationships alive and happy.
It was cups of tea, a cuddle and other small gestures of love that counted the most. Money splashed on flowers, chocolates and perfume might be nice but it’s the thoughtful gestures that made love flourish.
Not getting enough sleep
Numerous studies have shown a correlation between sleep and conflict in relationships. One asked couples to rate how they slept the night before, then record themselves discussing something they recently argued about with their partner. The poor sleepers showed less empathy, poor communication skills and poor judgement of their partner’s emotions.
Tracey suggests that getting more sleep could lead to a happier relationship
Without sufficient, satisfying sleep, your brain doesn’t function properly. You overreact to things that wouldn’t normally bother you – or underreact to your partner’s emotions when normally you read them well.
Insufficient sleep makes us feel stressed, sad and depressed – all of which impact on our partner and the relationship.
If that’s not enough to make you get an early night, this might: not enough sleep also makes you less attractive. A 2017 study found strangers rated sleep-deprived people as less attractive than those who’d clocked up the customary 8-hours. (Not that we needed research to tell us haggard isn’t appealing!)
Getting married at 23
How about this for a specific statistic: getting married at the age of 23 means you have a 45 per cent chance of divorcing.
This was the finding from a study that aimed to find out the top reasons for divorce. The participants (divorced anywhere from one to 14 years) were given a list of common problems and ask to rate which of those were major contributors to the split.
Over 45 per cent said marrying too young was a contributing factor – and 23.3 turned out to be the average age of when these couples tied the knot.
Not spending enough time getting to know their partner first was the primary reason for ticking that box.
Seems the old saying ‘Marry in haste, repent in leisure’ is particularly true for young people.
But don’t leave it too late…
Getting married after 32
According to another study, based on data of 10,000 respondents gathered over seven years, you should head down the aisle within the next decade if you want to last the distance.
Researchers found that if you’re married before 32, every year before it makes a difference, reducing the odds of divorce by 11 percent.
For every year you’re married after the age of 32, your risk of divorce goes up by 5 per cent.
There did find a grace period, however: people who get married between the ages of 28 and 32 are the least likely to get divorced. (Ironic, because I got married at 31 and my first marriage certainly didn’t last the distance!)
Putting ‘me’ before we
A recent study of couples in North America aimed to identify what makes couples happy long-term. Researchers found those who were ‘we-first’ not ‘me-first’ were far happier.
Thinking about what’s good for the relationship, rather than what’s good for you, might not bring instant happiness but, over time, creates more meaning.
The 55 per cent of couples the researchers branded ‘flourishing’ felt more connected when they focused less on what they wanted out of the relationship and more on being kind and empathetic towards their partners.
When a couple boast that they never argue, look at them with alarm not envy. It usually means one or both are conflict-avoidant: too scared to talk about difficult issues for fear of rocking the boat.
Two years ago, a US study confirmed that couples who argue together, stay together. (The research was based on 121 couples in their 30s to 70s who’d been happily married for between nine and 42 years.) There was an interesting caveat though: the happy couples who argued, focused on things that were easy to solve. Researchers concluded that by avoiding the possibly unsolvable, difficult issues, they boosted security in the relationship.
Another study backs this up, reporting that couples who argue are ten times more likely to have a good marriage than those who sweep things under the carpet.
Arguing means you care enough about your partner to want them to agree with you: the opposite to love isn’t hate, it’s indifference.
Obviously, if you’re having constant, bitter rows about everything, your relationship is in trouble. But you’re better off having one argument every two or three weeks than none for months on end.
Tracey says you’re better off having an argument every two or three weeks than none for months on end (stock image)
Omitting certain facts about your life
A certain amount of ‘white lies’ are necessary to be polite: you thank people for an unwanted gift, tell the waiter everything was great when it was the worst meal you’ve had in years. But complete transparency in a relationship is imperative if you’re to survive and thrive.
Lying isn’t just about covering up infidelity, it’s telling half-truths: making promises you have no intention of keeping, not being honest about your feelings and withholding information that affects the relationship.
Of all these things, it’s lies by omission – not revealing important information because you weren’t directly asked about it – that are the most unforgiveable because there’s no way to guarantee it won’t happen again.
‘But you didn’t ask me if I’d ever been in prison/raped someone/been addicted to drugs/had a restraining order taken out against me,’ is the usual defence. What’s the solution? Ask your partner if they’ve ever done any and every despicable thing you can think of?
Numerous studies on affairs show the lying required to sustain an affair often causes more damage to the relationship than the physical infidelity.
Having different dreams
You’ll travel anywhere to pursue your career, they’re happy with a nine-to-five job so long as it’s near their parents. Your dream is to retire in a little village with one pub, your partner hyperventilates if they’re more than a mile from a Pret.
The most compatible couples can have incompatible life goals – it’s not the end of the world if you do. But there does need to be wiggle room for compromise.
One Australian study of couples who’d been together more than 30 years found shared life goals was a strong bonding factor.
Having said that, you might also find you come around to each other’s way of thinking. Another study of 450 couples found couples influence each other long-term when it comes to goals. This could be a vital mechanism that works to keep relationships stable.
Tracey says that getting couples therapy from an impartial, trained expert can help a lot (stock image)
Not having couples therapy
Lots of couples think admitting they need counselling is the kiss of death for the relationship: only those on the brink of separating see a therapist!
Not true. Couples who see a therapist at the first hint of a problem they can’t solve are far less likely to separate than those who don’t.
Thirty years ago, couples therapy had a less than 50 per cent success rate. It worked – but the benefits tended to be short-lived. New approaches, like EFT (emotion-focused therapy), have a success rate that’s between 75 and 98 per cent.
Despite this, most couples wait an average of six years before getting help. Don’t wait: the sooner you seek help, the more chance you’ve got and the less damage the problem will cause long-term.
The therapist isn’t going to magically solve all your problems for you – they’re therapists not magicians. But getting help from an impartial, trained expert helps a lot.
Before you bristle with indignance and tell me having children is the best thing you ever did, let me clarify that on a personal level, children are more likely to make you happier rather than less happy.
Some more good news for parents: couples who were happy before they had children appear to be relatively protected from most of the negative effects of having children. Even more so if the decision to have them was mutual.
What is clear, though, is babies won’t bring you closer if you’re not happy to start with: having children to ‘save’ your marriage is one of the most foolish, misguided decisions you’ll ever make.
Research shows there is a ‘happiness bump’ that parents experience right after a baby is born. But that tends to disappear over the course of a year. After that, the levels of happiness of parents gradually diverge, with non-parents generally growing happier over time.
Bringing up children is tough! Having kids might boost life satisfaction but it comes at a price: tremendous responsibility and constant stress.
We might call unmarried, childless women derogatory names like ‘spinster’, but science continues to tell us they are the happiest subgroup in the population. And they are more likely to live longer than their married, child-rearing peers as well.
- You’ll find Tracey’s product ranges, supersex and Edge, at lovehoney. Details of her books, blog and weekly podcast are on traceycox.com