Want a better marriage? Stop doing these four things!

Aug 18, 2018

All couples have their rough moments. Fights, missteps, and miscommunications will happen. Clearly is unrealistic for our relationships to be blissful 100 percent of the time. Yet, some relationships dip into the negative too often. This can leave both partners with ongoing stress which is not healthy or satisfying.

 John Gottman, PhD and author of “What Makes Love Last” has dedicated his career to research and working with couples. Gottman tells couples to aim for having a ratio of five positive moves to every one negative one.

The 5 to 1 ratio is not an arbitrary formula. Gottman came up with this ratio after spending years researching what leads to divorce and what leads to a long-lasting marriage. It turns out that couples who hit the 5 to 1 ratio are more likely to stay together happily, while those with more negativity are more likely to divorce.

When couples are moving toward distress there are several common negative moves that show up. If you are frustrated in your relationship there are several key moves that you will want to stop doing (or at least do less of)! Keep reading.


Blame is common! It can happen fast, often below our level of consciousness. We do this out of self-protection. It is far easier to say our mistakes are the result of external factors instead of looking at what we are doing to create our problems. For example,

I commonly hear couples blame their partner for the problems within the marriage.

“Things would be great between us if only...

she was not so controlling…

he would listen to what I have to say…

she would stop nagging…

he would be home more”.

All these things may be true! But focusing on what frustrates you about your partner, unfortunately, does not create change. In fact, it will only keep you stuck.

Self-blame is also unproductive. Although it will be beneficial to examine all the ways you contribute to your dynamic, blaming yourself entirely for your relationship struggles is counterproductive. Both of you are dancing.

When working with couples, I help them shift blame to the dance itself. This allows couples to join together against their struggles. It is often a relief to know that neither one is at fault, but instead, they get swept up in a dynamic that leads to all sorts of difficulties. Together they are empowered to change the dynamic, not the other person.

Toxic Negativity

All of us will be negative sometimes. We have hard days, cranky moods, and feel a whole range of emotions. Sometimes we vent or complain. This is normal, and, healthy. This not the type of negativity that I am talking about.

Toxic negativity is different.  It centers around wanting to bring down your partner, or hurt him/her in some way, whether this is conscious or unconscious. Critical comments, passive aggressiveness, put-downs, will add up and take a toll on the wellbeing of your relationship.

Underneath harshness or criticism is almost always a yearning for closeness and feelings of sadness or hurt. This does not excuse the hurtful behavior but it should provide more insight. It should also provide hope because there is so much room for growth. 

Find ways to express your feelings, needs, and requests with respect and grace. If either you or your partner are not able to do this on your own, find a couples therapist who is trained in emotionally focused therapy or attend one of our workshops.


You will have complaints about your partner. Everyone has shortcomings.

It is likely you will judge your partner from time to time. But if judgment is taking up a lot of space, this will be important to explore. Often, our judgments have more to do with our self than they do the other person. Take a look within yourself and see if there are certain behaviors or qualities you have that may need to be looked at.

On the other hand, if your partner is doing something with his or her life that creates a lot of angst within you, it is important to take action. Sitting back and judging, without inward work or outward effort, will create distance and coldness in your relationship without positive change.

See if you can shift from judgement to acceptance, of yourself and of your partner. The first step is to notice it and name it. Next, explore what the judgment says about your you, your partner, and your relationship.  Is this something you can accept? 


Defensiveness prevents meaningful communication. It also prevents learning and growth. When someone points out my mistakes, I can quickly go to defense. The challenge here is that when I start defending, I stop listening.

The next time you catch yourself wanting to defend, see if you can pause, and simply hear and accept what the other has to say. If you stay quiet and listen, it is possible you will learn something very important about yourself, your partner, or the relationship.


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