8 Unexpected Habits That Can Sink A Marriage

02/05/2013 10:27 am ET | Updated Mar 18, 2016

By Jena Pincott

Are you hurting your relationship without even knowing it? Here are eight habits that researchers say can lead to marital problems.

  • You’re Going Separate Ways (Literally)
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  • Your husband works a half hour north, and you travel a half hour south. Your home is precisely midway. Fair, right? Yep, but maritally inauspicious -- that’s what Irene Huang and her colleagues at the Chinese University of Hong Kong found when they studied American couples that commute every day. If, like many couples in the study, you and your partner commute in opposite directions, your marriage may be unhappier than you’d be if you were going in the same direction every day -- even if you don’t leave for work together. What happens in your subconscious, Huang and her colleagues wrote in the study, is that the commute takes on more general goal-related associations. Travel in the same direction, and you feel as if you’re sharing the same goals in life; travel in different directions, and you feel like you’re not.
  • You Eat Burgers At The Wrong Time
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  • We all know that creamy-buttery-lardy-cheesy stuff is bad for heart health. But Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and Ronald Glaser, researchers at Ohio State University, think that high-saturated-fat foods may also hurt your relationship. In an ongoing study, they’re asking married couples to eat meals in the lab -- one of the greasy-burger variety; the other, veggie-heavy. Once finished, the couples are encouraged to discuss vein-popping topics: money, in-laws, housework, and how to raise the kids. Based on their previous research, the researchers have a hunch that the participants’ blood samples will show that fatty foods enhance the body’s stress response to marital spats. Eat unhealthily and your argument may spiral out of control more easily -- and you may run a higher risk of cardiac disease, inflammation, and diabetes over time. Any way you look at a fatty diet, it’s bad for your heart.
  • You Were Never The Smiley Type
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  • You knew those stiff-faced yearbook photos would come back to haunt you one day. But this finding’s unexpected: Women with “low intensity” smiles in their childhood and college photos are five times likelier to get divorced as adults than those who smiled effusively, found a 2009 study at DePauw University. A bright, wide smile represents an underlying positive disposition and worldview -- undoubtedly helpful in marriage. Lifelong smilers may be the type to seek and sustain lasting relationships, and because smiling is contagious, their partners may be happier too. The good news about smiling: If you want, you can “fake it ‘til you make it.” As we know from the facial feedback theory of emotion, smiling deliberately can make you feel happier, because facial expressions influence emotions.
  • You Don't Have The Marriage-Protector Mechanism
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  • Okay, you’d be lying if you said you don’t notice an attractive man when he smiles at you. We all do. And it’s perfectly fine for your married (or boyfriend-ed) self to admit it. But a funny thing happens when you’re truly, deeply committed: you’ll think that guy is less hot once it's clear he's an admirer. In a study led by John Lydon at McGill University, women (and men) who are deeply committed to their partners found an opposite-sex face significantly less alluring when told that the person had singled them out as a potential match. It’s a protective mechanism; they might not even be aware of it. Meanwhile, women who aren’t very committed to their partners are just as attracted to a handsome guy when he comes out as a potential suitor. So if you’re in the habit of finding Don Juans equally (or more) gorgeous when they do something flirty, there is an upside: Now you've identified your own early-warning mechanism and can work on building a deeper commitment with your partner.
  • You Pop A Monthly Rent Check In The Mail
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  • The housing market crashes, and so does your marriage -- but often only if you rent your home. If you own it, you’re likelier to stick it out. This surprising connection between home ownership and the divorce rate comes from a group of economists led by Purvi Sevak at Hunter College (CUNY). Why would it be so? In a housing downturn, owners tend to stay in their marriages because it’s harder to sell their property and they don’t want to lose money. They wait for the market to recover, and -- as time passes -- often reconcile. For better or for worse, your decision not to own joint property removes the wait-and-see lock-in -- making it easier to walk out the door.
  • You Buy His-and-Hers Hermes
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  • You thought you found your soulmate when you met a man who knows Louboutins from Manolo Blahniks. And he was smitten when you noticed that his tie was from the new line at Armani. By all expectations, this would be a marriage made in... well, if not heaven, at least Italy. But researchers at Brigham Young University know better. In a recent study, they found that couples who admit to loving money and “stuff” score 10 percent to 15 percent lower on marriage stability than couples who say money isn’t important to them. They bicker more about finances -- even if they’re financially well off -- and are less responsive to each other. A marriage between two materialists fares worse, in fact, than one with only a single spouse who's a shopaholic.
  • You Lunch With The Wrong Folks
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  • Your boss did it. Lisa in accounting did it. Your best friend, Lynn, did it. Even your upstairs neighbor did it (and noisily). Everyone’s doing it: getting divorced. Not you, you say. But you’re in a high-risk group, judging by the “divorce cluster” data from a study led by Rose McDermott at Brown University. The people in your social network -- everyone you rub shoulders with habitually -- influence your attitude about relationships. People with divorced friends are 147 percent more likely to become divorced. Statistically speaking, the more your friends, co-workers, siblings, and acquaintances have done it, the more likely it is that you might one day say to your husband, "Let’s do it. Let’s get divorced, too."
  • You Light Up Alone
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  • He kicked the cigarette habit, but you can’t. It’s a vicious cycle: You smoke, he complains, you fight, you stress, and then you need to smoke again. (Although correlation isn’t causation; there are other risk factors too.) A group at the Centre for Economic Policy Research in Australia found that smoking is not a very high-risk factor in a marriage if both spouses are smokers. But divorce rates increase significantly -- by 76 to 95 percent -- when only one spouse (especially the wife) has the habit. Quitting saves your (love) life.

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