3 Subtle Reactions that Threaten Your Marriage

I noticed a reaction in me the other night that caught my attention. At first it was subtle–a little difficult to detect. But the more it played out in my mind, the stronger it felt. I was annoyed with my wife Marian. It wasn’t like she did something major to annoy me. In fact, it was something occurs almost every night when she goes to bed. Marian asked me to bring her a glass of water. Internally I started complaining. “Why didn’t you ask me earlier when I kissed you goodnight?” The problem wasn’t her request. It was my reaction. I was annoyed because I was finally relaxing at the end of a long day and I just wanted some “me time”. Her request didn’t take much effort on my part, yet on the inside it felt like she asked me to draw her water from a spring in Fiji! This was a critical moment. I knew I had to get a grip on my attitude right away. My annoyance could have gotten me in trouble. Worse, it could form a pattern of thinking that could threaten our marriage. Unchecked negative attitudes form subtle reactions that threaten marriage. Here are 3 common reactions I observe among couples. [Tweet “Unchecked negative attitudes form subtle reactions that threaten marriage.”]


Why is a simple request like placing the coffee cup in the dishwasher not honored? What’s the big deal? You ask. Your spouse agrees. Yet, the cup remains on the counter. Can it be chalked up to forgetting every time? Or, is their another subtle reaction going on? Resistance is a reaction that forms in marriages around the interplay of power between individuals. Like kids, we resist being told what to do. A request is heard like a command from a parent. The odds are in favor of non-compliance. This frustrates the spouse and can lead to one of many arguments. As you know, conflict is exhausting–which leads to the next subtle reaction.


In my work with couples, I usually start with a check-in. I want to know how the marriage fared between sessions. Sometimes I will get this response. “It was a better week, we didn’t fight at all.” When I inquire further, the answer I often hear is, “We were busy and didn’t interact much.” This is generally code for “we are avoiding getting into a fight”. The avoidance strategy may help reduce conflict but it also increases distance in a marriage. Couples may find they are going through the motions minus the heart. This coping strategy serves short-term purposes (avoiding conflict) but it does long-term damage to the relationship. Getting close after months/years of avoidance is very challenging. [Tweet “Patterns of resistance and avoidance weaken the heart of the marriage.”] Patterns of resistance and avoidance weaken the heart of the marriage. A lack of caring permeates the relationship and contributes to the third subtle reaction.


Generally speaking, resentment forms differently for men and women in marriage. Women often say, “I don’t think I matter enough to him.” On the other hand, men complain, “No matter what I do, it’s never good enough for her.” These mantras contribute to the subtle formation of resentment. The build up of resentment will threaten your marriage. Resentment weakens the will to try. The heart of the marriage is failing.

Three Things You Can Do To Avoid These Reactions

You don’t have to succumb to these subtle threats. Here are three things you can practice that will help you serve each other more honorably.
Monitor your attitude
When my wife asked me for a glass of water I had to deal with my attitude. She wasn’t trying to deny me time alone. It was a simple request that held a special meaning for her. “I matter to him and he cares for me.” Before you react with annoyance or resistance, get your attitude in check. We are supposed to take care of each other. If your wife asks you to put your cup in the dishwasher view it as an act of love, not control.
Adjust your approach
Sometimes resistance is a reaction to your approach. Think about your tone. Is it harsh, demanding, or critical? If so, you activated your spouse’s resistance. You may need to adjust your approach. Power struggles often occur over little things when couples don’t communicate well. You may want to address this in your marriage. Say something like this, “We are not doing a good job communicating about this. I’m not trying to control you. I am sorry if it came across that way. It means a lot to me when you put the coffee cup in the dishwasher. Believe it or not, but it reduces my stress level. I know that’s important to you. It also makes me feel loved.”
Act for the welfare of your marriage
Stubbornness does not serve your marriage. It’s a poor use of time and energy. If you are stubborn, your spouse will likely reciprocate. Two stubborn people produce a boring marriage. Act for the welfare of your marriage. Respond to the request for help. Perform acts of kindness for your spouse. Develop a positive attitude. This can shift you out of an avoidant pattern and breathe new life into your marriage.

Now it’s your turn

What is one subtle reaction you can work on changing for the next 7 days? Feel free to leave a comment below or on one of my social media sites.