Close Calls

The Seemingly Small Habit That Almost Ruined My Marriage, According to 11 Men

Little things make a big difference.

Originally Published: 
Middle aged husband and wife sitting on couch having serious discussion

Not drawing a firm line between work and home. Keeping score in a relationship. Ignoring a spouse in favor of online life. When we asked men to tell us about the habit that almost ruined their marriage, the answers didn’t involve cataclysmic events like secret affairs or blowing too much on weekends in Vegas. Rather, what they mentioned seemed, to them, rather small and innocent at the time. Minor flags thrown on a few plays. But, of course, the small things are often big things in relationships and when they happen and happen and happen again, they chip away at a relationship’s foundation. Luckily, each of these men were able to recognize their mistakes, took the time to learn what their partner’s needed from them, and did better. As it’s good to learn from others, here are the small things these men did (or didn’t do), and the realizations that stopped them from causing bigger trouble.

1. I Didn’t Acknowledge The Little Things

“At first, it seemed relatively inconsequential. Maybe I didn't notice my wife's new haircut immediately, or forgot to thank her for her constant efforts in balancing work and family. But over time, these oversights can — and did — accumulate into feelings of being underappreciated. Small gestures play a huge role in maintaining a satisfying relationship. In the rush of daily life, I guess I was missing those. I realized my error when, one evening, my wife casually mentioned how her colleague always noticed the little changes she made. It was kind of a hint laden with subtle hurt. It was a wake-up call. Since then, I’ve made a deliberate effort to be present, to actively listen, and to appreciate. It's not just about acknowledging the obvious but genuinely investing time to understand her joys and concerns. This conscious change has transformed our relationship, and those tiny moments of acknowledgment make her feel appreciated.” - Matt, 38, Oregon

2. I Failed To Switch Off “Work Mode”

“As the leader of a start-up, my mind was constantly engrossed in my work, even during family time. It began to strain my relationship with my wife, who felt emotionally neglected. I didn't realize the severity of the problem until one day my wife broke down and explained how my constant preoccupation with work was affecting our relationship. She felt as if she was sharing her life with a 'ghost', a husband who was physically present but mentally miles away. The first step towards rectifying my mistake was to acknowledge it. I began by setting boundaries between my work and personal life. I made it a point to completely disengage from work during family time. This small change had a profound impact on our relationship. By simply being present, both physically and mentally, during family time, I was able to reconnect with my wife on a deeper level. It made her feel valued and cherished, which in turn strengthened our bond.” - Liam, early 40s, California

3. I Was Always Online

“I'm a web developer and entrepreneur, and one small habit that almost derailed my marriage was being glued to my tech gadgets. I'd get home and immediately dive into emails, coding, or scrolling through social media. It seemed harmless, but it created a virtual wall between my spouse and me. The intimacy started to fade, and conversations became transactional. I realized the issue when my spouse pointed out that we hadn't had a meaningful conversation in months. That was a wake-up call. I started setting tech-free zones at home and designated 'us time' where gadgets were off-limits. The change was immediate; our conversations became more meaningful, and the emotional connection was rekindled. The biggest lesson I learned was that just because you live under one roof, does not mean you automatically have quality time together.” - Faddy, 39, Chiang Mai, Thailand

4. I Constantly Overcommitted

“At one point, I realized that I was consistently overcommitting myself to various work projects, social obligations, and personal interests. While it seemed harmless on the surface, this habit was causing me to neglect quality time with my wife. I began to notice the impact when my wife's expressions showed increasing disappointment when I told her I couldn't make it to dinner or had to postpone our weekend plans. Gradually, she seemed more distant, and our communication became strained. To address this, I started by openly discussing the issue with her, explaining my realization and apologizing for my actions. She appreciated my honesty, and we decided to set clear boundaries for our personal time. Also, we started to spend quality time together and during this time I made an effort to be present both physically and mentally, setting aside distractions like my phone or work-related thoughts. The change was remarkable. We laughed more, shared our thoughts openly, and felt a renewed sense of connection. Over time, my wife's smile returned, and her enthusiasm for our shared moments was infectious.” - Erdenay, 32, California

5. I Didn’t Text To Check In

“My bad habit was not texting or calling my wife to check in during the day. After our morning kiss goodbye, I didn’t bother to ask her about her day or tell her about mine until we would see each other after work in the evening. At first, she didn’t say anything about it. But early last year, she brought it up. I’m not used to calling or texting people while I’m at work. She said that it would make her feel better, and like I was thinking about her. We actually went into counseling about this, and I realized how much it meant to her. I opened up to some of my friends for advice, and they suggested setting up three alarms - one at 12pm, one at 3pm, and one at 5pm - which would remind me to check in with my wife. So far, I’ve been successful. My wife is much happier now, which makes me happy too.” - Phillip, 39, Colorado

6. I Ignored Affectionate Gestures

“I’ve learned that the habit of not reciprocating or initiating small acts of affection, such as hugs, kisses, or compliments, might seem trivial but can be harmful in the long term. These small gestures are important to emotional connections and intimacy within a marriage, and I was guilty of not realizing their importance. At first, I attributed it to my busy schedule. But then I realized that I was making excuses. I tried more actively to notice these gestures, and acknowledge them with a response. I’m not great at it, especially when the gestures are subtle, but I’m getting better. Most importantly, I’m back on track as a husband who is emotionally connected to my wife and our relationship.” - Sam, 45, New York

7. I Didn’t Take Enough Things Seriously

“It started out as a way to lighten the mood, but it eventually became a way to avoid dealing with difficult emotions and issues. My wife started to feel like I didn’t respect her, or our relationship. And even though that wasn’t the case, I can see why that’s how it was perceived. Laughter has always been my go-to coping mechanism, so when something potentially serious would come up, that’s where my mind would go. I was young, and definitely less mature than I am now, so I look back and am grateful that I was able to check this habit before it became more toxic. I’ve learned now that there’s a time and place for making fun of things to lighten the mood. But I’ve also learned that it can’t be a blanket response. Each situation has to be treated uniquely and with respect.” - Robert, 30, Ohio

8. I Dismissed Small Talk

“I was always focused on big discussions, like finances, or life goals, or major decisions. I dismissed the ‘How was your day?’ type conversations as unimportant, and sometimes even annoying. I noticed this was becoming an issue when we would have those larger conversations, and there was a palpable tension. Small talk is supposed to be fun, and low-stakes. That’s the exact opposite of what our relationship had become. We didn’t have a grand discussion about it or anything. Instead, I just tried to make myself more accessible and amenable to chit-chat. In short, I opened up. The change was almost immediate, and now I really enjoy the small talk my wife and I are able to share. I’m thankful that my error never turned into something more ugly, but I’m aware of how and why it could have.” - Aaron, 43, Illinois

9. I Didn’t Load The Dishwasher

“I’ve always left for work before my wife, and gotten home after her in the evening. So it never really occurred to me that there were certain chores she was doing day after day right before I would come home. Unloading the dishwasher was one of those chores that, for me, was sort of out of sight, out of mind. What wasn’t out of sight to me was the fact that, after dinner every night, my wife would load the dishwasher with all of our dirty dishes. I should’ve been the one to do that, or at least offer to do it. We did get into a bit of an argument about it, which turned into a more constructive discussion about respect, being a team, and appreciating each other. It turned out there were other things I’d been doing — and not doing — that had made my wife feel overwhelmed and exhausted. Even though that discussion we had wasn’t exactly pleasant, I’m glad it happened. I want to pitch in as much as my wife does, which is a lot.” - Travis, 35, Indiana

10. I Always Compared Myself To Others

“I’ve had issues with jealousy ever since I was a kid. I didn’t realize they were affecting my marriage until recently, though. As a kid, my jealousy would manifest when one of my friends got a cool new toy, or video game, or something. In my marriage, I got jealous of other people’s relationships. I was constantly comparing my marriage to everyone else’s, especially when things weren’t going well. If we had a fight, I’d think, ‘So-and-so never fight like this. They’re perfect.’ If we took a nice vacation, I’d think, ‘Yeah, but so-and-so’s vacation was nicer.’ Even though I didn’t always say this stuff out loud, it was keeping me from being present and grateful. It was ruining my perception of my marriage, which is actually really great. I’m thankful for therapy, and being able to be open and honest with my wife, for helping me deal with this issue one day at a time. It could’ve festered for a long time and led me down a path I don’t want to go down.” - David, 37, Pennsylvania

11. I Kept Score

“This wasn’t something I found myself doing intentionally, but I guess that’s what most habits are. Every day for years, I subconsciously kept score in my marriage with regard to everything from chores, to expenses, and even quality time. I’d find myself thinking things like, I did the laundry yesterday, she should do it today. Or, I said, I love you more times than she did today. Does she still love me? My mood would change based on whether or not I felt like the score was ‘even’. It was really self-destructive, and stupid, and caused an unnecessary rift in our relationship until my wife told me off. She told me how my insecurity put pressure on her, and set this imaginary bar that she knew she would never reach because I’d always find something else to keep score of. She was totally right, and it was a wake up call I needed. It’s been a hard habit to break, but I’m motivated knowing that my family and my marriage are at stake.” - Steve, 44, North Carolina

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