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The Real Housewives of Orange County's Emily Simpson is approaching her 10-year anniversary with her husband, Shane, but their chemistry has noticeably fizzled. The tension, rejection and distance so far this season has taken a huge toll on Emily’s confidence, emotional state, and happiness. Maintaining a spark with your partner is crucial to a healthy relationship, so it’s important to recognize the telltale triggers that could cause the love in your relationship to fade.
Personal Space spoke to licensed clinical psychologist and couples therapist Dr. Sarah Schewitz and learned the five common behaviors that could eventually doom a relationship.
Having a playful, teasing relationship may work for some, but if the jokes become mean-spirited or too snarky, it can feel disrespectful.
Dr. Schewitz explains "this behavior is called contempt, and it is incredibly detrimental to a relationship." In fact, "contempt is one of the highest predictors of divorce" and "those exposed to contempt regularly, are even more susceptible to illness and get sick more often." Perhaps that was one of the factors contributing to Emily’s stress-induced alopecia.
When trouble comes to paradise, stress can take both a physical and an emotional toll — "contempt, or making your partner feel less than you, completely erodes fondness, respect, and admiration in a relationship." Emily made it crystal clear to Shane that she no longer tolerated being the butt of his jokes, but he didn't seem to process her pleas.
According to Dr. Schewitz, "the antidote to contempt is focusing on the positive in your partner." She suggests, "if you find yourself pointing out what’s wrong all the time, make a conscious effort to notice what’s right." Dr. Schewitz suggests "writing down 3 things per day that you love and admire about your partner."
2. Rejecting Intimacy
Whether your partner is looking to cuddle, kiss, or get sensual, habitually rejecting physical advances of intimacy will harm the relationship. Emily became upset when she asked Shane for a kiss and leaned in, and he quipped "only for special occasions." Dr. Schewitz explains "each time a partner reaches out for physical intimacy, they are making a bid for connection" and shutting them down closes the door on making that connection. The reason this is so harmful for romance and a relationship is because, "if you miss or reject enough of your partners bids for connection, it can cause your partner to feel unloved, undesirable, and unappreciated."
Dr. Schewitz advises that "one way to address this is to limit the number of times you reject your partner’s physical advances — if all they want to do is cuddle, that’s easy enough to oblige." When it comes to sexual advances, if they are in the mood and "you just aren’t feeling it, let them know how turned on you are using a scale from 1 to 10." (For example, "I’m at the 3 right now, but if you can get me to an 8, I’m in.")
3. Unsupportive Partner
If your partner has expressed the desire to try something new or break out of their comfort zone, it’s important for the spouse to support their dreams. Dr. Schewitz explains that being an unsupportive partner is particularly "detrimental because your partner is supposed to be your biggest cheerleader."
When Emily planned to dance on stage in Vegas to boost her confidence and turn-on Shane, she was not expecting to be shot down. When Shane opted out, Emily had to rely on her friends for support — and even her mother-in-law, because she couldn't count on her husband. Dr. Schewitz notes that "it’s hard enough as it is to accomplish life goals and dreams [and it’s even] harder if you don’t have the support of the person closest to you."
Dr. Schewitz advises that "if your partner isn’t supporting your goals and dreams, ask them to sit down and have a heart to heart." She suggests communicating "how much these goals and their support means to you." When doing so, "try to avoid blaming, shaming or criticizing and just speak vulnerably from your heart."
4. Overtly Selfish
Selfish behavior is common, but it will eventually sabotage even strong relationships. Dr. Schewitz explains that "sometimes this is necessary depending on the season of your life. For example, something like studying for the bar exam is an intensive process that needs a lot of focused attention." In that case, "it’s reasonable for one partner to pick up the slack when the other has to do something intensive for a limited amount of time."
It’s a normal course of action for Emily to care for the kids while Shane was focused on preparing for the California bar exam. However, "if one partner finds themselves sacrificing for the other all the time, they are going to feel resentful and unimportant." The way Shane treated Emily when he was around in between his studies, created a dynamic where Emily felt completely alone emotionally and physically, and the resentment grew.
Dr. Schewitz says that "if you are in this situation, it’s important to discuss boundaries and expectations before and during the process to keep communication open and avoid resentment building." She notes,"when life gets stressful, it’s easy to take it out on those closest to you." However, "they’re usually the ones who support you the most and deserve more respect and appreciation than anyone."
5. Generally Unappreciative
Being a partner who is unappreciative of what your other half is doing in the house, with the kids, at work or in general gets old really fast. According to Dr. Schewitz, this can "vary a lot from couple to couple depending on culture, family values, and the relationships the couple has with each family member." In some cases, it’s possible they may not care if "you acknowledge their efforts with your family because you both just agree that is expected of each other and put equal effort into maintaining family relationships."
However, "different backgrounds have different expectations about how much time and effort should go into relationships with extended family." When Emily threw a dinner party for Shane’s family, she expected him to take a break from his studies to attend and spend that family time, since she exerted a special effort to make it nice. But he didn't arrive and wasn't grateful over FaceTime when she tried to include him in the celebrations, Emily felt wounded and completely unappreciated.
Dr. Schewitz explains that "if you know your partner is trying really hard to connect with your family… it’d be nice to say thank you on a regular basis." If you aren't saying thank you or showing gratitude, "they may start feeling taken for granted." Also, Dr. Schewitz notes that a good behavior check is "if you can muster up the strength to be polite to your coworkers, the barista at your local coffee shop, or your boss — you can show the most important people in your life some appreciation too."
So, what can you do to fix this?
Breaking a Negative Cycle
Dr. Schewitz explains that "some of these behaviors are more serious than others." For example, "if contempt is present in a relationship, it will almost certainly end or be completely miserable without some sort of intervention and change."
However, depending on how hurtful the behaviors are, some might not be a big deal, "but if several of these problems are present in your relationship," it is essential to take corrective action. This pattern may not necessarily equate with divorce for every couple, but "even if it doesn’t end the relationship, both of you are going to be pretty unhappy in the long term without turning things around."
If you are unable to make this happen on your own, seeking a professional opinion may help. Dr. Schewitz notes, "there is so much that can be learned and shifted in working with a skilled couples therapist to improve your relationship [especially because] many of the behaviors we exhibit in relationships happen unconsciously and are the result of childhood wounds we are playing out and replicating with our partner."
The good news is that "couples therapy can help you understand these unconscious patterns and bring them into your consciousness [and] once you are conscious of what’s happening, you can make the choice to change it."
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