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10 Ways to Sabotage Your Marriage (Without Realizing It)

May Patterson

May Patterson

Writer and Teacher
Updated May 22, 2024
10 Ways to Sabotage Your Marriage (Without Realizing It)

She looked smoking hot and she knew it. Blonde. Curvaceous. Suede stilettos with a way-too-short leather skirt. Beckoning green eyes and a killer smile to match. She wanted everyone’s attention in the room and boy, she got it (including mine).

She floated through the crowd, giggling with one group and then another. Finally, she sauntered over toward a group of men—one of whom was my husband. Before she walked away, she patted his arm with her graceful, manicured hand—maybe a little too much.


She probably meant nothing by it, but after the party my husband and I talked about the situation, laughed a little and moved on. Although this happened years ago, I’m glad we chose to talk about it and reassure each other, rather than pretend like it didn’t happen. Recognizing and talking about things (or people) that might sabotage our marriage helps us protect it.

I wish we’d done that even more.

After 31 years of marriage, I’ve learned a lot of things not to do, both by observing others and by making a lot of mistakes, myself. And I’m still learning. With each anniversary, my appreciation grows for our beautiful, quirky and sometimes less-than-perfect relationship. I want to guard what we have and work to make it better.

I’m sure you do, too.

While nobody sets out to sabotage their marriage, it’s not that hard to do. And often, we may not realize that we’re doing any damage at all—until it’s too late. Here are ten ways to sabotage your marriage that I’ve learned to avoid.

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Resentment in marriage upset couple

1. Bottling up Your Feelings.

Sometimes, I tend to bury my feelings. But I’ve learned it’s best to talk about the flirty blonde or whatever troubles me now, rather than exploding about it months from now. Failing to communicate creates distance between you and your spouse. It causes a lot of misunderstandings and arguments. Eventually, it can cause distance and even bitterness. These feelings are hard to overcome.

The Bible says, “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26 NLT). In other words, this means to go ahead and talk it out. Today. Bottling up your feelings can sabotage your marriage.

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Happy laughing couple date night playing pickleball sporty

2. Never Dating, Anymore.

I remember the days when we were knee-deep in  children, homework, PTA and sports practices—romance didn’t seem very important. But this attitude doesn’t make husbands or wives feel very special. We all want to be desired, pursued and valued by our spouse.

Romance is an essential part of marriage, yet if my husband and I aren’t careful, it can get lost in the busyness of life. Maybe you can relate. Sending love notes, scheduling date nights and anniversary getaways are like making deposits into “the bank” of your relationship. But failing to romance your spouse shortchanges your marriage.

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Angry couple

3. Never Admitting You're Wrong.

Apologizing is a sign of weakness! If you give in—even an inch—your spouse will expect a mile. Unfortunately, I used to think like this. When we were first married, I had trouble admitting I was wrong and even more trouble apologizing. This caused a lot of arguments and eventually, it put distance between us.

Finally, I’ve learned that being right is highly overrated. It’s not nearly as important as being patient, loving, or kind. Having to be right can tear your relationship apart. It keeps you focused on yourself. But the more you give up your right to be right, the freer you are to love and to be loved. So, go ahead and apologize when you’re wrong, even if it feels awkward. A heartfelt apology endears you to your spouse, like nothing else can. The Bible gives us this wise advice: “So then, make it your top priority to live a life of peace with harmony in your relationships, eagerly seeking to strengthen and encourage one another” (Romans 14:19 TPT).

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Woman carrying shopping bags

4. Hiding Your Shopping Bags.

Use several credit cards to mask a large purchase. Go on a spending binge! Keep financial secrets. Seriously? Financial problems ruin marriages every day. Here’s the truth: your marriage is far more valuable than anything you can buy.

“Financial cheating” can be the beginning of the end of your marriage. Have a serious talk about finances with your spouse. Make some ground rules. If you’ve been lying about money, admit it and apologize before it’s too late. Financial honesty protects your marriage, but financial infidelity will destroy it.

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Husband being jealous as his wife is on her phone

5. Being a Little Flirty with Others.

After all, it’s only harmless flirtation—you don’t really mean it! Be oh so careful. Being flirty can lead other people on. It can cause unwanted advances. It can lead to temptation. And it can make the spouses of those you flirt with, seethe with rage.

I’ve witnessed how devastating “harmless” flirtation can be among couples. Acting, talking or thinking like you are single (even in small ways) can cause a lot of hurt and insecurity. Go ahead and flirt—but only with your spouse. Make him or her the sole object of your affection.

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An angry couple before bed

6. Keeping Score.

Keep track of who does what, so you never have to do more than your fair share. Marriage should be 50/50, right? And if you do anything extra, use your “all I’ve done for you, lately” list to guilt your spouse into action!

While scorekeeping can be a tempting habit (at least for me), I’ve learned that it can destroy a relationship. Marriage isn’t a game of who did what, but rather of who we are—a team of one, not two. Keeping score is unnecessary for couples because you don’t keep score for one. In marriage, you either win or lose together.

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Unhappy couple

7. Comparing Your Marriage to the Couple down the Street.

Theodore Roosevelt once said that “comparison is the thief of joy.” And this certainly applies to marriage. Resist using the couple down the street or the smiling couple you see on Facebook as a measure of your marital happiness.

Here’s why: comparing your marriage to someone else’s can wound your spouse deeply. None of us like being compared or judged. And when you put your focus on what you don’t have, it keeps you from valuing what you do have. We’re all very different, so our marriages are supposed to look different. Accept where your relationship is right now and work to make it better without comparing. 

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Husband and wife praying

8. Never Praying Together.

Praying together felt pretty awkward when we were first married, so we often skipped doing it. Joint prayer takes effort, but we’re always blessed when we take the time to hold hands, bow our heads and pray. Over the years, our initial “prayer clumsiness” has diminished and a comfortable freedom has emerged.

Through many ups and downs, we’ve learned that prayer strengthens our marriage. I know God honors it. I’ve witnessed how He has used our times of prayer to draw us closer, heal and bless us. Praying together invites the Lord’s presence and power into your relationship (Matthew 18:18-20). It gives you an opportunity to thank God for your marriage, binding your hearts together.

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Old senior couple friends talking at table eating

9. Making Fun of Your Husband or Wife.

Why, poking fun at someone isn’t harmful—everybody does it! Be careful. Making your spouse look or feel small doesn’t draw you any closer. I used to make fun of my husband—ever the accountant—for turning off the lights to save money, even though he didn’t think it was very funny. Now as a result of ridiculing him (even a small way), my kids never turn off the lights, even when they’re leaving the house.

Mocking the feelings, preferences and actions of your spouse can harm your marriage. Here’s why: it communicates superiority. It’s like we’re saying: You’re silly. I’m so much smarter than you. I’ve got it all together, but you don’t. These kinds of implied messages can easily sabotage a perfectly good marriage.

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A man and woman dancing on their wedding day

10. Expecting Your Spouse to Complete You.

Really? “You complete me” is one of the worst, most misleading movie lines ever because it fills us with unrealistic expectations. Naively, I entered marriage expecting it to complete what was lacking in me. But since then, I’ve learned that only God can truly complete us. I love this verse: “When you have Christ, you are complete . . .” (Colossians 2:10 NLV).

Once I started seeking to build a better relationship with the Lord, my life began to change. Drawing closer to Him is the best thing I’ve ever done for our marriage. In fact, it’s helped me so much, I wrote entire book on seeking after God, called Seeking a Familiar Face. I believe if seeking God changed my marriage, and eventually my entire life, it can change anybody’s.

Marriage is the closest bond we can have with another person—it can be even closer than the bond between mother and child. Sometimes, we sabotage this precious relationship without realizing it. And this leaves our marriages weak and vulnerable. So be on guard. Identify threats. Protect the love that you have. Pray. Spend time with God and with your spouse. Avoid these areas of sabotage as you build a beautiful, lasting marriage.

May Patterson has been writing and teaching Bible study classes for years. Last year she released her first book, “Seeking a Familiar Face.” Now, she has just released it's companion study guide, "A 40-Day Guide for Seeking God." May trained in small group dynamics for over ten years with Bible Study Fellowship, serving as a leader for four years. She has written for various magazines including Focus on the Family, Upper Room Magazine and iBelieve, and is a sought-after public speaker. May is married to her dear friend, Mike, and they have three grown children. She loves to tell stories, laugh, and talk about the adventure of seeking God. Read more from May on her website and blog: http://www.maypatterson.com.

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Originally published Wednesday, 01 February 2023.