We all want to have the "model" marriage (does that even exist?), and so we find couples we admire to model our own marriages after. As important as it is to notice the positive things those couples do, it's equally important to recognize what they don't do. Check out this list to see eight specific things healthy couples don't do.
Healthy couples with healthy relationships are real. They understand that everyone is a work in progress, and they don't expect perfection from their spouse. Rather than worrying about all their spouse's faults, they focus on improving themselves. Once you've reached perfection yourself (haha!), then you can begin to expect a little more and start coaching your spouse. But until then, healthy couples choose to look inward.
Healthy couples keep criticism to an absolute minimum. Rather, they look on the bright side. This includes criticism about one's spouse, one's self, one's marriage, etc. Of course, healthy couples have honest discussion about where they are at, where they want to be and how to improve together (done in a very loving way). But, healthy couples don't cross the line and become overly critical of each other. They recognize that criticism can be both constructive and destructive, and they use it to help build their spouse and their marriage, rather than tear it down.
3. Abuse one another
Abuse, in any form, is simply unacceptable and should not be tolerated. Healthy couples treat each other with love and respect, rather than in a demeaning, controlling or demanding way. Abuse comes in many forms (verbal, emotional, physical, etc.), and it's actually quite easy to fall into abusive habits without even realizing it. Healthy couples guard their marriages against abuse. If your relationship with your spouse has become abusive, we would strongly encourage you to seek professional help.
4. Spend every waking moment together
Believe it or not, healthy couples actually enjoy time away from each other every now and then. We're not talking about long weekend getaways with the guys or girls (though it could be that), but rather enjoying a few hours of alone time doing something they enjoy. It can be very renewing to have some time to yourself. And typically, you'll come home a more energized, committed spouse. Healthy couples don't let their hobbies take priority over their spouse, but those hobbies certainly exist and can provide a valuable outlet.
Who wants to live with a "Johnny rain-cloud"? That sounds about as fun as taking the GMAT. Similar to #2 above, couples in healthy relationships aren't incessantly complaining about their situation, their spouse, their marriage or anything else. They aren't satisfied with mediocrity, but rather than sit back and complain about it, they get to work and do something about it. Recognizing areas for improvement can be very constructive, but nonstop complaining is only destructive.
6. View pornography
Pornography is certainly one of the better ways to destroy the special love and intimate relationship you have with your spouse. Not only is it terribly addictive (leading its victims into the downward spiral addicts of any kind face), but it's completely fake — it's a fantasy. We've heard many couples (both the man and woman) argue that pornography really isn't all that bad, that it doesn't damage their relationship and that it is even a positive influence. If that's your thinking, then stop kidding yourself! How can it not damage your relationship to have you or your spouse viewing and fantasizing over someone else's body? Couples in the healthiest of relationships don't view pornography.
7. Develop emotional relationships with others through social media
Social media is an incredible tool to reach and connect with people. We use it every day. However, it can also present a danger to your marriage if used inappropriately (for example, check out this article). Too many people — male and female — are seeking emotional connection, validation and understanding from "friends" online rather than from their spouse. If they're feeling unfulfilled in their marriage, they look elsewhere to have their needs met, rather than turning to the person who matters most. Unfortunately, seemingly innocent chats online can quickly lead to emotional infidelity, and turn into in-person meetings, dates and more.
It's natural to have disagreements, and even to be hurt or offended from time to time. However, in those moments of hurt, healthy couples express love rather than withhold it. Love heals. More specifically, healthy couples never use sex as a bargaining chip. Going down that path will turn what should be the ultimate unifying experience between husband and wife into a cheap game. This isn't a game; it's your marriage! If there's something that makes you want to withhold sex, then work through it — together. Kiss and make up (or make love)!
Aaron & April are the founders of Nurturing Marriage, a website dedicated to strengthening marriages. They enjoy playing football with their two little boys, watching sports, eating cereal late at night, and going out for frozen yogurt.