7 common habits of couples who grow apart without realizing it, according to psychology

Relationships don’t always end with a big bang, like infidelity or abuse. A significant number end via a slow death – couples simply drift apart until they no longer feel connected. 

In fact, a look at divorce statistics would show you that a whopping 55% cite this as their reason for divorcing. 

What happened there, you might ask? 

Well, according to psychologists, when couples drift apart, it’s likely because they’d fallen into some sneaky habits that quietly pushed them apart without them even realizing it. 

If you want to know which habits to avoid to keep your bond strong year after year, you’re in the right place. 

Here are 7 common habits of couples who grow apart without realizing it: 

1) Leaving issues unresolved

First up, let’s get this straight – open and honest communication will always be an essential ingredient in strong relationships. 

Without it, even the smallest misunderstandings can fester into big issues. 

The problem is, too many couples, once they feel secure in their relationship, begin making less of an effort to communicate. The deal is locked down, so to speak, so why bother with the hard work?

Unfortunately, the “hard work” includes discussing difficult issues. Understanding where the other is coming from and arriving at a compromise. 

Even a tiny issue can potentially grow into a huge snowball of resentment if left unresolved. 

Those unwashed dishes in the sink, day after day? Constantly feeling like you’re picking up after your partner? Those are tiny issues, right? 

But believe me, if you just suck it all up because you don’t want to make a fuss, it’s bound to make you feel emotionally distant from your partner. 

According to BetterHealth, “In relationships, communication allows you to explain to someone else what you are experiencing and what your needs are. The act of communicating not only helps to meet your needs, but it also helps you to be connected in your relationship.”

So make communication a priority. The day you stop talking is the day you start drifting apart. This brings me to my next point…

2) Being glued to their screens 

Raise your hand if you’ve ever sat beside your partner and scrolled for hours on your phone. It’s called “phubbing” – ignoring someone in favor of our mobile phone. 

No judgment here, I’ve been guilty of this myself. But it’s a habit I really try not to fall into often. I’d like to say it’s easy, but it’s not – it happens so quietly that oftentimes we’re not even aware we’re doing it.

So if it’s hard for you too, here’s a word of caution: studies show that phubbing lowers marital (or relationship) satisfaction. And it contributes to feelings of depression as well. 

When it comes to relationships, intimacy happens in the micro-moments of our day. 

These are the miniscule things like talking over a meal, catching your partner’s facial expressions, noticing how they rub their hands together when happy…

But if your eyes are always glued to your phone, you’ll miss all of that. You’ll miss those fleeting chances to feel connected to each other

3) Letting routines turn into ruts

Another reason why couples drift apart is lack of novelty. They’ve let life happen to them, instead of the other way around. 

I get it though – my husband and I have had periods of “ruttedness”, when our lives seem to run like a machine in a factory.

We’ve got kids to take to and pick up from school, meals to make, groceries to buy, bills to pay, laundry to do…and we fall into autopilot to get it all done. 

I’d say that’s true for all of us to some extent. We do need some structure to make our lives less chaotic. But if you want to stay connected with your partner through all of that, don’t forget to make room for novelty. 

Plan dates, camping trips, or classes you can take together. Do things to break up life’s monotony. 

According to psychologist Dr. Arthur Aron, doing new and exciting things with your partner can boost levels of attraction and bring back the spark. 

In fact, his research into love and relationships has found that couples who do this feel more satisfied than those who stick to their same old routines. 

4) Overworking

You know those tropes in so many TV shows where a bored housewife has an affair because their husband is always away working? 

Well, that’s not just a plot device – it reflects a real issue in many relationships. If one or both partners always prioritize work over their relationship, when will they ever have time to connect? 

It’s easy to justify overworking as doing it all ‘for the family’ or ‘for our future.’ But unfortunately, it also has a huge consequence – it can make couples drift apart. 

Much like not watering a garden can make it wither, so does inattention make people experience a sort of emotional death. That’s what loneliness and resentment can do. 

Left unaddressed, this can lead to partners slowly growing apart until they seem to be roommates instead of real partners. 

5) Not prioritizing the relationship

relationship feels dull and predictable 7 common habits of couples who grow apart without realizing it, according to psychology

This is closely connected to my point above. Overworking is one way that couples don’t prioritize the relationship. But there are so many other ways this can happen…

  • Choosing friends’ get-togethers over date nights
  • Always prioritizing hobbies over quality time together
  • Not having your partner’s back in issues that involve other people
  • Making big decisions without consulting the other
  • Putting other people’s needs ahead of their partner’s

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Scenarios like this can chip away at the connection between two people because the underlying message is this – you’re no longer a team. 

Couples expert Stuart Fensterheim at Thrive Global says: 

“Putting your relationship as priority ONE means that you consider everything through the lens of the two of you as a couple and how your decisions and actions will impact your partner and your relationship going forward. This means putting the relationship first.”

6) Taking each other for granted

Here’s another one that I’ve been guilty of in the past – I’ve taken my partner for granted

This is especially true for couples who’ve been together for a while. Like I said earlier, comfort and security can make us complacent, like we don’t need to make as much of an effort anymore. 

But real talk – the couples who last are the ones who still put in the work, day after day, year after year. 

And the ones who don’t…well, they drift apart. It might not happen overnight, but slowly, the connection fades because there aren’t enough thank-you’s and acts of service and kindness towards each other all around. 

The folks at Marriage.com says it doesn’t automatically have to mean the end, though. 

“On the upside, your partner can do this unconsciously, so it would be up to you to let them know how you feel. Do not consider it a dead end, as you can easily find a fix once you know what to do,” they explain. 

7) Not having any shared experiences, interests or values

Lastly, couples who drift apart without realizing it may not know that it’s because they no longer share anything together. 

In this regard, my husband and I have always done well. We always have what the poet Donald Hall wrote about after the death of his wife, the poet Jane Kenyon – a “third thing”. 

What exactly is a “third thing”? 

Well, in a relationship, there’s you – the first thing. Your partner – the second thing. And something you do or look at together in joint rapture or contentment – the third thing. 

My husband and I have a lot of personal interests that we do separately. But we also have a lot of third things, that is, aside from our children: art, horror movies, dogs, trying out new restaurants, looking for great vinyl records…

More importantly, despite our wildly different personalities, we share the same set of core values. 

BetterUp says that it’s their shared values that can see a couple through the tough times, long after the initial courtship and the newness of the relationship has passed. 

When you’re proactive about maintaining shared experiences and values with your partner, you’ll keep your connection strong.

There will always be a sense of teamwork, a sense that you’re growing as individuals, and also growing together. That’s quite a lovely investment, don’t you think? 

Picture of Roselle Umlas

Roselle Umlas

I am a freelance writer with a lifelong interest in helping people become more reflective and self-aware so that they can communicate better and enjoy meaningful relationships.

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