9 Ways to Ruin Your Marriage and How to Heal a Relationship

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Everybody wants to know the secrets to a happy marriage, but it can be just as important to know what leads to marital conflict. Many people think the most common problems in a long-term relationship center on finances or sex. But these aren’t the only sticking points.

Some of the quickest ways to ruin a relationship include poor communication, unhealthy behaviors, and a lack of shared goals. Based on brain SPECT scans of thousands of couples who have visited Amen Clinics for couples therapy, the problems that lead to getting a divorce are often due to untreated brain health problems in one or both spouses.

By understanding what you or your significant other are doing to mess things up and how the brain may be playing a role in your marriage problems, you can learn how to turn things around. With a healthier brain and the right marriage strategies, you can achieve a happier relationship.

With a healthier brain and the right marriage strategies, you can achieve a happier relationship. Click To Tweet

Based on thousands of Amen Clinics patients over more than 30 years, here are 9 common ways spouses sabotage their marriage along with tips on how to heal your relationship.


  1. Say everything that pops into your head.

Anyone who is married knows that it’s best to keep some thoughts to yourself. In some people, however, abnormal brain activity can make you more likely to be impulsive and blurt out things that are hurtful to the one you love.

The brain-imaging work using SPECT scans at Amen Clinics shows that low activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex is associated with impulsivity. This brain pattern is commonly seen in people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), also called attention-deficit disorder (ADD). It’s also common in those with a history of concussions.

Heal your relationship: Healing the brain after head trauma and/or treating ADD/ADHD can be very helpful. With proper treatment, you are better able to develop a “5-second delay” that allows you to assess the consequences of what you’re about to say before you say it. In short, it can help you learn to bite your tongue.

  1. Don’t enough zzzz’s.

When you skimp on sleep or suffer from chronic insomnia, your brain can’t function optimally. In fact, a single night of tossing and turning can cause you to feel blue, irritable, stressed, or angry the following day. Lack of sleep can also decrease concentration and impair your judgment.

None of this bodes well for your relationship. If poor sleep contributes to being in a rotten mood, forgetting your anniversary, or snapping at your spouse over small things, it can lead to bigger relationship problems.

Heal your relationship: Make sleep a priority, so you can wake up feeling refreshed with a positive mindset. When you feel good, you’re more likely to be kind and loving with your spouse.

  1. Hold on to past hurts.

When you can’t forgive or get beyond problems from the past, it can be a sign of an overactive anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG). The ACG acts as the brain’s gear shifter. It’s what helps you go from one thought to the next or from one action to another.

SPECT scans at Amen Clinics show that when the ACG works too hard, people tend to get stuck on old hurts or hold grudges. Overactivity in the ACG also makes people experts at detecting errors, which can kill relationships. Constantly pointing out what someone else is doing wrong is a recipe for relationship disaster.

Heal your relationship: To calm an overactive ACG, consider taking nutritional supplements such as saffron and 5-HTP. In addition, be sure to consume a diet that’s high in complex carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes.

  1. Don’t have shared goals.

What is your ultimate goal in your marriage? Is it to prove that you’re right all the time? Or is it to have the best relationship possible?

If you don’t know what your overarching shared goals are, you won’t be able to focus on the behaviors that help you achieve it. And you’ll be more likely to do things that can sabotage your marriage, rather than make it better.

Heal your relationship: Spend some time with your significant other to determine your shared goals as a couple. An exercise called the One Page Miracle can help you do it.

  1. Play “let’s have a problem.”

Being conflict driven and creating problems to add some “excitement” to your marriage isn’t helpful. Individuals with underactivity in the prefrontal cortex tend to like drama because it stimulates activity in the PFC.

People with low activity in the PFC, such as those who have ADD/ADHD, have a tendency to stir things up as a way to boost blood flow to the brain. They may do this unconsciously.

Heal your relationship: There are better ways to increase brain activity. Scientific studies show that intense exercise, a higher-protein diet, and meditation all boost blood flow to the brain. Stimulating nutraceuticals such as rhodiola, ashwagandha, and panax ginseng can also be beneficial.

  1. Hang out with negative people.

If you surround yourself with people who constantly complain about what’s wrong with their marriage, guess what? You’ll probably start complaining too. When you focus on the negative, you train your brain to look for what’s wrong, rather than noticing what’s right.

Heal your relationship: Surround yourself with positive people who have healthy relationships. Learn to challenge your own automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) and make it a point to notice what you like about your partner more than what you don’t like.

  1. Have an extramarital affair…with your phone!

Staring at your phone so you can scroll through your social media feed while you’re having lunch with your spouse can sour your relationship. The inability to resist the lure of your phone—AKA “phubbing” (phone snubbing)—makes the other person feel ignored and not worthy of your attention. Is that what you really want?

Plus, it can also be a sign that you may have attentional issues or even digital addiction problems. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that excessive use of social networking sites can lead to some of the same symptoms that are commonly seen with substance use disorders.

Heal your relationship: Set limits on your phone usage. Force yourself to put your phone away while you’re connecting with your spouse. It may be hard at first, but over time, it will enhance the bond you share.

  1. Get addicted to alcohol, drugs, or anything else.

If you’re drinking too much, doing drugs, or obsessed with pornography, your addiction is likely interfering with being present in your marriage. Unhealthy, out-of-control habits can damage brain function and lead to bad decisions and destructive behaviors that destroy relationships.

Heal your relationship: Before you can heal from substance use disorders or process addictions, you need to know the sneaky signs of addiction. If you recognize these signs in yourself or your partner, it’s time to get serious about seeking addiction treatment.

  1. Ignore mental health disorders and brain health issues.

The brain-imaging work at Amen Clinics reveals that mental health disorders are really brain health issues that steal your mind. For example, SPECT scans show that:

  • Overactivity in the deep limbic system is associated with depressive symptoms.
  • Too much activity in the basal ganglia is linked to anxiety disorders.
  • Excessive activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus is often seen in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
  • Underactivity in the prefrontal cortex is a common brain pattern found in those with ADD/ADHD.

When left undiagnosed, untreated, or improperly treated, mental health problems can destroy a marriage. For example, if you have clinical depression or anxiety, it’s difficult to think of anyone but yourself, and this can create a disconnect between you and your spouse.

When a spouse doesn’t understand their partner has a brain health problem, bad behavior can be taken personally. They make them feel like their partner doesn’t love them anymore, is being mean on purpose, or is quite simply a jerk.

Heal your relationship: Seeking help from a mental health professional who understands that psychiatric disorders are brain-based problems is critical to getting the most effective treatment. With an accurate diagnosis and the right treatment, you can optimize your brain and become more loving, supportive, and consistent in your behavior.

By becoming more aware of how your words and actions may be dismantling the health of your relationship, you can start making the positive changes necessary to rebuild the trust and love that brought the two of you together in the first place.

Marital conflict and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

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