Have you ever been in a relationship that seemed like “the one” but then later– in spite of great love and good intentions–it died?
It’s tragic that potentially exceptional relationships are thwarted by old habits and behaviors.
So if you are in a relationship that you want to keep, it’s key to be aware of the dynamics that kill even great partnerships.
No matter how much love you have–or how badly you want it to work–certain toxic patterns will outweigh the positive and eventually destroy hope, love, and good will.
Have a look at these top 4 relationship killers and see if you are guilty of any of them.
Relationship Killers: 4 Things to Never Do
This is finger-pointing and makes your partner responsible for you. It gives them too much power and hurts you just as much as it hurts them. If something is really bothering you, try looking at it as useful information: Information you can use to make requests, solidify your boundaries, and initiate constructive changes. (If you want to blame your partner because “nothing changes,” you must decide if you can accept things as they are, or move on. If it’s not a deal breaker, let it go.)
This is not to be confused with complaining. Criticism makes generalizations or character judgments (“You never help me out around the house. Why are you so selfish?”) This is never necessary or helpful. Criticism only breeds defensiveness and creates an emotionally unsafe environment. Learn how to Break the Habit of Criticism here.
Defensiveness, while sometimes understandable, blocks growth and empathy. It happens when you refuse to take in feedback or really hear what your partner is saying. There are several common types of defensiveness--see which ones you do here.)
Gridlock occurs when you remain stuck in conflict, unable to move or reach a resolution. The best thing to remember in times of gridlock is that there is usually a life dream that needs to be honored. Start not with problem solving, but with hearing each other describe why the issue is so important. What is the dream behind the conflict? From a place of true empathy, possibilities open up that didn’t before.
What to Do Instead: 5 Alternatives
If you struggle with any of the above dynamics, commit to these 5 alternatives for 2 weeks and be amazed at the changes.
1. Sharing and describing. The biggest antidote to blame and criticism is taking the approach of sharing. Rather than pointing out what is wrong with the other person, you share your feelings in a way that makes them about you—your lenses, your sensitivities, your hopes and goals. Then describe what you would ideally like.
For example, instead of saying “You are always late, you don’t even care about this relationship,” instead say: “When you are late I feel disappointed because growing up my dad was always late and it made me feel unimportant. I would love to have the kind of relationship where we honor our agreements including being on time. Will you make an effort to be on time?”
2. Receiving influence. Rather than getting defensive, consider what might be true about your partner’s observations. There is always some truth to them, however small. Remain open to making changes or doing things a little differently, even if it is out of your comfort zone. This puts a huge deposit into the joint emotional bank account, so you directly benefit from this!
3. Assertiveness. This is finding the middle ground between passivity and aggression. Being assertive is just holding your boundaries and asking for what you would like. An “I statement” is a great way to be assertive. For more on assertiveness tools, click here.
4. Healthy complaining. It is possible to complain about something and not criticize your partner. For example, instead of saying “Why don’t you ever do any laundry!” you can say: “I’m bummed I can’t find any clean clothes for the kids. You said you would help out with the laundry.” Complaining focuses on a single situation rather than generalizing or make judgments on character or intentions.
5. Mindfulness. This is the art of being conscious of your reactions and attuned to what is occurring in the present, rather than acting on past expectation. Mindfulness allows you to truly receive your partner as they are, and stay open to connections that are missed if not conscious. It can be nurtured through meditation, breathing exercises, and other mind-body practices.
When making these changes, it’s helpful to first eliminate the top four relationship killers, and then start with just one of these alternatives. You may want to try assertiveness for one week, and then later commit to in mindfulness. Whatever feels easiest for you is best, because it’s most likely to be successful.
Remember, every bit of progress counts. Old habit die hard, and change is often three steps forward, one step back. So be kind to yourself.
And as always let me know your comments and questions below.