Relationships are hard even under the best of circumstances. One wants to believe that love for one another is enough to make things last. In my practice, it can be heart-breaking to see two people who genuinely care for each other so much, yet at the same time be at the brink of breakup or divorce. Ultimately some couples reach a conclusion they are not able to find happiness, realizing the hard truth that sometimes love just is not enough.
The intent of this article is to shine light on things that you or your partner may be doing that could be hurting the relationship. There tends to be some overlap among these concepts so if you relate to one, you may relate to several.
1. Making negative comparisons
One can so easily lose sight of why you chose (what attracted you to) your significant other in the first place and often find yourself comparing your partner to others of the same sex. The thrill and excitement of the early days may have fizzled and you might desire to get that with someone new. The things you initially found endearing now are irritating.
You may make the comparisons this in your mind, voice them directly or indirectly to your partner, or both. One way or another they likely seep out in your words and behavior and can leave your partner feeling criticized, hurt, and/or unappreciated.
2. Failing to prioritize your partner and the relationship
Finding the appropriate balance of togetherness and separateness in a relationship can be tricky and might look different for each couple based on individual needs and preferences. Most people prefer not to feel smothered by their partner, but at the same time want to feel respected, appreciated and wanted. The ideal balance would include enjoying some common interests and time together, but also not looking to your partner to fill all your needs.
This source of conflict often only gets magnified with marriage. An oftentimes unspoken agreement when making the ultimate commitment of marriage is agreeing to prioritize your spouse ahead of all people and things. My experience suggests a gender gap, where males expect to still lead a bachelor’s life despite being a husband. If you and your partner are not on the same page about such expectations, the relationship is likely to suffer.
3. Repeating unhealthy patterns
Let’s face it, many of us were not given the healthiest of relationship role models growing up. Despite having a sense of what not to do, until we are taught or shown a better way, we find ourselves in the same dysfunctional ruts in our own adult relationships. We actually frequently (albeit subconsciously) select partners who are lacking the same healthy traits of our caretakers, thinking we can fix them and ultimately have them meet our unmet needs from childhood. We do not tend to have much success in changing others into what we want them to be. The end result is often dissatisfaction, resentment or break-up.
4. Getting distracted
In today’s world of social media, it is easier than ever to not be fully present in our relationships. Couples can be in the same room but be engaged in their devices, leading to significant disconnect. Social media provides many advantages but also opens the door to more opportunity to be unfaithful. Time spent on social media takes away from real, in-person, genuine connection. Distractions can come in the form of substance use, gambling, work, hobbies/sports and even children and their activities.
5. Being unwilling to see other’s perspective
A common mistake I see is partners not taking the time to fully understand the other person, but instead assuming their significant other has the same experiences, needs and desires. Part of this includes not figuring out what things from their significant other’s past triggers their emotional distress, in order to avoid sparking negative feelings in the one they love. Closely linked is the partner who fights to always be right, is unwilling to take ownership of their contribution to the problems and is quick to focus on finding fault in their partner.
6. Withholding open communication
Any form of communication other than assertive communication is not productive for any relationship. Stuffing thoughts, feelings and preferences sets one up for invalidation and ultimately the associated negative emotions tend to come out in some regrettable way. A person’s difficulty with communication is likely multifaceted and complicated; regardless of its origin, in results in relationship dysfunction.
Our time and energy is best focused on things we can change and control: what we are contributing to the relationship. If relationships are two-way streets, we need to keep our side of the street clean and stay in our own lane. If you find that you are responsible for some dysfunction in your relationship, consider addressing your part in individual and/or couples counseling.