In the interest of alternative forms of learning, every once in a while I like to turn relationship help advice upside down and talk about the common ways couples mess up perfectly solid marriages/relationships. Knowing what not to do can be as informative as learning what to do in an effort to build a better relationship. So remember, if you follow the marriage/relationship help tips below (which isn’t recommended) you will aggravate your spouse/partner, communication will plummet and intimacy will be a thing of the past!
You probably have made some (or all) of the five mistakes listed below—and if you haven’t, it might be just a matter of time. Strong relationships aren’t devoid of mistakes. The goal is to become aware of potential problems in your marriage or relationship before they snowball into major issues.
So don’t panic if you see yourself (or your spouse/partner) in any of these errors that can destroy a healthy relationship.
5 Surefire Ways to Destroy a Healthy Marriage/Relationship (or what not to do!)
1. Make Mind-reading your number one form of communication.
Mind-reading is simple and easy to do. You just guess what your partner is thinking or feeling and staunchly assume you’re right. Sure, it’s like playing darts blindfolded, but you can rest assured that sooner or later a dart will hit the board (just make sure you have plenty of darts). Here’s a brief example of mind-reading in action:
(Lori just arrived home after a very stressful day at work)
Brad: You’re still mad at me. I can tell. [Note the mind-reading.]
Lori: No, I’m not.
Brad: I know you. I can tell when you’re pissed off. [Note the further mind-reading and assuming he’s right.]
Lori: I just got home and I had a terrible day at work. I got a bad evaluation for that big project I’ve been working on.
Brad: Forget it. You never admit it when I’m right. That’s part of your problem!
Sure, Brad could have listened to Lori’s feedback about her work day, but that would have required him to stop mind-reading and actively listen to his wife (we all know how tiresome that can get). Two of the major benefits of mind-reading are that you won’t have to waste your time directly asking your partner how s/he is actually feeling and you can also ignore his/her feedback, since mind-reading usually breeds more mind-reading.
Mind-reading can often be pretty subtle (unlike the example above), so look closely at your own ways of communicating to see if you already use this time-tested relationship destroyer.
2. Get passive about passion
Anyone in a long-term marriage or relationship understands the challenges of keeping romance and passion alive. Candlelit dinners, gazing into each other’s eyes, and the priority of talking and making love begin to buckle under the pressure of busy schedules, the demands of maintaining a household, the stresses of work, and for all those parents out there, the constant attention and energy children require.
Familiarity is a double-edged sword for most couples. Familiarity and repetitive routines can make you and your partner feel safe and comfortable with one another, but these same relationship staples can slowly cool the embers of passion.
For many, passion and novelty go hand in hand–new love is inherently passionate and sexually exciting. Just remember the level of passion you and your partner experienced early on in your relationship and you’ll know what I’m talking about. But those spontaneous fireworks cannot last indefinitely—at some point attention and effort is needed to nurture this part of your relationship.
Expecting spontaneous passion (and waiting for it rather than working on it) can surely hurt this important part of your relationship.
3. Multi-task whenever your partner needs you
There’s no denying it, we live in a world where doing several things at once is the norm. And some of us are becoming really good at it.
But the truth is, you can never be fully present for your spouse/partner without slowing down, prioritizing and really listening. For those of you who remain committed to spreading yourself really thin while creating the illusion of emotional availability, it’s important to remember that emotional intimacy (and that sense of feeling deeply understood by and important to your partner) is likely to allude your relationship when your partner becomes one more item to check off on your overwhelming “to do” list.
4. Make unilateral decisions that affect both of you
For those of you who have been single for quite some time before entering into a committed relationship, it’s probably easy to recall the old days of making decisions without having to check in with anyone.
Your favorite color was red and you liked small, fast cars, so you ran out and purchased the cherry red sports car;
The one bedroom apartment felt just right to you, so you didn’t think twice about signing the lease;
You wanted a tattoo and a few Margaritas later, “I love Hank” was scrawled on your upper back. (Unfortunately, you didn’t know anyone named Hank)
But then you fell head over heels in love and made a commitment to another person (and a commitment to the relationship).
You probably wouldn’t argue with the fact that certain responsibilities come with being part of an intimate, committed relationship (you now exist as part of an “us,” in addition to being a “me”). One such responsibility includes consulting with your partner whenever you’re faced with an important decision. The thinking here is that big decisions impact both of you, so it only makes sense to talk about your partner’s feelings regarding any potentially important decision.
One surefire way to drive a wedge between you and your partner is to begin making decisions as if you were single again—doing so is guaranteed to make your spouse/partner feel marginalized and before you know it, you’ll be single again and you won’t have to consult with anyone except your lonely self.
5. Forget about the present: There’s no time like the past
Every second of every day you’re faced with a decision. You can focus your energies and attention on events that have already happened in your life, especially past hurts and lingering resentments and grievances, or you can work toward creating new moments and embrace the now that you and your partner share.
When you are fully present, you approach new experiences with the openness and awe of a curious child. When couples are fully present with each other, a special connection is created that isn’t weighed down by the expectations and baggage of the past.
If you want to wreak havoc on your marriage/relationship, dwell in the past and resist the present. Rip open the scabs of past hurts, remind your partner of all the things s/he’s done wrong in the past (even when s/he is trying to change in the present) and for heaven’s sake, whenever it feels like the relationship is going well, pull up as many gloom-and-doom expectations that will remind you that life will eventually stink, so you better stop having a good time with your partner. (This is the “being stuck in the bleak future” approach.)
There you have it, five behaviors that if left unchecked can really knock-out even a healthy marriage/relationship. The antidote for these common relationship mistakes is to be mindful when you and your partner fall into these traps so that they do not become a regular part of your relationship.
Wishing you a healthy and lasting relationship,
Dr. Rich Nicastro