I regularly see people in my office who are suffering from painful relationship situations and at least 50% of the time, the problems they’re having can be chalked up to something that one or both partners is doing to derail things.
Here are 5 ways I see people sabotage their relationships:
- Prioritizing Performance over Honesty. This one tends to be a problem for the perfectionist personality. If you’re a driven, Type-A person who’s used to having it all together, it’s easy to take that same kind of drive and perfection into your relationship. The problem, however, is that it doesn’t make for a very honest relationship. Instead, it turns your relationship life into a series of goals to be achieved, boxes to check, and tasks to complete. Frankly, this can become exhausting because relationships aren’t as easily managed as projects, tasks, and goals. It’s usually a lot messier.
- Criticizing Instead of Constructing. It’s rare that two people who love each other and live together will not eventually find things about each other that drive them nuts – stuff that just plain annoys you about the other person. Sometimes this results in criticism of the other person’s behavior, and as soon as you’ve started down the criticism path, you’re in trouble. It rarely ends well. Instead, partners have to figure out ways to give constructive feedback without criticizing, blaming, or shaming each other.
- Shutting Down Rather than Opening Up. Some people really struggle to stay present in the midst of difficult emotions. When this happens, their first reaction to arguments, disagreements, or even constructive feedback, may be to shutdown entirely. Shutting down leaves your partner completely helpless, because there is no way to resolve a problem if you’re not willing to be present and to talk it through. As the shutdown partner you may very well feel like the victim in the situation, but the reality is you have a lot of power once the silent treatment begins. It’s a quick way to make your partner feel isolated and alone.
- Folding When You Should be Holding. When it comes to conflict some people shutdown and give the silent treatment, but many others avoid conflict and painful conversations by simply agreeing with everything their partner says. They want to get the discomfort over with as quickly as possible, and for them it means giving in to keep the peace. But this is not a workable long-term solution. Part of being in a successful relationship is being able to hold your own effectively during difficult conversations so that your needs and desires do not get completely lost in the midst of your partner’s opinions and expectations.
- Resisting Peaceful Appeals to Preserve One’s Power. The success of most relationships is not determined by how much the two partners fight with each other. Instead, it has far more to do with how they fight and how they repair their relationship during and after disagreements. One way you can sabotage your relationship is by refusing to let your partner make peace with you in the midst of conflict. Your partner may be making bids for connection in the midst of conflict, but if you are too upset or too shutdown, you may not be able to respond in kind. Instead, you’ll scoff at the peacemaking attempt, leading only to further injury. This is a great way to preserve power and the upper hand in a conflict; it is not a great way to navigate conflicts or keep your relationship healthy for the long term.
So that’s it. Five ways that couples sabotage their relationships. If you saw yourself or your partner in any of these five scenarios, I hope you’ll take some time to sit down and talk about it. Early detection is one of the best ways to avoid long-term relationship problems. Don’t wait until one or more of these things has turned your relationship on its end.