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How to Stop Yourself from Sabotaging Relationships

How to Stop Yourself from Sabotaging Relationships

Love can be challenging at times, especially when you really care about keeping your relationship healthy. The ability to maintain a relationship in the long term isn’t a skill that most people naturally have. You want to make your relationship work yet the reality is that you sometimes sabotage your relationships without even knowing it.

Luckily, there are practical ways to stop yourself from sabotaging relationships effectively and I’d like to share some of these helpful methods with you today.

1. Communicate Your Standards and Values Early in the Relationship

You need to know what’s important to you and communicate it early in the relationship. A couple may have been together for five years and now they have major problems. However, closer examination shows that the root of their problems didn’t rock up recently. In fact, the seed of their most common issue of contention was planted very early in the relationship.

This happened because the couple didn’t communicate their values and standards at the beginning of their relationship. Initially, they were so crazy about each other; and being truly, madly and deeply in love, they chose to ignore communicating one of the most important parts of a healthy relationship: their values and standards.

For example, you’re in a new relationship. Knowing you value quality time together; you expect your partner to have a date night with you at least once a week. However, you soon discover your partner is a workaholic who wants to work seven days a week and is unwilling to invest more time in you. Because you are wildly attracted to them, you ignore this warning flag and continue to emotionally invest in being in a relationship with them.

The potential problem is that the attraction isn’t sustainable because the dynamics in this relationship and your values aren’t compatible. In the long term, you become resentful as your partner never seems to have time for you.

Then you wonder why you are sabotaging your relationship because you are frequently triggered into angry reactions due to your needs not being met. You know the truth is that you didn’t communicate your values and set your standards early in the relationship, and this has led to ongoing conflict within you.

It’s up to you to communicate important values in the early stages of your relationship. A relationship will naturally follow the course and direction you choose for it. If you want to stop yourself from sabotaging relationships, you need to clearly communicate your wants and needs. If you expect your partner to miraculously know your needs without clearly communicating them, chances are you will constantly be disappointed when they are not met.

When you are communicating your standards to your partner, remember to be kind, polite and sincere. It’s always easier for someone to accept your viewpoint when they can see you are being mindful of respecting their feelings.

In the second place, avoid playing games. Note that honesty is the best policy in all communication with your partner. He or she will appreciate your honesty in this regard because that shows your integrity and strength of character.

If you really want to be in a relationship with a person with conflicting values, clear communication becomes even more paramount.

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For instance, you would like your partner to spend more time with you every weekend, but your partner wants to work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.

You can say this to him or her, “Honey, I understand that your work is very important to you and I really admire your work ethic. Honestly, it will be better for our relationship if we can spend more time together every weekend, because I miss you when you are working all day Saturday and Sunday. Which day do you think we could schedule some time to spend together?”

In this example, there is no “but”. When you say something then inject the word “but”, it detracts from what you previously said. For example, if you were to say, “… I really admire your work ethic, but…”, this “but” eliminates the previous statement of appreciation as the word strongly points out something completely different from what you’ve just said.

While it is ideal to be in a relationship where you don’t have conflicting values; clear, kind and honest communication goes a long way to preventing you from sabotaging your relationship.

2. Respect Each Other’s Boundaries

Like values, boundaries need to be clearly defined and articulated. Some years ago, I had a client who told me that her husband always brought his friends to their house for drinks every Friday night, and his drunk and loud friends wouldn’t leave until 2:30am. That happened every single week.

She was frustrated and upset. Further examination revealed that this client and her husband had different boundaries around their social life. She preferred more one-on-one time with her partner; however, an essential requirement for her husband was to spend time drinking with his friends.

In her opinion, her husband would have been well-advised to take his friends somewhere else for drinks most weeks and maybe bring his friends to their house only twice a year. In contrast, her husband thought it was perfectly okay to bring his friends to their house every week.

Neither of them was wrong. They just had different boundaries. Unresolved boundary issues need to be resolved, otherwise they can eventually lead to separation and divorce.

The solution to this couple’s problem was to find a happy medium. For example, she could allow her husband to bring his friends to their house every 6 weeks, and her husband could go to his friends’ places on most Friday nights.

In the end, my recommendation was that her husband and his friends took turns to host Friday night drinks each week. That worked out well for them, because it was an effective way to respect each other’s boundaries, thereby stopping each of them from sabotaging the relationship.

It’s important to note here that each partner needs to spend time fulfilling their own needs. Depending too much on your partner for your happiness will eventually sabotage your relationship. This is because it puts pressure on your partner to be responsible for your happiness.

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Happiness is the result of your thoughts, words and actions so make sure you regularly indulge in pursuits which enhance your sense of self and develop you as a person.

3. Focus on the Qualities Your Partner Possesses That You Love

It’s too easy to indulge in negative thinking and to allow little annoyances to become the main point of focus in your relationship. This can become the start of the end and sabotage your relationship unless you take immediate steps to correct your focus.

In terms of your partner, it’s miraculous to witness how the more you focus on the qualities they have that you love, the more these qualities come forward and the less you even notice the things that bug you about them. This is because there’s a part of your brain which makes you notice more of whatever you focus your attention on.

You may have heard of the Law of Attraction; your Reticular Activating System is your brain’s biological equivalent.

When you consistently acknowledge your partner’s positive qualities, he or she leans more in that direction due to the reward pathway being activated in their brain. In psychology, this is called positive reinforcement.[1] Dopamine and oxytocin are released in the brain’s reward pathway; these hormones naturally make us feel good which motivates us toward further similar actions to activate further rewards.

If you would like your partner to do more of what you want, you can use positive reinforcement to make it happen (but please use this technique in an empowering way).

For example, you really want your partner to go shopping with you. Sadly, that’s not his favorite activity. Next time he goes shopping with you, you can say this to him, “You know what, when we go to the shopping mall together, I feel really lucky because most men wouldn’t happily go shopping with their women. The fact that you are willing to have more shared experiences with me really turns me on.”

Now what he has actually heard is: When he goes shopping with his lady, his lady is turned on by him. Every man wants to turn on his woman! From now on, he will more likely be happy to go shopping with you.[2]

The important thing to remember here, is to be honest and sincere with your positive reinforcement. We can always sense when a comment is forced, and as such it will sound false, have a negative effect and possibly sabotage your relationship.

Remember that praise and appreciation are best expressed in the moment they are felt.

4. Eliminate Blame

There are many ways that blame can sneak into your relationship, however, it is usually in the way that we word things that makes it sound like we are blaming and therefore sabotaging our relationships. Saying things like, “Don’t waste money on books” rather than “Honey, since we need to save money for our house, I’d appreciate it if you could borrow books from the local library instead of buying books online.”

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In the example above, “don’t” is a negative word. Psychologists claim that our subconscious mind doesn’t understand the word “don’t”, although logically we know what it means. Consequently, that person’s partner receives this message: “buying books is wasting money and it has annoyed him, so he is blaming me.”

No one likes being blamed, and being on the defensive makes it harder biologically for an individual to feel motivated to change their behavior.

When you blame others, you give up your power to change. Blame and false accusations are at the crux of most relationship breakdown. Sometimes it seems easier to blame your partner than to take responsibility for your words and actions (or lack of them).[3]

How many times have you been in an argument with your partner and felt like you were being falsely accused? Neither of you agree on what was said. You are both adamant that you are right and do your best to prove that your partner is wrong (to prove that you are right). Your voices rise as you struggle to feel heard, feel understood and to defend your stance.

Our brains are complex and during a heated debate when we are triggered, our ancient emotional brain kicks in. This affects our short-term memory, our ability to hear, and our ability to communicate clearly.

Because our cognitive processing is affected when we are emotionally triggered, we cannot accurately remember what was said and not said. When you argue, there are instances where both or you are wrong and both of you are right… but unless you recorded the argument, neither of you can prove who said what.

Arguing your point and blaming your partner not only sabotages your relationship, due to how your brain works it is a complete waste of time. It’s better to admit that you could be wrong… because insisting that you are right and blaming your partner will sabotage your happiness as well as your relationship. As the old saying goes: it’s better to be happy than to be right.

5. Be Aware of the Importance of Intimacy

This is a topic that most people avoid talking about, but it’s one of the most significant topics in a relationship.

In general, there are three pillars in a relationship: emotional connection, attraction alignment and intimacy. Therefore, as one major pillar in a relationship, intimacy is of vital importance.

It is said that most couples make love frequently at the beginning of their relationships because that’s the honeymoon stage. Unfortunately, within three years, a lot of couples stop making love.

This is sad, but true. Actually, it happens more often than you think.

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One in three couples suffer from intimacy problems. People just don’t want to talk about it either because of a religious upbringing, or because it’s become such a sensitive topic they don’t know how to approach it.

Due to the nature of my work, I have helped many couples overcome their intimacy challenges. I’ve also helped many individuals overcome the grief and loneliness associated with losing their partner due to unresolved intimacy challenges.

In other words, sexless marriages rarely last.

We are not taught how to drive our bodies sexually. This often results in confusion and frustration for a person trying to complete the act. I do apologize if this statement isn’t the prettiest thing to say. However, many relationships fall apart due to intimacy challenges and if they aren’t addressed, reluctance on either or both partners to engage sexually will eventually result.

A disappointing sex life often results in either partner having a low libido[4] which leads to a sexless marriage… or no marriage at all.

In order to maintain a healthy and sexy relationship, you must invest your time and energy in your pleasure. Dr Christiane Northrup, author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom states that pleasure is your birthright.

How many times have you had random thoughts during sex that were unrelated to the sexual act? Or you’ve thought about your work, your business or your finances during sex? In which case, how does your brain know that you want your sexual programs activated? Not knowing how to be in charge of your biology can sabotage intimacy as well as your relationship.

You are entitled to pleasure. But you also need to know how to balance your pleasure to stay in charge of your body sexually. Focusing on the wrong thing at the wrong time is the culprit of most intimacy issues and applies to both men and women. This can be easily rectified with the correct knowledge and technique. It’s exactly what we need to learn if we want to stop ourselves from sabotaging our relationships.

Therefore, you are strongly recommended to seek professional advice if you need help in this regard. Don’t wait until your relationship is already falling apart.

The Bottom Line

Many people believe that they must switch off their emotional brain and switch on their logical brain in order to be successful. But ignoring the power of the emotional brain is a way to sabotage their relationships.

While you cannot ignore your biology, you can learn how to harness it; mentally, emotionally and physically.

To sum up, the above-mentioned strategies are high-leverage methods of stopping yourself from sabotaging relationships. Remember to incorporate these techniques in your relationship gradually, and you’ll benefit from them in record time.

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Featured photo credit: Matt Nelson via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Jacqui Olliver

Psychosexual Relationship Specialist

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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