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10 Ways We Hurt Our Romantic Relationships

10 Ways We Hurt Our Romantic Relationships
It’s not easy to have a great relationship with your boy/girlfriend, partner, or spouse. But it’s not impossible, either — it takes some work, of course, but it’s good work, work that’s a joy when everything comes together.

A lot of times, though, the work isn’t enough. We get in our own way with ideas and attitudes about relationships that are not only wrong, but often work to undermine our relationships no matter how hard we work at it.

I’ve watched a lot of breakups (some of them my own). I’ve seen dramatic flare-ups and drawn-out slow fades, and I’ve tried to pay attention to what seems to be going on. Here are a few of the things I’ve seen that cause people to destroy their own relationships.

1. You’re playing to win

One of the deadliest killers of relationships is the competitive urge. I don’t mean competition in the sense that you can’t stand to lose at tennis, I mean the attitude that the relationship itself is a kind of game that you’re tying to win. People in competitive relationships are always looking for an advantage, the upper hand, some edge they can hold over their partner’s head. If you feel that there are things you can’t tell your partner because she or he will use it against you, you’re in a competitive relationship — but not for long.

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2. You don’t trust

There are two aspects of trust that are important in relationships. One is trusting your partner enough to know that s/he won’t cheat on you or otherwise hurt you — and to know that he or she trusts you that way, too. The other is trusting them enough to know they won’t leave you or stop loving you no matter what you do or say. The second that level of trust is gone, whether because one of you takes advantage of that trust and does something horrible or because one of you thinks the other has, the relationship is over — even if it takes 10 more years for you to break up.

3. You don’t talk

Too many people hold their tongues about things that bother or upset them in their relationship, either because they don’t want to hurt their partner, or because they’re trying to win. (See #1 above; example: “If you don’t know why I’m mad, I’m certainly not going to tell you!”) While this might make things easier in the short term, in the long run it gradually erodes the foundation of the relationship away. Little issues grow into bigger and bigger problems — problems that don’t get fixed because your partner is blissfully unaware, or worse, is totally aware of them but thinks they don’t really bother you. Ultimately, keeping quiet reflects a lack of trust — and, as I said that’s the death of a relationship.

4. You don’t listen

Listening — really listening — is hard. It’s normal to want to defend ourselves when we hear something that seems like criticism, so instead of really hearing someone out, we interrupt to explain or excuse ourselves, or we turn inward to prepare our defense. But your partner deserves your active listening. S/he even deserves you to hear the between-the-lines content of daily chit-chat, to suss out his/her dreams and desires when even s/he doesn’t even know exactly what they are. If you can’t listen that way, at least to the person you love, there’s a problem.

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5. You spend like a single person

This was a hard lesson for me to learn — until it broke up a 7-year relationship. When you’re single, you can buy whatever you want, whenever you want, with little regard for the future. It’s not necessarily wise, but you’re the only one who has to pay the consequences. When you are with someone in a long-term relationship, that is no longer a possibility. Your partner — and your children, if there are or will be any — will have to bear the brunt of your spending, so you’d better get in the habit of taking care of household necessities first and then, if there’s anything left over, of discussing with your partner the best way to use it.

This is an increasing problem these days, because more and more people are opting to keep their finances separate, even when they’re married. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of arrangement in and of itself, but it demands more communication and involvement between the partners, not less. If you’re spending money as if it was your money and nobody else has a right to tell you what to do with it, your relationship is doomed.

6. You’re afraid of breaking up

Nobody in a truly happy partnership is afraid of breaking up. If you are, that’s a big warning sign that something’s wrong. But often, what’s wrong is the fear itself. Not only does it betray a lack of trust, but it shows a lack of self-confidence and self-esteem — you’re afraid that there’s no good reason for someone to want to be with you, and that sooner or later your partner will “wise up” and take off. So you pour more energy into keeping up the appearance of a happy relationships than you do into building yourself up as a person. Quite frankly, this isn’t going to be very satisfying for you, and it also isn’t going to be very satisfying for your partner.

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7. You’re dependent

There’s a thin line between companionship and support and dependency. If you depend on your partner — that is, if you absolutely cannot live without her or him — you’ve crossed that line. The pressure is now on your partner to fill whatever’s missing in you — a pressure s/he will learn to resent. If you expect your partner to bring everything while you bring nothing to your relationship — and I’m talking finances as well as emotional support, here — you’re in trouble. (Note: I’m not saying that you need to contribute equally to household finances — what I’m saying is that if you’re not contributing to the household budget, and you’re not contributing anywhere else, things are out of whack and that’s never good.)

8. You expect happiness

A sign of a bad relationship is that one or both partners expect either to make the other happy or for their partner to make them happy. This is not only an unrealistic expectation to lay on yourself or on them — nobody can “make” you happy, except you — but it’s an unrealistic expectation to lay on your relationship. Relationships aren’t only about being happy, and there’s lots of times when you won’t and even shouldn’t be. Being able to rely on someone even when you’re upset, miserable, depressed, or grieving is a lot more important than being happy all the time. If you expect your partner to make you happy — or worse, you’re frustrated because you aren’t able to make your partner happy — your relationship isn’t going to fare well when it hits a rough spot.

9. You never fight

A good argument is essential, every now and then. In part, arguing helps bring out the little stuff before it becomes major, but also, fighting expresses anger which is a perfectly normal part of a human’s emotional make-up. Your relationship has to be strong enough to hold all of who you are, not just the sunny stuff.

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One reason couples don’t fight is that they fear conflict — which reflects a lack of trust and a foundation of fear. That’s bad. Another reason couples avoid arguments is that they’ve learned that anger is unreasonable and unproductive. They’ve learned that arguing represents a breakdown rather than a natural part of a relationship’s development. While an argument isn’t pleasant, it can help both partners to articulate issues they may not have even known they had — and help keep them from simmering until you cross a line you can’t come back from.

10. You expect it to be easy/you expect it to be hard

There are two deeply problematic attitudes about relationships I hear often. One is that a relationship should be easy, that if you really love each other and are meant to be together, it will work itself out. The other is that anything worth having is going to be hard — and that therefore if it’s hard, it must be worth having.

The outcome of both views is that you don’t work at your relationship. You don’t work because it’s supposed to be easy and therefore not need any work, or you don’t work because it’s supposed to be hard and it wouldn’t be hard if you worked at it. In both cases, you quickly get burnt out — either because the problems you’re ignoring really don’t go away just because you think they should. or because the problems you’re cultivating are a constant drag on your energy. A relationship that’s too much work might be suffering from one of the attitudes above, but a relationship that doesn’t seem to need any work isn’t any better.

Your choices

There isn’t any one answer to any of the problems above. There are choices though: you can either seek out an answer, something that addresses why you are hurting your relationship, or you can resign yourself to the failure of your relationship (and maybe the next one, and the next one, and…). Failure doesn’t always mean you break up — many people aren’t that lucky. But people can live quite unhappily in failed relationships for years and even decades because they’re afraid they won’t find anything better, or worse, they’re afraid they deserve it. Don’t you be one of them — if you suffer from any of these problems, figure out how to fix it, whether that means therapy, a solo mountain retreat, or just talking to your partner and committing yourselves to change.

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

More About Self-Learning

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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