“When you forbid a partner from doing something, you invite them to keep a secret.”
— Ellyn Bader
Most of us expect our love relationship will last forever; that our love will endure the challenges you face along your life’s journey together. But if you don’t know how to navigate roadblocks you encounter as a couple, you may crash and burn. Knowing how to steer away from those danger zones will help sustain your relationship.
Let’s look at common issues that can kill a relationship and what you can do to avoid them.
Contempt: the Gottman’s research says this is the most effective way to kill a relationship
Do you lash out at your partner and blame him or her when you are angry or frustrated? Maybe it’s not your partner’s fault, yet, you want to blame someone. This is destructive and disrespectful.
• The fix: When you feel like you’re ready to explode, stop, take a moment to collect your thoughts calmly, and choose your words wisely. Instead of “you” statements, start by saying, “I feel …,” or “I heard you say …,” or “I saw it this way.” Be gentler, show kindness and don’t take it out on your partner.
Therapist Marty Klein once said, “couples argue over contracts they never made.” Couples enter a relationship thinking they know and understand each other only to discover many unspoken expectations. They have an implicit contract, not an explicit one. These unspoken expectations can be as simple as who will do the yard work, where to spend the holidays or who will manage the finances. These will create a lot of tension in the relationship until they are spoken and agreed to. Read this post on how to build trust as a couple.
• The fix: Remember, your version of what a marriage is may not be the same as your partner’s. It’s not too late to make a plan. When you encounter unanticipated, unspoken contracts, talk about them and come up with agreement. You may realize your partner never will cook, but he is happy to do the dishes and clean up the kitchen. There’s the plan.
People get defensive to protect themselves from uncomfortable feelings. For most of us, defensiveness is a natural response to criticism, complaints and negative feedback. It can escalate an argument instead of resolving it. Defensiveness sends a message that your partner’s experiences or ideas are wrong and you are right. It also prevents couples from listening and connecting with each other. If you put up a wall, you do not allow your partner to understand how you feel. Defensiveness can quickly can turn a disagreement into a battle where each side is unwilling to give in.
• The fix: Avoid using criticism and placing blame when you want to share your worries or concerns. Create a supportive environment where you feel comfortable talking honestly, and choose gentle words. Remember, if you tug on one side, your partner will tug on the other and you end up in conflict. Make sure you move in a positive direction so your partner can move in the same way. Remember the rule of 10:1 ratio of gratitude to complaints.
If you see the conversation getting tense, stop it and say you want to resume it later when emotions have cooled. Time outs are crucial for all relationships. Place a specific timeframe on when you will talk again and never wait more than 24 hours. The person who needs the time out should be the one to initiate the dialogue again. This way your partner will know you want to resolve the problem in a healthy way. Bide for time!
Are you killing your relationship with the silent treatment instead of expressing how you feel? Has your partner said to you, “You’re not listening to me?”
Stonewalling is when a person withdraws from a conversation and refuses to address concerns. The conversation shuts down before it has a chance to begin. While some partners tend to use stonewalling to avoid conflict, it actually causes more issues. Learn to stay present!
Regardless of the intention of the stonewaller, this behaviour communicates the following: “You’re not worth responding to. Your thoughts and feelings don’t matter to me. You don’t matter to me.”
• The fix: Your partner may be overwhelmed and needs to take some time to disengage from an emotional situation. Set aside your differences temporarily so when you regroup, you will be better equipped to discuss the issue more clearly. Regulate your over-heated or over-cooled emotions. Increase your window of tolerance. Take time to see your partner’s perspective. This may help the two of you work together to resolve the conflict productively and peacefully.
Let your vulnerability show. Sit down with your partner and explain how you feel. Instead of turning away, turn toward him or her.
Take time to validate your partner’s point of view, and share appreciation for listening and responding. Be curious about your partner’s perspective.This will help keep the conversation more positive and support the stonewaller from feeling the need to withdraw. Taking the most generous perspective will invite a stonewaller back into a conversation.
Here are a few more relationship killers to fix:
• Fighting that never ends: When a relationship is starting to crumble, you may find yourself in frequent fights repeatedly over insignificant things. These fights aren’t about being right; in most cases they are about feeling hurt, misunderstood or unloved. Most of what couples fight about isn’t even the real issue. Get to the hurt and pain underneath the frustration, where the solution lives.
• Criticism: Habitual criticism can destroy the very foundation of a relationship. Before criticizing, consider the words you use. Don’t start your sentence with statements like, “you always” or “you never.” Focus on what you want from your partner, instead of what you don’t want. Be respectful. Not accusatory. Use words like, “I feel,” or “I need.”
• Ignoring attempts to connect: If you see your partner trying to connect with you when you’re not in the mood or don’t have time, instead of putting on your blinders, just say, “I’m sorry, this is not a good time, but let’s pick a time. How about in one hour?” Never wait more than 24 hours to talk.
If you are trying to connect, don’t start with, “We need to talk right now.” Make an appointment to talk. Use a softer approach and you will be surprised how effective that can be.
Instead of letting common issues kill your relationship, try a little understanding and effort, look deep into yourself and ask if you are bringing your best self into the relationship.
Offer daily gestures and expressions of appreciation, kindness, support and love. Becoming a more effective partner is the most efficient way to assure a loving, intimate relationship.
As Carroll Bryant says, “Love is a two-way street constantly under construction.”