Relationship Mistakes You Need to Stop Making

Relationship Mistakes You Need to Stop Making

How to fight smarter, compromise more fairly and make big plans with the one you love.

Do you suffer from drama déjà vu? Maybe you and your partner talk in circles without truly understanding what the other is saying. Maybe your connection is electric between the sheets, but when it comes to spending time together, there’s a different kind of friction.

We spoke with Robert Anderson, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker at TriStar Parthenon Pavillion in Nashville, Tennessee, to learn how you can break this toxic communication cycle. Read on to discover the everyday relationship mistakes you need to stop making, along with essential conflict resolution tips.

Stop saying “I’m fine”
Sometimes your partner’s cluelessness about their hurtful actions can sting more than whatever they did in the first place. How could they be so out of touch with your needs? They must know what they did, or they should at least be able to figure it out.

“People are constantly changing, and your loved one probably isn’t the same person you met five, ten years ago or more,” says Dr. Anderson. “They’re growing; their ideas are evolving.” That’s a good thing, but you may grow in different directions on specific issues. Staying open with each other, rather than shutting down when you get frustrated, can help you grow together.

Another thing: “Saying ‘I’m fine’ is practicing selective sharing,” Anderson continues. When you share selectively, you’re forcing your partner to react based on old or incomplete information about you. Instead, explain what you’re going through so they can understand how their actions may relate to your overall experience.

Build on past relationships—don’t try to recreate them
Comparing your partner to an ex can be crueler than you’d expect. “It doesn’t matter how strong your ego is,” says Anderson. "Nobody likes to be compared to others, especially an old flame, and especially in the areas of physical appearance or intimacy."

Though it's important to discuss traumatic experiences, old relationship insecurities and potential triggers for painful memories, conversations about your past should mostly focus on lessons learned and your future as a couple.

“You can absolutely talk about what it would take to have better intimacy or a stronger connection,” Anderson explains. “But making the person you’re with feel like they could be inadequate compared to your ex will lead to resentment.”

Don’t lose yourself to compromise
Most long-term relationships and marriages involve shared living spaces, resources and schedules. For all of that to work, compromise is a must. 

“But don’t commit to anything you’re going to regret later,” says Anderson. “That includes small things like chores and big sacrifices like whose profession you’re going to put first.”

Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated or manipulate your partner into doing something against their will. “If someone feels like they’re making a sacrifice they didn’t have much say in, they won’t forget it. Even if they don’t speak up at first, their resentment is going to come out in some other fashion,” explains Anderson.

Stop keeping score
“Stay away from ‘tit for tat,’” Anderson says. When it comes to disagreements, don’t try to outdo one another with insults or arguments; you’re not in a boxing ring. A disagreement is an opportunity to learn about your partner on a deeper level and empathize with their feelings. Practice these habits to keep discussions focused and productive:

  • Listen more than you speak.
  • Speak in a tone that you’d like your partner to mirror.
  • Use open body language; face each other, don’t cross your arms, keep your hands relaxed with palms open. These gestures signal that you have nothing to hide; that you’re present and willing to learn.
  • Call an “official time-out” if you need to step away, but agree to come back together to resume the conversation, so as not to leave the problem unresolved.

Once you’ve resolved the problem, let it go. Holding onto grudges, or squirreling away past sins to use against your partner later will only lead to tension and misunderstandings.

Don’t skip the tough talks
A major cause of dysfunctional relationships is making assumptions about the future, rather than having honest discussions about it.

“Never assume that you know what your partner wants or that you’ll be able to change their negative traits—nobody can change another person until they’re ready,” Anderson says. “You can try to influence them, demand, yell and so on, but you can’t control them.”

“Talk to them, give them a chance to make improvements,” he continues. “But if they don’t follow through, you’ve got to say to yourself, ‘Okay, this is what I’ve got. Am I willing to live with this situation or do I need to move on?’”

Also, make sure that you agree, or that you’re comfortable with your disagreements, regarding:

  • Having kids
  • Caring for aging parents at home
  • The sharing of household responsibilities
  • Financial planning
  • The importance of religion
  • What counts as cheating, including physical, emotional and online cheating

These can turn into difficult conversations and may highlight tensions you didn’t know were there. But tackling these issues sooner, rather than later, could save you years of unhappiness and conflict.

To find a couple’s therapist in your area, use Sharecare’s Find a Doctor tool.

Medically reviewed in December 2018.

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