In the last few weeks, I've written a couple of articles on this site that received a lot of attention. The first one was called "The 10 Biggest Mistakes Women Make in Relationships" and it has been one of my more widely-read articles in a very short time. A week later, I followed it up with another article called "The 10 Biggest Mistakes Men Make in Relationships" and while there was some crossover, the lists were almost as different as the genders themselves.
After seeing the success of these two back-to-back articles, my brand-new wife suggested I follow it up with another spin-off based on the "The 10 Biggest Mistakes Couples Make In Relationships." I thought it was great idea. Talk about a timely suggestion! As a result, I've assembled a list of non gender-specific ways that couples sabotage their relationships. Hopefully, this list will help create some "a-ha" moments, great conversations and behavioral changes. Hopefully before too much damage has been done, couples can reverse course.
Here are ten warning signs that couples should be aware of before it's too late:
1) You focus more on what's wrong rather than what's right.
The fundamental truth in life is that humans tend to find what they look for in their world. Some people are convinced we're on the path to immediate ruin while others believe we're living in the most exciting time to be alive in history. But both opinions can point to outstanding arguments to support their premise. But how can they both be right when they live in the same world?
It's because humans have an ability to live in a world of their own making, simply by choosing where we focus. This is also how you can keep your love alive and vibrant at the same time. You can focus on what a lazy, forgetful, good-for-nothing partner you have or you can see them as a wonderful and loving partner who occasionally overlooks a request when they are distracted. Which one would you choose to spend a lifetime with, since the choice is all yours? As you believe, so you will perceive.
2) You'd rather be right than in love
As long as we're talking about how to respond proactively when things go wrong, let's just acknowledge that there will inevitably be times when your partner falls short, makes a mistake or frankly, just blows it. Even though it may seem justified or feel better in the moment, choosing a righteous response will only damage trust and create lingering resentment. Plus it will teach them to stonewall, deny and argue rather than simply apologize and admit a mistake in the future.
It's critical, and really smart, to condition the behavior you want to see by using rewards and not punishment if you want a relationship that lasts. Take the high road and give your partner the benefit of the doubt, especially if they don't really expect or feel they deserve it. It really builds up appreciation, good will and a desire to do even better to please you next time.
Bottom line: whenever possible, give people a graceful way to save face when they screw up. Have the humility to apologize quickly if you're the one who screws up. Both habits will go a very long way to creating and sustaining the love you deserve. [Please note: I am not suggesting you be a doormat and allow outrageous behavior to go unchallenged. I'm simply saying don't sweat the small stuff and choose to stand your ground on the bigger stuff that may be a deal-breaker.]
3) You take things personally and make it about you.
Human beings will usually try to meet their perceived needs, even if it occasionally means violating their values in some way. The truth is, it often has very little to do with anyone else because someone else's needs simply aren't as critical as your own needs. That makes sense, doesn't it? That's why it's a huge waste of time and energy to demonize a partner's actions and make them about you.
Choose to empathize with their needs instead. What better way to demonstrate maturity and your own value than by acknowledging that your partner has needs that also deserve to be met? Do your best to be the one who can help them meet them better than anyone else. When you take things personally and get your feelings hurt too easily, it closes off communication, makes problem-solving nearly impossible and leaves you both at risk. Instead, be open to hearing what your partner wants and needs. Look for the common ground instead of the insult.
4) You don't create a safe space for your partner to speak openly and just be.
I know many of these items seem to overlap and that's because they do cross over into one another. The truth is, bad habits and poor strategies that don't work are a slippery slope to ruin. People have a need to be seen, heard, acknowledged and appreciated just as they are. They don't want to be judged, manipulated or treated as if they're wrong and broken. This is literally a foundational need that is so important. It's almost like emotional oxygen.
I'll tell you a secret also. Sometimes, people may think they need or want things that might be real deal-breakers for other people. But what they really needed all along was just the acceptance that came with simply hearing them out and not making them wrong. They key to remember is that as soon as you judge someone else, you lose all ability to influence them. If you can accept people where they are and give them more unconditional love than they've ever felt in their lives, that's literally the secret to an undying love. Think about it. Why would someone risk losing the greatest partner they've ever had? Someone who also happens to always see the absolute best in them, even when they, themselves, temporarily lose sight of it. That is a powerful attribute and really, really tough to ever leave.
5) You put other people or things ahead of your relationship
What you fail to celebrate will eventually deteriorate. A relationship, like all living things, needs nurturing, care and ongoing nourishment if you want it to not only survive, but thrive. Too often, we get hypnotized by random unfinished business, never-ending demands and the shiny objects of a 24/7 media world.
The key here is instituting rituals because good intentions pave the way to breakups or even worse — divorce court. If you value what you have, institute a regular date night ritual or a bedtime ritual — like a nightly gratitude check-in or just couples time. This is not a time to vent or complain. It's a time to connect, wind down and fill one another up for the next day. If that seems too overwhelming to do on a daily basis, just try it once for a week or a month. The idea is to build a habit and muscle. You don't get in great shape by going to a gym once. It's the culmination of many trips that gives you the results you want. Again, let the ritual do the work and you'll thank me for it later.
6) You don't know or fulfill one another's love strategy
This particular item is so powerful. I have turned around marriages in real trouble and literally even had couples withdraw divorce papers, after they had already been filed. That is not an exaggeration. If that doesn't tell you how powerful this is, nothing else will. Several years ago, I created a CD with a formula to teach people how to determine their partner's exact love strategy. Keep Reading...