10 Things You Subconsciously Do As A Couple That Keep You From Being Happy

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couple having problems

I cannot count how many times a day I run across #relationshipgoals. We hashtag it wherever we see it, and we all let out a collective wistful sigh. But it seems like normalizing certain dating and relationship behaviors has prevented many of us from having the relationship goals we claim to want.

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If what we’re really interested in is having the kind of long-term relationship that inspires this sort of wistfulness in others, we’re going to need to level up. This means that we can’t just put minimal effort into our relationships.

We’ll actually have to invest time and energy into the people we commit to, and we need to eliminate the following dating behaviors:

1. Shopping while we’re in a relationship.

I’m not talking about your basic retail therapy. I’m talking about the PMs and DMs we’re sending to people we’re attracted to while we’re still in a committed relationship. This happens all the time. If we’re in a relationship, there’s no reason to be testing the waters elsewhere.

Are you unsatisfied with your current relationship? Be a grownup and either work on the relationship or end it, not a monkey swinging to the next available branch because you want to make sure you have other options.

2. Avoiding communication.

Ghosting. The silent treatment. Avoiding difficult conversations. Being passive-aggressive. All of these behaviors keep us from having the relationship goals we want. When there’s a problem in our relationships, we need to speak up. Even if it means ending the relationship, we need to be honest with ourselves and our partners about where we stand. Our partners aren’t mind-readers.

I’ve heard people say that they ghost to make things easier. Easier for who? It’s certainly not easier for the person you’ve left with no explanation. Just be honest. It’s possible to be kind and honest at the same time. Sure, it hurts. It’s uncomfortable. But don’t make yourself more comfortable at someone else’s expense.

Instead of avoiding communication, we can learn to communicate effectively. A big part of that is being upfront with people when we date, laying all of our cards out on the table. Another part is being honest with our feelings and expectations, rather than just hoping for the best while hiding how we really feel.

3. Taking partners for granted.

One of the problems with a long-term relationship is that it can be easy to get complacent. No longer feeling lucky to have our partners is the death knell of any relationship. It’s not something we’re going to feel all the time. It takes work, and it takes appreciating what the other person brings to the relationship.

I’ve noticed that many people think that once you’re in an official relationship or even living together dating is a thing that stops.

We should never stop dating our partners if we want #relationshipgoals. Taking the time for dates is a great way to stay connected, and both partners should share in the responsibility for planning them and suggesting ideas. Don’t just think dinner and a movie. Think outside of the box to keep the relationship interesting.

Taking partners for granted can extend into so many areas. It can be an uneven distribution of work in the home. It can be an uneven distribution of work and pleasure with sex.

It can be surrounding finances. It can simply be expecting them to make all the effort while we coast through the relationship. If we want the relationship to stay strong, we have to do some strength training for the relationship, and gratitude is a great place to start.

4. Settling.

This one really gets me sometimes. Maybe I feel it so strongly because I’ve been there. We need to quit settling for the wrong relationships if we ever want to have actual #relationshipgoals. We have to stop ignoring red flags and choosing to stay with people who show us with their words and/or actions that we don’t matter. Or that what they want matters more.

It seems like we have made longevity the gold standard for relationships. That standard can make it hard to let go when we need to. If we’re with someone who makes us feel that we aren’t loved and appreciated, we’ve settled. If our needs are constantly taking a backseat to theirs, we’ve settled.

If we’re staying in the relationship out of fear rather than love, we’ve settled. There are worse things than being alone. We shouldn’t settle for being in a relationship with someone else because we don’t know how to be in a relationship with ourselves.

5. Making someone else responsible for our happiness.

There’s this idea floating around out there in our society that a relationship should make us happy. I think we’ve gotten our signals crossed with this. A healthy relationship can give us a sense of happiness, but we’re not supposed to make the other person in the relationship responsible for making us happy. The relationship itself doesn’t even magically make us happy. The truth is that we are responsible for our own happiness.

In unhealthy relationships, we’re often made to feel like the other person’s unhappiness is our fault. I’ve even been told this. I’ve had two significant relationships where the other parties blamed their dissatisfaction in life on me. It couldn’t just be a bad day or their own poor choices. If they weren’t feeling particularly positive, it must be because I wasn’t fulfilling their every fantasy by my mere existence.

We’re not responsible for healing other people or making them feel happy all the time. Nor is anyone else responsible for making us happy. We need to be healing our own emotional wounds through continued personal growth.

If we’re not happy, we need to examine our own priorities and choices and figure out a way to feel better about our lives without saddling our partners with that responsibility. If we want relationship goals, we need to quit trying to make relationships everything by surrendering our own personal power for the choices we make and the way we feel.

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6. Making the relationship our entire world.

This is also a threat to relationship goals. A healthy relationship isn’t two people who have made each other their whole world. That may be cute in the occasional movie, but it’s far from healthy. Our romantic relationships can’t meet every need we have, nor should they.

We need other people populating our worlds. We need family and friends, healthy social outlets, and other interests and hobbies. Our whole lives shouldn’t be tied up in one other person. This type of isolation is a sign of co-dependence, and it’s not usually a sign of a healthy, happy relationship.

While we do need to have commonalities that we share in a relationship, it’s also important that we have time to ourselves, too, and time to have relationships with other people. We should be able to have friends, explore interests, and be whole individuals. We’re not halves of a whole. We should be full individuals who are in relationships with other full individuals who don’t expect us to give up who we are to meet their need for completion.

7. Inequality.

I’ve never looked at an unequal relationship and thought #relationship goals. I should probably clarify that I don’t think any relationship is equal all the time. Sometimes, one person’s wants and needs may become the priority. In a healthy relationship, this should alternate based on what is needed at the time. But, unfortunately, this isn’t often the case.

The truth is that inequality in relationships has been normalized to the extent that some relationship problems are born out of the expectation that a relationship is supposed to look a certain way. 

Currently, that way looks like women doing all the cooking, cleaning, and housework (regardless of employment status) where men earn wages in an outside job and then do what they feel like doing at home. This type of inequality is far from healthy. Full-grown men shouldn’t be mothered, and women shouldn’t feel like this is a requirement for a relationship.

I had an ex tell me that women should be responsible for all of these things. After all, all the women in his life had done it successfully. Why couldn’t I? He honestly felt that my work and my passions should come after him and my kids.

My first reaction was, have we met? After that, I wondered how I could have gone through the entire relationship not realizing that he had this expectation.

I would never have dated anyone who expressed this sort of value system. I’m not last in my own life. None of us should be. While I do shape my life around my kids and their needs, I don’t come in last place because I’m a mother. I certainly don’t think I should prioritize a relationship over myself by sacrificing my work and passion to be on call for someone else’s needs.

We need to stop normalizing inequality in relationships. Instead, we need to look at relationships as partnerships. Each partner can play to their strengths and help with each other’s challenges, but no relationship should require one partner to always accommodate the other person without equal consideration.

Adults ought to be able to take care of themselves and not expect someone else to fulfill their every wish. That’s not #relationshipgoals. That’s the type of misogyny that keeps us from sharing in a healthy partnership with someone who values us as individuals.

8. Fronting to save face.

In this age of social media, it can be easy to make our relationships look good. We can brag about our relationships and only post the good things. After my own divorce, I became deeply suspicious of people who do this.

After all, I had managed to convey the idea that I was in a happy marriage for years, even though it wasn’t true. While I’m not a fan of airing all of our dirty laundry online, I am a fan of being authentic. I made things look a certain way because I was afraid of what people would think if they knew how I was living. I didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for me.

I had a married man hit on me repeatedly on social media. When asking him to stop wasn’t effective, I told him that I would share his messages with his wife if he persisted. Of course, he continued. Not just on Facebook. When I blocked him there, he took to other forms of social media to continue sending messages that made me feel uncomfortable. I finally messaged his wife. I explained the situation and my discomfort.

The thing of it is that I support other women. I’m not going to poach. I’m not going to help someone have an emotional or physical affair. I’m not going to cover for someone’s lying, cheating partner. I told her what had transpired, and she certainly read it. She didn’t respond.

I blocked her husband across all social media platforms (he managed to send the last message before I could, even after I contacted his wife). Her only real response was to start posting pictures of the two of them together and status updates about the relationship.

I was flummoxed! I get that she might not want others to know that her husband is that sort of person. But to make their relationship look strong when I knew otherwise? That’s really leveling up on denial. And she’s hardly the only one to do it.

We need to be more real-book than Facebook, more insta-true than anything else.

If our relationships aren’t great, we don’t have to pretend they are. But we can’t have the kind of #relationshipgoals we want if we don’t acknowledge problems.

Once they’re acknowledged, we can work on them with our partners, or we can find partners who will work to keep the relationship strong without having to fake it on social media.

9. Phoning it in.

This is easy to do because so many of us are on our smartphones all the time. But what I’m really talking about is investing as little time and energy into our relationships as we can get away with. This comes in many forms. It’s when we don’t actually listen to what our partners are saying.

It’s when we spend more time checking in with our online friends than with our partners. It’s when we do the minimum because romantic gestures, addressing problems, and giving time and energy into a relationship all require effort.

While we may all go through periods where we just don’t have the energy, we can’t have relationship goals if all we ever do is give minimal effort to our partners. We need to make sure that we nurture our relationships, putting in a real effort to maintain their strength.

10. Falling in love with falling in love.

This can be a common block to relationship goals. We want our relationships to stay the same as they were in the beginning, but that’s impossible to maintain. There are ways, however, that we can continue to get to know each other and enjoy our time together if we’re willing to make an effort. Keeping romance alive takes effort and participation from both partners.

When we fall in love with the idea of love or the rush of new relationships, it becomes easy to get disillusioned with long-term or committed relationships. Instead of spicing up our sex lives or getting creative with date night, many people start shopping around, cheating, expressing dissatisfaction, and generally feeling like the relationship isn’t a good one, rather than considering that a good relationship requires our attention and participation.

I’m certainly not a dating or relationship expert. I am a former counselor, and I’ve logged too much time in unhealthy relationships of my own. That gives me a certain amount of expertise and experience, but mostly I’ve spent a lot of time observing what I would define as relationship goals.

Sure, it’s cute when we see pictures of a little elderly couple doing something adorable together. But those pictures don’t tell us when they met or how long they’ve been together. Maybe they just started dating or maybe they’re on a second or third marriage. All we know is that at the moment when the photo was taken, they gave us relationship goals.

But relationship goals are more than just a quick picture of an elderly couple holding hands or a couple on a bicycle built for two. Relationship goals are keeping the romance alive, even when it’s hard and we’re tired and it’s easier to be complacent.

Relationship goals can be showing each other enthusiastic support for our interests and finding a balance so that both partners can live a full, healthy life. Relationship goals are confronting problems and working on them with honesty and respect. It’s valuing each other and trying, even when we screw it all up with the best of intentions. It’s apologizing when we screw up and trying again. It’s saying that love matters and romance isn’t the pretty flash, but the work that creates it because it’s important.

We say we want relationship goals, but we don’t always want to do the things we need to do to have them. It’s not something that will come to us without any effort at all. If we want strong relationships, we need to consider the effort we put into them to be the strength training that creates and maintains them. The first start to getting our relationships strong is to get rid of these 10 blocking behaviors.

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Crystal Jackson is a former family therapist who writes across genres to encompass blog posts, poetry, short stories, children's books, and literary fiction. Read more of her writing on Medium, and follow her on Facebook. 

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.