Learning how to relate to your partner can mean the difference between a joyful union and a painful breakup, so do yourself and your significant other a favor by taking the time to adjust potentially harmful behaviors. When things get tough, relationship expert Gayle Katz says both parties need to be involved. “If you decide to ditch your old habits to save your relationship, you need to practice your new social skills so they become new, healthier habits,” Katz said. “And your partner needs to celebrate your changes and remind you when you fall back on old habits.”
To hear more about what leads to a relationship breakdown, The Cheat Sheet spoke with some other leading mental health and relationship experts.
Criticism is a nasty habit that can belittle a spouse and break trust in a relationship. You started off your marriage optimistic, looking to your spouse as a life partner you could always turn to, but now it feels like you’re being nitpicked on a daily basis. It goes without saying that it is important to focus more time on what your partner is doing right as opposed to focusing on the negative. As you begin to see more of the positive, the negative will be less apparent or bother you less.
Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, therapist and founder of The Marriage Restoration Project
2. Focusing only on yourself
If you’re only looking out for No. 1, you don’t have the other person’s back. As a result, the other person won’t feel valued because you’re not being a team, which is an essential ingredient in a relationship.
Gayle Katz, founder of the Grounded Girl’s Guide series
3. Not making time to connect
Can you both turn off all outside noise for at least an hour a day? Can you actually talk without checking your phone and doing other tasks? Can you make time for each other and have a date night on a regular basis? These are things that need your time and attention.
Communication is something that isn’t overrated. Making time each day to truly connect and listen is more important than people realize. Making rules to follow before things become an issue can help. If you discuss your fighting styles or quirks, it can help in making sure the fights and disagreements you have are only temporary and don’t lead to a permanent breakup.
Stef Safran, relationship expert and founder of Stef and the City
4. Holding grudges
People do stuff that gets on our nerves at times. That’s true of all of us — maybe even especially with the people we love the most. Great couples have learned not to let those little things distract from the major things — like love and commitment.
One relationship killer is saying what you don’t want instead of what you do want. When complaints become a steady stream, your partner may come to feel she or he can’t win, and lose motivation to try. The irony is that saying what you don’t want is just another way of saying what you do want, but steady complaining can reduce, not increase, the likelihood your partner will make the changes you desire.
… Of course, it can be hard to ask for what you want or stay positive when you’ve reminded someone a dozen times. And yes, your partner probably should be tidier. But would you rather be right or happy? It can take time and practice, but when you are tempted to complain, try saying or asking for what you want instead to see what happens.
Dan Neuharth, Ph.D., licensed marriage and family therapist, and author of If You Had Controlling Parents
6. Getting too comfortable
Everyone wants to feel like they are the most important thing in their significant other’s life. That means making time from your social life and personal life to see one another (fewer guys’ or girls’ nights out). Even though it’s just one night out here and one family commitment there, to a significant other who is waiting to see you, they can start to feel like they’re playing second fiddle very quickly and lose interest in waiting for you. To prevent this from happening, be aware of your time spent together and apart, and make a conscience effort to balance a healthy amount of time together as a couple with time for your personal life.
Lori Salkin, SawYouAtSinai senior matchmaker and dating coach
When you communicate from a place of neediness, this leads to questioning whether your partner loves you. You can drive yourself crazy with insecurities and self-doubt.
We can never expect to be loved if we don’t love ourselves. That’s an inside job that must be undertaken whether you have a relationship partner or not. Don’t settle for feeling undervalued, unworthy, or unimportant in your relationship. Take the time to make the internal shift that will help you feel empowered and desired as a love partner.
Rosalind Sedacca, divorce and parenting coach
8. Making assumptions
A complaint I hear often from clients is that they are constantly being misread or misunderstood by their partner. Incorrect assumptions about others happen in relationships all the time. This can cause resentment, anger, and lack of trust to build up, not to mention the unnecessary arguments that can result. And what was once a fairly healthy, workable relationship can start to crumble.
Take a moment to step back. Watch, look, and listen. Don’t be so quick to judge or assume your partner is mistaken about something. Base your judgment on objective observation and interactions with that partner and not on what you thought you heard or what you imagine your partner was thinking. If you have questions, simply ask and give the other party a chance to clear up misunderstandings to correct false assumptions.
Pam Evans, relationship expert
9. Smothering each other
It’s always cute to see new couples together 24/7, but when time goes by and you’re still joined at the hip, it is usually annoying for one or both partners.
How to fix it: Invest in some “me” time. Go out and do things apart so you can really appreciate your time together. That time to breathe allows you to recharge and rethink priorities in life, which may work out for your relationship in the long run.
Taylor Henry, relationship coach and sexual health expert for His & Hers: Modern Adult Toy Online Retail Destination
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[Editor’s Note: This story was originally published January 2017.]