How to Avoid The 5 Bad Habits That Are Sabotaging Your Relationship
Relationships can be hard. As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I have a lot of couples who come in and out of my office every week, and every week I am reminded that a happy, healthy relationship takes commitment, connection, and hard work.
Relationships are filled with strengths, successes, struggles, and mistakes. They have “ups and downs”. However, if mistakes and bad habits are not being identified as wrong and perceived as “normal”, your relationship could be in big trouble. This leaves us unaware of the damage we may be causing to the relationship, or in other words, we are unintentionally sabotaging our relationship.
Couples therapy can help to identify these “bad habits” and teach you the necessary antidotes to use in their place. For those who can’t make the commitment to couples counseling, let’s educate you the old fashioned way. Below, I have included some of the most common “bad habits” that are sabotaging your relationship (not to mention your personal well-being).
1 - Competition: Relationships don’t need a scorecard. There isn’t a winner or a loser. You and your partner should be a TEAM. Finances, house work, parenting styles, and more are common areas in which competition can arise. For example, “I worked 60 hours this week! I am trying to provide for the family!” “But I do everything around the house AND take care of the kids all day”.
This attempt to prove to your partner that your efforts are significant can actually be building a culture of competition and enabling the “keeping score” mindset. While the intention may not always be to belittle your partner’s efforts and accomplishments, trying to compete can come across very critical and invalidating.
Antidote: Implementing compromise, complimenting and validating each other’s successes (no matter how big or small), and most importantly, eliminate comparing each other's efforts, strengths, struggles, and mistakes.
2 - Fishing for Compliments: Speaking of validation, this one is tricky because compliments are usually a good thing. Validating your partner is an essential part of a healthy relationship. However, when we begin acting a certain way, saying certain things, or doing things just to be noticed, it can turn insincere.
For example, saying things like “I don’t look good in this outfit” with the intent to be complimented or making accusations like “you don’t love me anymore” just to be reaffirmed that you are loved. These are not genuine conversations. Being genuine is key in relationships because it strengthens connection and builds trust and support. Genuine validation and compliments also foster healthy levels of self-esteem in our partners.
Fishing for compliments can lead to frustration and resentment in the long run.
If you truly are having concerns or doubts that you “don’t look good” or “don’t feel loved”, those are conversations that need to be discussed and explored to find out the root of the problem.
Keep in mind, we all have different love languages (Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service, Gift Giving, and Physical Touch). Gary Chapman’s book on The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts discusses a concept that we all have a specific way we prefer to receive love. Some individuals fall under the category of “words of affirmation”. If this is the case, it is important to have this conversation with your partner so they know that validation and affirmations are important to you.
Antidote: Communicate your wants and needs to your partner. Your loved one is not a mind reader. If you respond positively to words of affirmations, compliments, and validation, let your partner know. If these important conversations are had, it helps your partner take a genuine effort to fulfill this need, rather than leaving you fishing for compliments.
3 - Threatening to Leave: Have you ever felt so frustrated with your partner that you react and say “I’m not doing this anymore” or storm out of the house after a fight, even if you have no intention to end the relationship.
This bad habit forces your partner to go on the defensive, which may result in additional fighting, deterioration of trust, build resentment, or even taking your words at face value and proceeding with a break-up. Regardless of the outcome, threatening to leave is a slippery slope. A relationship cannot continue to thrive and grow if you're constantly taking steps backwards.
Antidote: Try some new conflict resolution skills. Small steps towards eliminating this “bad habit” such as taking 20-30 mins to “cool down” before trying to discuss the conflict matter again, practicing assertive communication skills to fully get your concerns across, and being willing to reflectively listen and understand your partner can help to manage conflict appropriately and prevent you from threatening to leave.
In the clip below, actress, Kristen Bell discusses her unhealthy fighting technique with actor, Dax Shepard in their early stages of their relationship. I absolutely LOVE this clip because it sheds light on the desire behind threatening to leave or “the dramatic exit” and the progression of overcoming this bad habit through healthy communication and hard work.
4 - Nit Picking: “Why did you take 95 and not the Turnpike?” “You always forget your keys!” Do you ever find yourself picking apart every little thing your loved one does? Have you ever heard your partner say “I can’t do anything right!”. These may be signs you are nit picking your partner!
Starting conflict over things that do not have a major impact on the integrity of the relationship or threaten your personal boundaries can cause resentment, frustration, and leave your partner feeling criticized. “Walking on eggshells” in your relationship is the feeling of not being comfortable, leaving them afraid to act or say something without the fear of a critical response. This will sabotage your relationship in the long run.
Antidote: Pick your battles! Taking the time to reflect on “why” this particular thing is frustrating you is essential. A little self-reflection can prevent an unnecessary fight. Most of the time you will be able to determine that your partner “shuffling their feet” or “leaving the water running while they brush their teeth” is not jeopardizing your relationship or well-being, preventing a critical and impulsive statement. Picking your battles can actually help save your relationship!
5 - Listening To Outsider's Opinions: Everyone has an opinion. As much as we don’t want to admit it, we also make uninformed judgements. Listening to the opinions of others on your relationship is common, we all need someone to talk to from time to time.
It is important to remember that you and your partner are the only ones who actually know the details, strengths, and efforts being made in your relationship. Your best friend may tell you that your spouse is not treating you right, however, they can be uninformed of the major positive transformation he/she has made for you. If you are making decisions about your relationship based off the opinions of others alone, you may be sabotaging the relationship and the potential for growth.
Antidote: Filter outsider’s opinions. It is important to have a support system who you can talk to, vent to, and rely on when needed. However, remember to take the opinions and judgements of others with a grain of salt. YOU are the one that is most informed about your relationship. Filter, or process, the information you may be receiving from others and identify what may be applicable and important to you. You are the expert in your own love story!