When the love is deep, many couples feel their relationship will last forever. You and your partner both love one another deeply, and that will stand the test of time. Sure, you'll go through challenges and obstacles in life, but you'll do it together with your deep love sustaining you both. Right?
But, eventually, if you don't know how to navigate all the roadblocks you'll encounter as a couple on life's journey, you might just crash and burn. So, it's vital to learn how to steer the relationship away from any danger zones. When you know how to work together as a team to drive right past the danger zones, it will sustain your relationship to continue to grow and thrive.
Look Out For These 4 Behaviors That Destroy Relationships
Let’s look at the top four most common issues couples face that ultimately destroys their relationship so you can learn how to avoid them and drive on past with smooth sailing. Below is a list created from research done by The Gottman Institute.
#1 - Contempt in Your Relationship
Do you lash out at your partner and blame them because you are upset, angry, or frustrated? Are you blaming your partner for your feelings?
Maybe it's not your partner's fault that you feel upset, angry, or frustrated in those moments? Perhaps you are blaming someone else, and you choose your partner to blame by verbally attacking them?
When you blame, shame, and criticize your partner, this is very destructive and disrespectful, and doing so continually will take you on the freeway to destroying your relationship.
The Solution to Living Contempt Free In Your Relationship
When you feel ready to explode, stop, take a moment to collect your thoughts calmly, and choose your words wisely. Avoid "you" statements.
You can't take the words back once you've said them. Instead, start by saying to your partner:
I feel …
I heard you say….
I saw it this way….
My experience is….
Be gentler with your words, show kindness, and don't take it out on your partner. You want this relationship to last, and treating your partner with contempt is not the way to a lasting, loving relationship.
Think of contempt as standing on a mountain top and declaring what marriage is and is not – in very black and white terms. That is your version of marriage, not necessarily your partner's version of marriage.
#2 - Unspoken Expectations Damages Your Relationship
Therapist Marty Klein once said, "couples argue over contracts they never made." Couples enter a relationship thinking they know and understand each other only to discover many unspoken "contracts" or expectations. They have an implicit contract, not an explicit one.
Unspoken expectations in relationships can be as simple as:
Who does the yard work
Where you both plan to spend your holidays
Who manages the finances
Where you both intend to take your summer vacation
Where the kids will go to school
When couples have unspoken expectations in their relationship, it creates a lot of unnecessary tension. That is until these issues become communicated about and turn into spoken expectations.
The Solution to Unspoken Expectations in Your Relationship
It's not too late to develop a plan when you encounter these unanticipated, unspoken contracts. It's vital to communicate and talk about expectations. You both have to create a plan together. When you plan, you may learn your partner never will cook, but they are happy to clean the kitchen and do the dishes.
The key is to have a mutually agreed-upon plan in your relationship.
#3 - Being Defensive Damages Your Relationship
People get defensive because they don't want to experience uncomfortable feelings within themselves. It is a form of self-protection.
For most of us, defensiveness is a natural response to criticism, complaints, and negative feedback. It can escalate an argument and destroy any chance of resolving it. It also sends a message to your partner that their experiences or ideas are wrong and you are right.
Being defensive can prevent couples from listening and deeply connecting. If you put up a wall, even if it's just to protect yourself from getting hurt, you are not allowing your partner to understand how you feel. A well-meaning defense quickly can turn into a battle where each side is unwilling to give in.
The Solution to Eliminating Defensiveness in Your Relationship
Avoid using criticism and placing blame when you want to share your worries or concerns. Create a supportive environment where you feel comfortable talking honestly and choosing gentle words.
Remember, if you tug on one side, your partner will pull on the other, and you end up in conflict. Make sure you move in a positive direction so your partner can move in the same way.
If you feel the conversation is getting tense and going south fast, stop it and say you want to resume it later when emotions have cooled. Time outs are crucial for all relationships.
Place a specific timeframe on when you will talk again and never wait more than 24 hours. The person who needs the time out should be the one to come back and initiate the dialogue again. This way, your partner will know you want to resolve the problem in a healthy manner.
#4 - Stonewalling Or The Silent Treatment Damage Relationships
Are you destroying your relationship with the silent treatment instead of expressing how you feel? Have you heard your partner say to you, “You’re not listening to me?” You are experiencing stonewalling (when a person withdraws from a conversation and refuses to address your concerns).
In many cases, when one partner stonewalls another, the conversation is shut down before it even has a chance to begin.
Withdrawing from a partner can be extremely damaging to a relationship over time. While some partners tend to use stonewalling to avoid conflict, it actually causes more issues.
Regardless of the intention of the person who stonewalls, this behavior communicates the following: "You're not worth my response. Your thoughts and feelings don't matter to me. You don't matter to me."
The Solution To Ending The Silent Treatment in Your Relationship
Your partner may be overwhelmed and needs to take some time to disengage from a tense and emotional situation. This means you are setting aside your differences temporarily so when you regroup. You'll be less tense and emotional and better equipped to discuss the issue more clearly. During this disengagement time, try to see your partner's perspective.
It may help the two of you work together to resolve the conflict productively and peacefully when you take the time apart. It is even OK to ask, "what do you need?" When you inquire with empathy, you may uncover your partner's concerns because you focus on the issue, not the person.
Let your vulnerability show. Sit down with your partner and explain how you feel. Instead of turning away from your partner, turn toward your partner.
Take extra time to share an appreciation for validating your partner's point of view and for listening and responding. This will help keep the conversation more positive and support the person who stonewalls from feeling the need to withdraw.
Look deep within yourself and ask if you are bringing your best self into this relationship. Your relationship will fail if you can't take the time to look at it and work on common issues that can be fixed with a bit of empathy, understanding, effort, and practice.
Focus on offering daily gestures and expressions of appreciation, kindness, support, and love. Becoming a more effective partner is the most efficient way to assure a loving, intimate relationship.
Practice Weekly Relationship Exercises - Brags and Appreciations
Stretch out of your comfort zone and give your partner a “brag.”
When you want to reinforce and acknowledge anything your partner does, give them an appreciation.
As Carroll Bryant says, "Love is a two-way street constantly under construction." Learn how to continually grow and evolve with your partner to construct the relationship you both genuinely want together.
If you are struggling in your relationship, we are here to help with in-person and virtual Imago Relationships Therapy and Imago Relationships Workshops.
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This blog post was written by Joe Kort, Ph.D., LMSW, Imago Certified Relationship Therapist and AASECT Certified Sex Therapist & Supervisor of Sex Therapy.
Joe is a leading expert on sex and relationships. He specializes in Out-of-Control Sexual Behaviors (OCSB)/“sex addiction,” Relationship Problems and Marital Conflict, Sex Therapy, Sexual Identity Concerns, Depression, Anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). His practice is located in Royal Oak, Michigan, and he welcomes clients from all over the Metro Detroit area. Joe is also available for long-distance coaching and consultation. His practice is mixed with straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals and couples.
Joe graduated from Michigan State University with dual Psychology and Social Work majors. At Wayne State University, he earned his Master's in Social Work (MSW), then a Masters (MA) in Psychology, and has received his Doctorate (Ph.D.) in Clinical Sexology from the American Academy of Clinical Sexologists (AACS).
In addition, Joe is also the founder and director of The Center for Relationship and Sexual Health (his associate's biographies can be found here), teaching faculty at the University of Michigan Sexual Health Certificate Program, a Board Certified Sexologist, a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers, a member of the National Association of Certified Social Workers, a member of EMDRIA Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Basic Training, and a licensed clinical social worker in the state of Michigan.
Joe has also written a book to help couples and individuals on Amazon.com called Erotic Orientation: Helping Couples and Individuals Understand Their Sexual Lives.