We’re human, therefore we make mistakes. We stress, we misunderstand, we say the wrong thing, and just by proximity these mistakes can hurt the people we love — most often, our significant other. But if our intentions (and apologies!) are good, we can make amends with our strong bond still intact. There might be, however, more insidious things we’re doing that we don't even realize are damaging the strength and potential future of our most important relationship.
Daniela Petznik, Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist at Uptown Phoenix Counseling, shared a few of these things. For starters, she explained that not asserting your needs can lead to resentment. We can’t expect our partners to be mind-readers, though sometimes it feels like they should be. As always, communication is essential. Give your SO a chance to help you and to make you feel seen and understood. I’m reminded of Dr. Alexandra Soloman’s observation, “So many fights can be avoided by courageously asking for what we need instead of being critical when we haven’t gotten it.”
Another habit Petznik revealed that can undermine your relationship is having difficulty saying “no.” This, along with forgoing other forms of self-care, can lead to burnout and resentment. So while you may think your sacrifices are keeping everyone (but you) happy, it can actually lead to discontentment from all parties and disconnection from your partner.
If you’re a fan of Brene Brown, or at least have seen her famous TedTalk, you already know the power vulnerability has to build what she calls a wholehearted life. And there’s no more crucial place to exercise this power than right at home. Petznik has observed that couples who hide weaknesses and vulnerabilities from each other are unknowingly harming their relationship. Shelley Sommerfeldt, psychologist and founder of the Loving Roots Project, expanded on this idea, “Many people may consciously or unconsciously believe they are protecting themselves by being closed off or not addressing complex emotional issues… When that happens, their relationships can suffer by feeling neglected or distant.” Having regular check-ins with one another is a good way to avoid these feelings.
According to dating and relationship coach Sivan Barkhordarian, “playing the blame game and keeping score,” is another common detrimental habit among couples. “Pointing fingers as to who planned the last date or who brought the other water to bed last. There is no room for that in a relationship,” she advises, “If you’re constantly coming from a space of ‘doing’ for one another, imagine how lovely that’ll feel when it's being reciprocated and coming freely from both ends.” Doesn’t that sound liberating?
Barkhordarian also points out the importance of having a united front with your children. It’s easy to see how siding with a child in an argument or questioning your partner’s judgment in front of your kids can start to deteriorate your relationship. You’re allowed to have disagreements, of course, but they can be discussed at another time. Both your children and your marriage will be better for it. And when you do have that argument, how you fight matters. Don’t forget to fight with love — you’re not trying to win, you’re trying to understand and grow together. Which is why the relationship coach also stresses the importance of not shutting down communication after a fight. It’s okay to take a little space and gather your thoughts, but be willing to open up again. And again.