By Chris Lewis, Eds, LPC
When a relationship or marriage ends, it is not uncommon for people to say that “we just grew apart” or “we just weren’t in love anymore.” While this is likely true, it is not inevitable and there are many things couples can do to prevent this from happening. Many relationships fail for one simple reason: they have been neglected.
Relationships, like any other living, dynamic entity, need nourishment, attention, and care to survive, but what often happens is that the spouses or partners fall into patterns that become actively destructive to their relationships.
The following are ten of the most reliably caustic and insidiously destructive traits that we are all susceptible to falling into relationships. Each of these alone can, over time, wear away at our commitment and love and result in divorce or separation from our spouses or partners.
The challenge in reading these will be to look not at our partners and what they may be doing wrong, but to look inward at our own interactions and behavior in relationship to others, and to make a commitment to change those patterns and become the person our partners would want to be with.
1. Forgetting Kindness
This may seem simplistic; however, it is not uncommon for us to take our loved ones for granted and to find ourselves being kinder to strangers than we are to those we love the most. Familiarity can make us forget the importance of saying “thank you” for cooking a meal or cleaning the dishes, or to ask for assistance with household help instead of making demands. These small changes can make the difference between our spouses feeling used and taken advantage of and feeling loved and appreciated.
2. Needing to Be Right
Much of the day-to-day conflict that couples grapple with is the result of a power struggle over who is right and who is wrong. The content of the conflict becomes trivial or insignificant compared to who wins. Sadly, when this dynamic is in play, nobody wins. The partner who has the last, and often loudest, word may feel satisfied, but how is that winning when the result is alienation of their loved one? We need to learn to let go of being right, which by definition, makes our partners wrong. It is a losing battle for both partners.
3. Focusing on ‘Me’ Instead of ‘We’
This by no means suggests that we should put our own needs aside or neglect self-care, but it does suggest that the ‘We,’ the actual relationship, is an entity in itself which also requires care and attention to its needs. If both partners are struggling to assert their own needs above the needs of the relationship, the relationship will suffer. There are times when compromise is necessary, and it is important to ensure that this is a balanced process with the needs of both partners getting and giving equal consideration.
4. Being Dishonest
Dishonesty obviously destroys trust and kills relationships. However, there is a realm of honesty that many couples neglect; emotional honesty. Not being honest about our feelings with each other prohibits the development of emotional intimacy, which is the true foundation of successful, long-term relationships and marriages. Withholding our true feelings does not allow our partners to know our deeper, emotional selves and over time this is what defines the “growing apart” phenomena that couples describe as relationship-ending.
5. Criticizing and Focusing on Negatives
Sadly, it is not uncommon for individuals to describe their spouses or partners as being the most critical people in their lives. Few things can be more soul-destroying than constantly hearing from a partner or spouse that one is not smart enough, pretty or handsome enough, or good enough in general. Constant picking apart and criticizing those we love will only result destruction not only of the relationship, but of the self-esteem of the person we should cherish and uplift the most.
6. Neglecting Intimacy
When couples experience infidelity, it is often because there has been a lack of both physical and emotional intimacy in their relationships that has slowly degraded over time due to simple neglect. It does require an investment of time and energy to nurture our relationships, and this time and energy is often spent in the more ‘functional’ and ‘operational’ aspects of our home lives to the detriment of our intimacy. Work, school, family, and social commitments can command much of our energy, and leave little left to invest in sharing ourselves with our partners at a deeper, more intimate level.
7. Not Taking Care of Ourselves
Self-care is a pre-requisite for relationship-care. The latter cannot happen without the former. It is very much like the instruction on airplanes; in case of oxygen depletion, parents should secure their own oxygen source before assisting their children. Without caring for ourselves first, we are simply unable to sustain care for a relationship. This is not a selfish act, although many people struggle with this concept. Loving ourselves, in fact, enables us to love others.
8. Being Controlling
Control is not love. Control is fear and power based. It does not trust and does not nurture. It destroys. Controlling our partners, or attempting to, will prevent the kind of trust that is necessary to the true foundation of a long-term relationship. Furthermore, real control is only an illusion. We only have control over our own actions and behaviors, not those of others. Ever.
Being jealous or suspicious of our partners sends the message to them that we do not believe they are capable of being honest, faithful, or true. Jealousy is devastating to relationships, and over time, can be more harmful to a relationship than actual infidelity. Jealously impugns the nature of the person that we love and keeps us locked in a prison of our own making; one of fear and suspicion. It will kill the very relationship it seeks to protect. Jealousy and trust cannot co-exist, and without trust there is no strong foundation for an intimate relationship.
10. Fostering Online Romantic/Sexual Relationships
Last, but certainly not least, is the more recent phenomenon of online romantic and sexual relationships, which are becoming increasingly responsible for marriages and long-term relationships ending in heartbreak. These often begin with a seemingly innocuous lure of an anonymous dalliance or flirtation, but they quickly become addictive and extremely destructive. Marriage counselors’ offices are becoming more and more populated with couples who have experienced all of the pain of infidelity, although there has never been physical contact with another person. An emotional, sexual, or online affair is exactly that: an affair.
Obviously, there are many reasons that marriages fail and long-term relationships “grow apart,” but these patterns and behaviors are often present when, and long before, the failure occurs. It is important to look at our own interactions with our loved ones, with these patterns in mind, to ensure that we are not behaving in ways that will actively push our partners away from us and our relationships.
If you would like to speak to a therapist about this subject or about any other issue you may be experiencing, contact the Maria Droste Access Center at 303-867-4600.
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Chris Lewis, Eds, LPC, is a therapist who specializes in Marriage Counseling, Family Therapy, and Individual Therapy with adults. She provides Marriage Counseling in Denver, Colorado at Maria Droste Counseling Center.