The title of this post is a little provocative. You may be wondering ‘why would I want to know how to ruin a relationship?’ While it is helpful to know what does work in a relationship, it is just as helpful to know what does not work. When we know what doesn’t work, we can avoid those behaviours and repeat what does work.
After many years of working with singles and couples with relationship problems, I have seen the most common patterns that are destructive and contribute to the break down of relationships. I have written this post as a summary of some of those behaviours that tend to send a couple into the fast lane for relationship ruin.
If you recognise yourself and your relationship in any of these patterns or behaviours, consider what it is you need to start doing to become a more effective partner.
1. Focus on Always Being Right
‘You can be right, or you can be in relationship.’ This is one of my favourite quotes that reminds me of the nature of relating. What this means is when you focus on being right, your partner is ‘wrong’, so this creates a win-lose scenario. If you are trying to be the top dog, your partner will inevitably feel like the under dog.
Over time, such an imbalance sets up a competitive atmosphere where you each struggle for control and power.
Give up being right, and instead, seek to be curious and understand what your partner is telling you from their world view.
2. Talk Instead of Listen
When you are in conversation, are you truly listening, or just waiting to talk? Next time you are communicating with your partner about a challenging issue, check in with your own thoughts. If you are formulating what to say to defend, protect or justify, there’s a very high chance that you are missing a lot of what your partner is sharing with you.
Take time, reflect on the message you are receiving and practise reflecting it back to make sure you have understood before you respond. This type of communication facilitates a deeper connection with your partner.
3. Dump Your Baggage on Your Partner
3. Exit the Relationship
There are literally hundreds of relationship exits. They might include watching sport, surfing the net, drinking with friends, addiction to work or being consumed by your smartphone. Of course, all these activities can be productive, however, if you are using them to avoid spending time with your partner, it is likely you are exiting the relationship.
Make a conscious choice to connect and relate with your partner. Set limits on the relationship exits that impact your relationship in a destructive way.
5. Don’t Respect Your Partner
This can emerge in simple everyday interactions and be as simple as not giving your partner space to have their own view on something. The extreme result of disrespect is domestic violence, however, you can slowly erode the trust and safety in your relationship over time by not honouring, acknowledging and valuing your partner’s differences.
When you don’t respect your partner’s thought, wants, needs, feelings or desires, you are actually not respecting yourself.
6. Avoid Conflict
Couples that avoid conflict are often setting themselves up for more conflict than they were seeking to avoid in the first place. Every couple goes through periods of having their differences become points of contention.
It is an important relationship skill to be able to talk through these differences in a constructive way. Part of this process is about understanding a different perspective from yours.
When conflict is avoided, it often results in the build up of resentment that can be expressed as passive aggression.
Build your resilience for working through conflict, differences or dealing with tension in the relationship to create a more satisfying connection.
7. Don’t Express Your Needs
Some people take on the role of caretaker or giver in the relationship. They give freely, but struggle to receive.
The problem with this dynamic is over time, the giver has to suppress their needs to service the needs of their partner. This builds resentment, like the conflict avoider, and dismantles the ability to build a relationship based on equality of giving and receiving.
8. Focus on Changing Your Partner
This is the number one trap that most couples that begin couples counselling fall into. They are so fixated on having their partner change, that they don’t consider what they need to do or change to be a more effective partner.
The more you focus on changing your partner, the less likely they will change.
When you focus on changing yourself, your partner cannot help but change because you are changing the dynamics by working on yourself. This is the nature of any system. Experiment with this and see what happens!
9. Lead Parallel Lives
Many couples drift apart from each other over time and lose the connection that once brought them together.
Make time for your relationship. Even if that means scheduling in time in your diary. Living parallel lives is a surefire way of having your relationship unfold in a way where you feel like you are friends, or worse, strangers living in the same house.
10. Don’t Focus on the Future
Couples that don’t focus on the future often get stuck in the past. The past conflicts, hurts, disappointments and regrets.
It is essential you create a vision for your future relationship. Then, you need to think about how you need to be to create that vision. Work from the end goal backwards.
By focusing on the future, you know where you are heading. Then the map of how to get there will become clearer. Again, consider who and how you need to be to become a more effective partner and create the relationship you desire.
Do you need relationship help?
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.