Relationship drama is distressing.
If you are feeling frustrated with a friend, colleague, or extended family member, chances are this does not cause you to dread going home. But even a tiny disagreement with your significant other can obstruct your ability to recharge at the end of a long day.
Most of us end up discussing our relationship woes with close friends over a drink or two, but the feedback given from these friends is limited to their own life experiences. Even worse, sometimes our friends can unintentionally enable our relationship dysfunction, as the sympathy they provide causes us to feel justified in our own behavior.
Several years ago I noticed that friends and work colleagues were frequently asking, after my monthly visit to my therapist, what I had learned about relationships. Perhaps they instinctively knew that with almost 13 years of marriage I had a lot of therapy-worthy material, but I also believe that they were seeking insight into resolving their own relationship woes.
Here are the four relationship mistakes that were the most surprising and insightful to my early Secondhand Therapy clients:
Think of the last time you felt frustrated with your partner. Chances are it was because of something they did or didn’t do. Human nature is to assume intention behind someone else’s behavior:
He didn’t unload the dishwasher because he doesn’t care about me.
She invited her sister over to annoy me.
Really? Do you truly believe that your partner had malicious intent behind their actions? Most of the time, the intention we are assuming is not correct. If you’ve ever had someone think that they know why you did something, assuming the worst, you know how disrespectful this can feel.
To correct this problem, try talking to your partner about an action that frustrated you. Explain to them how that action made you feel, and give them the opportunity to explain their intention. There’s a good chance they weren’t deliberately thinking about anything at the time of the offending action (or inaction).
It is much easier to be successful at work than it is to be successful at home.
Allow me to explain.
Work tends to be for a defined period of time, where there is a prescribed set of behaviours and measurable outcomes. Home life is anything but.
It is tempting to pour our energy into excelling at work, as the payoff of bonuses, promotions, and achievement recognition seems more tangible than a happy significant other. Yet, as I explained in a recent Huffington Post article, your boss did not pledge to be with you for better or for worse.
Simply asking yourself if your boss gets a better version of you than your partner does can provide valuable insight into where your priorities may be skewed.
In Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel explains how neglecting your own passions and interests can be the death of a relationship. She clarifies that North American relationships tend to focus on removing all mystery and boundaries with your partner, but this dulls the spark in the relationships.
By choosing to pursue your own hobbies or non-couple friendships, you bring vitality and curiosity to your relationship. Investing in your individual happiness ultimately allows you to bring more to the connection with your significant other.
It is the presence of the “other,” Esther reasons, that sustains interest in a long-term relationship.
I’m not talking about calling your wife during poker night with the guys, to see if she minds that you aren’t going to be home until after midnight.
Checking in with your partner means that you regularly ask him or her how they are feeling and if their love tank is empty. Dr. Gary Chapman, in his book The Five Languages of Love, describes the concept of a love tank as an emotional container inside each of us that needs to be filled by those we are close to. The desire to feel loved is a basic human need, yet it is so easy to be in a relationship and still feel unloved.
Are you sure that you know what makes your partner feel loved? Have you asked them? If so, are you sure that your efforts within the relationship are actually filling their love tank?
Even once we have become experts in what our partners need to feel loved, there are other life circumstances that can cause your significant other to feel drained. Checking in with them on a regular basis can be a really simple way to let them know that you care and quickly identify any disconnection.
If any of these four relationship mistakes have caused an ah-ha moment, I would strongly encourage you to talk with your partner about your new insight. Communication is the most resilient tool within a relationship
You could just go home and talk to them – or you could get bonus points by creating an impromptu date night for the two of you. A date night does not need to be dinner and a movie. It could simply be grabbing a coffee at your local coffee shop or even nachos in the living room after the kids have gone to bed. Any way you can create intentional time for the two of you to talk without distraction is good for the health of your relationship. You also come off looking pretty good if you take the initiative to make the arrangements!
So what are you waiting for?
Feature image: Unhappy couple via Shutterstock