Strive for a healthier, happier relationship with our expert advice.
By Karen Gordon
Many couples in long-term relationships set themselves up for failure by repeating the same bad old habits time and time again. Yet some of these common relationship mistakes are completely avoidable.
1.Not listening to each other
Communication is the most important part of a relationship. By paying closer attention to how you’re communicating with your partner, you can prevent minor disagreements turning into bigger problems.
‘Essentially what goes wrong is that couples get so intent on conveying their own message that they forget to listen to what the other person is saying, and even if they are listening they’re not making the other person feel like they’ve heard them,’ says Singh.
‘Learn to listen and allow your partner to feel heard,’ he adds. ‘If people don’t feel valued in a relationship, inevitably it’s going to result in hurt feelings and that’s going to start the downward spiral of miscommunication and unmet needs.’
- Unresolved issues
Some couples have issues that date back years and if these problems remain unresolved they can catch up with you. ‘Probably the most powerful thing I learnt in my training as a couples therapist was that most of what annoys us about our partner is merely old stuff that we’re reactivating from our past,’ explains Burke.
‘I see this again and again in my work,’ she adds. ‘For example, the woman whose boyfriend was constantly a few minutes late; something she found incredibly painful because she saw it as a rejection and lack of respect for her.
Communication is fundamentally the most important part of a relationship
‘After some gentle digging, it transpired that when she was a child her dad (who she only saw at weekends) would always be late to pick her up, which would inevitably lead to disappointment. Her boyfriend’s tardiness was reawakened by the old hurt that had been long buried.
‘By acknowledging that some of the old hurt is being projected onto the current situation can lead to a lightening of the load,’ advises Burke. ‘And for her partner, hearing the real root cause of her feelings can lead to a greater feeling of empathy on his side and a desire to change his own behaviour.’
Believing that your partner is responsible for your happiness can lead to disappointment. ‘Many couples come with the same problem – if their partner could only shape up, clean up their act, they could finally be happy themselves,’ says Burke.
‘In both cases the clients are putting their happiness into someone else’s hands,’ she adds. ‘With maturity comes the realisation that romantic love, while offering us so much richness and potential for growth, is never going to be the be-all and end-all and that ultimately we are responsible for our own happiness – both inside and outside the relationship.’
- Putting the kids before your relationship
The transition from a couple to a family of three, or maybe more, can be one of the biggest challenges you face in your relationship. ‘Lots of couples I work with identify the time they started their family as the point at which they drifted apart,’ says Burke.
Ultimately we are responsible for our own happiness – both inside and outside the relationship.
‘They felt that the “right” thing to do was to put the kids first,’ she adds. ‘However, it’s even more important that a couple continue to make time for each other after they have kids. Kids will grow up, become independent and leave – the parents’ role is to support them in that. By investing everything in the kids and nothing in each other, it can lead to a very hollow relationship – one that’s unlikely to endure beyond child raising.’
- Growing apart rather than together
Change in life is constant. And as time goes by, relationships will change as well. At every stage of the relationship, your needs to be realigned.
‘If you both draw in the same direction that’s great – but if you draw in the opposite direction it’s bound to create a rift,’ explains Singh. ‘If you do this for a long period of time, inevitably you will grow apart.
‘You see it in couples that have grown so far apart that they don’t recognise the person in the relationship anymore. You need to communicate with each other and bring your values and expectations into line and make sure the other person knows what you want.’
- Overlooking the positive
Many of us automatically focus on what’s wrong in our relationship and what we’d like to change about our partner. According to Burke, while it can be useful to acknowledge the things that aren’t working in the relationship and take steps to address these, it can often distract us from what is working and the positive things that our partner does for us.
When we do show our appreciation, it reinforces our partner’s feeling that the efforts they make are recognised.
‘Often when I work with clients to really recognise the efforts their partner makes on their behalf, it’ll be met with “but they should do that anyway” or “shouldn’t need to tell them I’m grateful”. Often what’s getting away here is the ego – by showing our gratitude we let our guard down.
‘However, ironically, when we do show our appreciation, it reinforces our partner’s feeling that the efforts they make are recognised and they’ll be inclined to do more rather than becoming complacent, which I think is what many of us fear will happen when we praise our other halves.’