Last week we looked at the unhealthy relationship dynamic models and looked at several unhealthy relationship behaviors. This week we continue to examine the remaining unhealthy relationship behaviors which we can change with just a little effort.
Trying to change your partner
Girls, we all know this one. When we think we can change that bad boy or commitment phobe into the perfect boyfriend. Guys, I’m sure you’ve experienced this too. This never works for several reasons.
Usually the person doesn’t want to change because they perceive there to be distinct advantages to them being how they are. Also, when someone tries to change their partner, the person in question may feel trapped or begin to resent the partner who has tried to initiate change. Lastly, by trying to change someone it inadvertently (and often unintentionally) communicates the partner doesn’t unconditionally love the other, or that in some way they are viewed as unacceptable.
As you can see not only does this strategy often fail but it usually has a detrimental impact upon the relationship.
Carrying past hurt into the relationship (overreacting to things due to your past hurts)
I was very lucky in that I allowed myself ample time to heal from my past hurt before entering into another relationship. But love doesn’t know our timeframe and often hits when we least expect it.
If you still have past pain that is unresolved it is worth remembering that our memory is historical. By historical I mean that when a situation arises our brains look for a time in the past when something similar happened.
What tends to go awry is that when we have unresolved pain our current partner may do something relatively benign but it will trigger a painful memory which may cause us to react disproportionately to the current situation, or trigger.
If you keep this in mind it may well protect you from disproportionately reacting to things however what I would recommend is to seek out therapy, as in my experience, this is the best and by far the most constructive way to heal from pain.
Lying and deception
It goes without saying that lying and deception erode at trust. Ultimately true intimacy can only be shared by two people who are being authentic, honest and vulnerable. It is very hard to regain your partners trust should lying and deception be present in your relationship. To encourage honesty let your partner know that it is safe for them to be honest with you and if you are the one being honest always endeavor to do so in a sensitive way.
Being critical of your partners faults
Not even superman is perfect – he is vulnerable to kryptonite after all. Those in healthy relationships feel completely accepted by their partner for all that they are.
If one partner is continuously picking at the others faults, it not only has the potential to damage their self-esteem, but to significantly damage relations in the relationship. If it happens often enough both partners will begin to have negative associations of the other, further damaging the partnership – perhaps until it is beyond repair.
Arguing to win rather than compromise
Arguing to win is one of the most common traps that couples fall into. Psychologically the need to prove yourself right is a strong one. In order to avoid damaging a relationship it is so important to try to find middle ground. To listen to the others perspective and imagine what they may be going through.
In order to do this effectively it’s important to take time out from one another whilst you are both heated. Just an hour or so to calm down and think about how you could better understand the other.
When both of your anger has subsided you are then in a much better position to engage in a constructive, understanding exchange whereby you can both listen to one another and try to establish a workable compromise.
It’s natural at times to be defensive, especially when differences of opinion surface. Try to avoid the often reflex reaction to become defensive and rather honestly assess if there may be truth in what your partner is saying, if so agree or even partially agree – this often completely shifts the trajectory of the conversation away from conflict.
If you genuinely disagree remain both objective and calm and explain why in a composed fashion with an even tone of voice.
Letting resentment build
When we don’t assert ourselves at times when we are hurt we can easily feel like victims or let resentment towards our partners build. When resentment builds over time we can increasingly have a negative opinion of our partners and their actions. We may be dismissive or even aggressive to them at times which may be inappropriate or disproportionate to their actions. Even if there is cause to be upset resentment only leads to hostility.
If you feel that you are resentful of your partner take a moment when you are in a happy space with them to voice your hurt in a non accusatory way as this will help the resentment lessen when you feel heard. Then work towards finding a compromise, one where you feel your partner is being sensitive to you whilst not robbing him of the right to his opinions or beliefs.
In practice having your partner respect your rights whilst also respecting theirs is tricky so if you recognize you might be resentful of your partner I would strongly encourage you to read my article titled ‘How to free yourself and assert your rights’. Without knowing what your personal rights are you leave yourself vulnerable to being mistreated and you might get resentful or angry without even knowing why. This was one of the first things I learnt in treatment and I considered it so important it was my first article on this blog.
Do you struggle with any of this week’s unhealthy relationship behaviors? Do you know what your rights are? Have you built up resentment towards your partner? Please share your thoughts in the comments below to gain encouragement, insight and support from our community, we’d love to hear from you.
‘The relationship skills workbook: A do-it-yourself guide to a thriving relationship’ by Julia B Colwell, Ph. D. An ideal book for you or – even better – both of you!
‘Safe People: How to find relationships that are good for you and avoid those that aren’t’ by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend
Stay tuned – next week we will look at a healthy relationship dynamic model and explore healthy relationship behaviors!