9 Relationship Destroying Behaviors
(adapted from Clear Thinking) Sabotaging a relationship is often unconscious.
We don't necessarily know what we're doing, and we don't usually mean to screw up when it comes to romance. Here's what not to do when seeking to have a sustainable and happy relationship. 1. Don't play mind games Playing mind games can rot a relationship from the inside, almost before it even begins. These kinds of games often arise when a person finds it hard to believe that someone genuinely wants to be with them. So a message we need to remember is: "Believe it or not, people want to be with you, not some image or representation of you created to gain the 'upper hand', but YOU, with all your foibles, faults, and qualities!" Once you internalize this, you are freed to stop trying too hard to be a certain way and instead enjoy being yourself in the relationship and being loved because you are authentically yourself. Here are a few common examples of mind games:
Testing Obviously it's important to get to know someone as best we can before, and as, we enter into a relationship with them. We need to know they are safe and sane. But while it may seem natural to test someone's limits early on by 'treating them mean' or disrespectfully pushing boundaries, this is not an open and honest way to conduct a relationship. In fact, it can destroy it before it gets started. Trying to make someone jealous can be a method of testing, as can playing hard to get. Playing hard to get Playing hard to get may be one of the more conscious relationship stratagems. Being purposefully aloof to get a reaction may seem preferable to being off puttingly eager early on, but it's still treating the relationship like a contest. And a contest can quickly degrade into a struggle, at which point people tend to just give up. Aloofness is not as attractive in a partner as friendliness. Acting like you don't care is a risky game that may make the other person stop caring about you as the relationship starts to feel like too much hard work. The color red at a traffic light is less encouraging than the color green. A behavior that often ties in with playing hard to get is sending mixed messages. Sending mixed messages If one day you are affectionate and keen and the next you seem bored and disinterested in your partner, and you seem to be doing that as a tactic, then you need to know how damaging that can be. Some people may find it more exciting if their lover runs hot then cold, but many will run away because they just never know where they stand. Of course everyone has different moods, but going silent and not communicating after being warm and effusive just breeds insecurity in the partner or a sense that "this is just too much hard work!" In some cases this kind of behavior can cause someone to get 'hooked' in a kind of masochistic, addictive way, as inconsistent reward tends to be quite addictive. But this is hardly a basis for a healthy relationship. Another behavior that's easy to pile on top of the above tactics is gaslighting. Gaslighting Playing mind games with someone and then acting as if they are the one with the problem when they seem confused or upset is particularly toxic. If you've seen the classic movie Gaslight, you'll understand where this term comes from: the male villain tries to convince his wife she's going mad by purposefully turning the gaslights down in their house then claiming it's all in her head. This tends to be a tactic of the narcissist, but even non-narcissists do sometimes do this out of desperation not to come across as 'bad' (or "rejectable") to their partner. So if the partner comments on your monitoring or hot-and-coldness, you would turn the tables and suggest they were imagining it. 2. Don't try to make your partner jealous This comes under the umbrella of mind games too, but it's so important it gets its own section. Attempts to make a partner jealous can quickly break a relationship apart. Not only does the partner feel horrible, but the person trying to elicit jealousy comes over as unreliable, disloyal, and untrustworthy. This is a clear lose/lose strategy. Your partner will either see you as someone who is inherently unfaithful, or as someone who is manipulative! Not a good look either way! And the effects may not always be immediate. Flirting with others in front of a partner or trying to make them jealous in other ways can damage the relationship not only in the moment but even years down the track as resentment continues to fester. If you want a long-term relationship, you need to consider the long-term effects of your behavior. Even if you are only pretending to be interested in other people, the impressions you make in the early days may come back to haunt both partners later on. Trying to make your partner jealous or playing hard to get may not seem related to the next point, but it most certainly is. 3. Don't try too hard Paradoxically, playing hard to get is a form of trying too hard. Relationships get sabotaged all the time for want of taking the foot off the gas a little in the early days. Many people need to relax more when it comes to romance. Love bombing is a term that means bombarding someone with so much attention, affection, and approval that they become overwhelmed. People are especially vulnerable to love bombing if they've been lonely or suffered a bad breakup not long before. Cults do this to hook vulnerable people. Suddenly they're swept off their feet by all this wonderful attention. So while we shouldn't play hard to get, coming on too strong can also backfire if a person feels overwhelmed by it. There are two problems with love bombing in the early stages of a relationship. First, you may hook the person in, but now they will expect this level of attention from you all the time. The moment it slips, they may feel the relationship is dead and want to give up on it. Second, it may smack of desperation, and desperation is, for many, a big turnoff. Your relationship needs to be part of your and your partner's life - hopefully an important part, but not the whole raison d'être. Showing attraction, appreciation, and love can be done without overwhelming the 'target' with blizzards of positivity to the point where they feel suffocated. Love bombing is one of the most obvious manifestations of trying too hard, but there are plenty of others, especially when the relationship has become established. 4. Don't over monitor or interrogate A partner isn't a therapy client or, worse still, an interrogation subject.
* "What are you thinking?" * "Why didn't you seem happy when I suggested we go out next week?" * "Where were you last night?" * "Do you still love me? Do you really still love me?" * "We need to talk meaningfully about..."
Not every 'issue' needs to be earnestly 'explored' and endlessly dissected. No one likes to feel like they've signed up to some ongoing interrogation, with every thought and action being analyzed minutely. Where's the fun in that? And yes, fun is very important to the health of a relationship. Couples who know what not to talk about tend to be happier. Constantly shining super-bright lights into a cave won't necessarily make it more beautiful. Some monitoring is necessary, but so is a sense of freedom, spontaneity, and fun. Over analysis is often driven by emotional insecurity, but the fallout of this stress may be damaging to the relationship. Relationships need to be fun as well as heavy. In fact, they should seldom be heavy. Yes, if there is something really important going on than you might need to 'explore' it with your partner. But treating a relationship like one big explorative therapy session may cause unhealthy dependency and unbalance the reciprocal and equal exchange of attention that is so vital to the health of any relationship. Or it may send the other person running for the hills just so they can feel safe to have a private thought or two. Alongside over monitoring we often find another classic relationship corroder. 5. Don't be clingy Insecurity is a big issue in millions of relationships. Because relationships matter so much to us. But clinginess stemming from relationship insecurity can backfire terribly. The expectation of rejection is often a self-fulfilling prophecy - that is, it eventually produces the very rejection we fear. Constantly asking someone what they are thinking or wanting to know where they are all the time is a form of control. Pretty soon your partner can feel emotionally distanced from you. After all, you don't feel connected to someone who constantly doubts you. Intimacy is a sense of togetherness and shared reality. Doubt and distrust are the exact opposite to that. If your insecurity makes your partner feel hemmed in, restricted, and unable to 'breathe', it's no wonder it can become self-fulfilling. Nothing in life is 100% secure. We can't demand total security in any aspect of our lives, and it's a real developmental step when we learn not to. This next behavior may be familiar to you as well. Perhaps you've been guilty of it yourself, had it done to you, or seen other people do it in their relationships. 6. Don't try to change them There's an old joke that when a man marries a woman he hopes she won't change, but when a woman meets a man she hopes he will. In a healthy relationship people help one another develop, and people naturally change over time, hopefully in good ways. But actively seeking to mold your partner to fit your expectations can make them feel little short of tyrannized. The (perhaps) unspoken message is: "You are no good as you are!" If your partner comes to feel that you don't value them because everything they do is 'wrong', not surprisingly they may start to prefer to spend time with those who do seem to value them for who they actually are. Trying to change what someone wears, who their friends are, and even what they can and can't say is a form of control freakery. If they have terrible habits then, okay, we might help them out of those. But otherwise we need to help them fulfill their life on their terms and be who they are. This shouldn't be hard. After all, why did you fall for them if they are so flawed? Constantly criticizing may be another manifestation of the desire to colonize your partner, as it were, by turning them into a version of yourself rather than letting them be themselves. Frequent criticism has been shown to be one of the most toxic behaviors in relationships and is a big predictor of relationship breakdown. Some partners feel they're trying to 'improve' their spouse by constantly pointing out what's wrong with them. But even if the intentions are good, the consequences certainly aren't. And criticizing partners publicly can be especially humiliating (for both partners) and can signal not just the beginning of the end but the end of the end for many people not prepared to put up with that any more. 7. Don't be defensive No one likes to feel that they are walking on eggshells - that they can't relax with you for fear that they may say the 'wrong' thing or that you may take something they said in a different way to how it was intended. If someone is defensive and fires back strongly at you when you were just trying to be nice or saying something pretty neutral, you will feel misunderstood. And feeling misunderstood drives away a sense of connection. Intimacy can disappear when someone is overly critical, but it also dissolves when someone is chronically defensive. Frequent defensiveness is poison to a relationship. 8. Don't get complacent An oft-missed aspect of relationship sabotage is the tendency to take people for granted. It's easy to stop seeing the person we are with. Not literally, of course, but familiarity breeds indifference if we are not careful. When you sense someone has started taking you for granted, it's easy to feel like the relationship has lost its heart. If you love your partner and want to be with them, you need to regularly remember that, and focus on what you are grateful for in the relationship. Too many good relationships rot and crumble through a lack of expressed appreciation. 9. Don't let low self-esteem affect your relationship Having a low self-esteem can, inadvertently, damage a relationship. If you tend towards low self-esteem, you may start to feel contemptuous or distrustful of your partner. It's as if they must have something wrong with them for choosing such 'damaged goods'. Or you may be pathetically grateful to your partner, as if they are doing you a massive favor just by being with you. This may be accompanied by a sense that if their partner were to leave, they would never find anyone else. If this is the case, your self-esteem needs to improve in order to stabilize the relationship. Reasons to be hopeful Here we've looked at some of the most common ways we sabotage our relationships. There's no shame in having engaged in some or even all of these behaviors. Most people have at one point or another. People can and do change, and so can their relationships. There is plenty of reason for hope.