Top Ten Relationship Busters

» Posted in Family Life, Marriage and Relationships, Personal Growth | 0 comments

arguing couple

We all want it – happy and harmonious relationships in which we feel loved, accepted and valued. This is a core human need that is part of the way God designed us.  I don’t think any of us wake up one day and tell ourselves that we want to hurt our loved ones or cause damage to our relationships.  But despite our desire for healthy relationships, many people inadvertently stress and even destroy theirs by injecting them with steady doses of relational toxicity.  And unlike blatant acts of abuse, infidelity or deception, the major problem with these destructive behaviours is that they are so subtle and insidious that by the time we notice the effects on our relationships, the damage is already done.  Like a dripping faucet that seems harmless enough at first, over time, that constant “drip, drip” of these toxic relational habits can corrode even the strongest of relationships.

So what are some of these toxic habits that are “relationship busters”?  Based on my clinical observations in my work with couples and families, here are the top 10 busters (in no particular order):

  1. Criticism.  A very common corrosive habit that people have is to criticize their loved one, and even worse, to do it in public way.  While many people who criticize justify their actions by saying they’re trying to help the other person improve, it never feels good to be at the receiving end of that “help”, especially when it’s a constant stream of pecking away at all the things that they’re doing wrong.  Not only does the receiver begin to feel like they can never measure up, but criticism has been found to be very ineffective in actually changing behaviour or improving performance.  On top of that, it does absolutely nothing to help the receiver feel valued, a very important aspect of healthy relationships.  Instead, look for ways to build up and encourage each other.  Positive feedback focused on what is appreciated about your loved one greatly increases the likelihood of that action being repeated!
  2. Defensiveness.  This is a surefire way to shut down communication, when I don’t listen or accept what the other person is saying but use all my energy to deflect or avoid hearing what they’re saying to me.  This can include counter-criticism and counter-attack, or the I’m a victim, why does everyone pick on me mentality.  This is a definite relationship buster because your loved one doesn’t feel heard nor do they feel any sense of hope that there will ever be any positive changes in the relationship.  It communicates that the problem isn’t really me, it’s you.  Instead, try reflective listening – which doesn’t mean that you always agree with what they’re saying, by the way – but that you’re doing your very best to hear them and understand their perspective.
  3. Complaints.  Just like the customer in the restaurant who is never happy and no one wants to serve, a person who complains regularly is someone whom people begin to avoid.  Even when the complaints are not directed at your loved one, they can still do damage because hearing a steady barrage of negative comments eventually wears even the best of us down.   The house is too warm, the weather is too hot, this sweater is so expensive, this soup is too spicy… on and on it goes – drip, drip, drip.  So instead of complaining about the slow service at the restaurant or the bad traffic, try making a positive comment or say nothing at all.
  4. Negativity.  This one is closely linked to number 3 above, but broader in how we communicate to our loved ones.  In this relationship buster, the person is always looking for why things won’t work, or why failure is likely, or why something isn’t a good idea.  Their fallback position to any idea is no, so their loved ones often feel like it’s a constant battle trying to convince them of the value of their ideas.  The result of this is disconnection and discouragement and eventually a tendency for loved ones to avoid being around that person.  No one wants to be around an Eeyore.
  5. Sarcasm.  A common excuse for this type of behaviour is, “I’m just joking.”  If this is your style, look around you and see if anyone is actually laughing.  Most often the target of your sarcasm is secretly stinging, even if they’ve learned to let it roll off their back.  Sarcasm is a passive-aggressive way to get in little digs at a loved one, or to have a good laugh at their expense.  This does nothing to increase connection or intimacy in a relationship.  Really, it’s not that funny.
  6. Control.  Even if we mean well, when we tell our loved one what to do and what not to do, we aren’t relating to them as equals on a level playing field of balanced power and mutual respect.  This can be very subtle, because control is often exercised in the name of “caring” for another – whether it’s over finances, health, choices of what to eat, wear, or do – but this communicates to the other person that we don’t respect their capability to make good decisions for themselves.  Even if our loved ones have shown patterns of “bad” decisions in the past, it is never a healthy idea to become their watch dog to police their choices.  Instead, focus on the choices you have control over, including boundaries you may choose to set with your loved ones, but don’t step in and make decisions or tell them what to do.  No one truly thrives in that type of relationship.
  7. Anger.   By this, I don’t mean the actual emotion of anger itself but the negative expression of that anger towards another person.  As our anger increases, we often use relationship busting strategies like yelling, attacking or ratcheting up the intensity of the conflict.  Even though we may have legitimate reasons to feel angry, using our anger as a weapon never works well in a relationship.  And the funny thing about anger:  it automatically introduces static into our communication and it’s guaranteed to cause my loved one’s back to go up and their hearing to shut down.  Anger shuts down open communication.  So I may be “right” in what I’m saying, but I’m “wrong” in how I’m saying it – HOW I say it has everything to do with how my loved one is receiving it.  So stop saying that you’re just an intense person and choose to ratchet down your tone when you speak to your loved ones.
  8. Contempt.  This is one of the most destructive of relationship busters as it communicates a deep disrespect and disregard for the other person.  It shows itself in the form of derogatory comments, put-downs and extreme disrespect, either verbally or using disdainful body language (such as the famous “eye roll”).  In fact, research has shown that this communication style can often do the most damage to a relationship and is the best predictor of divorce.
  9. Rigidity.  When your stance is that you’re always right or that you want to do things your way, you’ll find out pretty quickly that very few people want to be in relationship with you.  Never being able to say you’re sorry is a surefire way to never having the happy relationship that you long for.  Learn to be flexible in accepting other people’s ideas, acknowledge your part of the problem (even if it’s 1%!), and be ready to admit when you’re wrong.
  10. Suffocation.  Regardless of how the movie Jerry Maguire depicts a good relationship as one in which you complete me, this is actually bunk when it comes to a healthy relationship.  This relationship buster is one of the most subtle and hidden because the wielder of this approach seems to have only positive intentions in wanting to spend more time with and draw closer to their loved ones.  Sounds good, right?  In actual fact, there is an underlying emotional dependency that can cause people to cling to their loves ones or look to them to always take care of their emotional needs or make decisions for them.  Being apart from each other or investing in other relationships or activities is seen as threatening, and so the loved ones are left feeling like they never get any space.  The relationship eventually becomes based on obligation and “responsibility” rather than on a genuine desire to be together — this can sometimes be at the root of why romantic relationships end.

Any of these sound like you?  I must confess that I am guilty of employing more than one of these at times!  So be willing to admit to yourself when you use any of these 10 relationship busters; not only do they not work, but they can cause great hurt towards your loved one.  While you may experience temporary satisfaction, these strategies in no way lead to long-term relational happiness and success.

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