If you’re unhappy with your relationship – the shortage of quality time spent together, the amount of sex you have, the lack of excitement, or who walks the dog more – it’s a result of two things: The way you’re thinking and acting.
To get a new result, you’re going to have to adopt and employ a new way of thinking and acting. It’s that simple. How can I be so certain? Because aside from being a shrink, I’ve been where you’re at. And until I changed myself, nothing else changed. Below are the six most common causes of miserable relationships.
1. Everything is your partner’s fault. You look outward instead of inward. You think you have no control over the problems in your relationship, and what’s worse, you think you don’t contribute to them. You’ve told yourself that no amount of change will have the desired effect. It’s called learned helplessness.
You’re not intentionally creating a relationship that sucks. You’re unconsciously creating a relationship that sucks. But you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge, and until you’re willing to surrender to this first principle, nothing’s going to change.
2. You aren’t willing to examine your belief system.
The irony of human nature is that most people would rather be right than be happy. My wife, Steph, likes to ask her clients, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be in relationship?”
Change, for many people, implies that the original state was ‘wrong.’ Does this sound like a breeding ground for progress? It’s a breeding ground for stagnation, defensiveness and ignorance. Question everything. Particularly your beliefs.
3. You habitually focus on what your partner’s doing wrong and on what you want to avoid.
We attract and create what we think about, so the more you think about the negative / what you don’t want, the more you’ll attract it. It’s called a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Another way of viewing it is this: We find what we’re looking for. Your partner’s not all bad. She’s not all anything. But our brain is a muscle that builds strength around things we habitually focus on. When we focus on the negative, we train our brain to hunt for the negative. Good news is it works in the opposite direction as well. So start catching your partner doing something right. Bonus points for sharing it with her.
4. You don’t do vulnerability. I get it. I don’t come by it naturally either. I grew up in a rough neighborhood where fighting wasn’t just a boy’s activity but a girl’s survival skill. You had to watch every word that came out of your mouth because seemingly benign comments could be misconstrued and the next thing you know, you’re being jumped after class. I’m not looking for a pity party here. I survived. The point is, I learned early on (as most of us do) to keep my cards close to my chest, which is not a recipe for vulnerability.
Vulnerability is the artery of connection and intimacy. You can’t attach without it. There’s a quote from one of my favorite movies, Almost Famous, that speaks to this:
“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.”
That’s vulnerability. Make peace with it. And practice it. Daily.
5. You’re waiting for your partner to change. This sounds like a duplication of reason number one, but it’s not. It’s about you taking a passive position in the health of your relationship. It’s one thing to hyper-focus on everything your partner’s doing wrong. It’s another to decide that you’re not changing until your partner starts to change. We do this as children – refuse to do a chore until or unless our sibling does. Your partner isn’t your sibling. Stop acting like she is. Your relationship needs a hero. Grab your ovaries and be the change you want to see in your partner.
6. You don’t know how to listen. In your defense, most people don’t. When your partner’s speaking, you’re at best half listening, and probably more focused on what you’re going to say in response. That’s not listening. That’s preparing to respond. And it predisposes you to respond defensively. Try this:
Let your partner speak first.
Every few sentences, paraphrase what you’ve heard your partner say. “So what you’re saying is [insert a few of her sentences here]. Right?” If it’s not right, ask her to repeat what she meant and paraphrase it back. Then say, “Is there more?” and let her continue.
Do this until she’s done. Spent. Completely unburdened. That’s called active listening.