5 Ways You Can Be Damaging Your Relationship Unknowingly
Your personality is built from a mixture of your genetics and experiences.
Your character is built through your choices and how you respond to those experiences.
Sometimes it’s easy to see your own character flaws and what behaviors and attitudes are holding you back; other times it’s not until a relationship fails that it becomes obvious.
Whenever you experience growth in your life, or your relationships improve, it’s because you’ve seen an aspect of your character that you need to change — you’ve worked hard to learn new ways to respond to others around you.
Some traits and behaviors are extremely damaging to relationships, and can creep into your character without you realizing.
1. “I’d rather protect myself than be vulnerable and get hurt.”
When we learn that people can’t be trusted we become closed off. We sometimes learn this as children, when adults who we love let us down or hurt us in some way. Families break up, parents are sometimes unable to be emotionally available, and sadly the world is full of imperfect people who let us down.
We learn that love isn’t always unconditional and perhaps parts of us aren’t acceptable. As we become adults this is reinforced when we get bullied, rejected by our crush, or cheated on by lovers. We start to close off parts of ourselves, hide some of our feelings and thoughts, change ourselves to what we think people will find acceptable. We say we want love, but we turn ourselves into hypocrites — we push any real love away, rejecting them before they can reject us.
We can’t trust it when someone loves us for who we are. Accepts all of us. We stay closed off just waiting for the day when they turn around and leave, like we knew they would. You can’t trust anyone.
But we’re just missing out.
We’re making ourselves hard to love and that is what’s pushing them away. When we refuse to be vulnerable and show who we really are, we frustrate people. They try and try to get to know us, to feel connected, and they can’t.
There are trustworthy people in the world. There are people who will love and accept you for who you are. When we make ourselves vulnerable and open to trustworthy people, we open ourselves up to experiencing real love and a deep connection with someone.
2. “This is your problem, not mine.”
Defensiveness is linked to being closed off. It’s the default response when anyone tries to get close, or express real emotions. The Gottman Institute calls defensiveness one of the Four Horsemen of Communication that spell the end of a relationship. When we are defensive we are both failing to listen, and failing to open up to our partners.
Defensiveness is usually our way of dealing with criticism. We think we’re defending an attack. I’m the victim here! We’re protecting ourselves, but it ends up being heard by our partners as blame.
“I thought you were going to do the dishes tonight? It’s 11 o’clock and they’re still not done.”
“I didn’t hear you say that? Nobody told me. You can’t blame me for that, you should have said earlier!”
Defensiveness never leads to good communication in a relationship. You can’t defend your way to closeness with someone.
The opposite of defensiveness is taking responsibility, hearing the other person’s needs and feelings, and placing yourself in their shoes. It’s letting our barricaded walls down and allowing them in. It’s scary but you can do it.
3. “They don’t need to know everything I do.”
This is often true if you have a strong need to stay independent. For some of us it’s because we know there are areas in our life that our partner would disapprove of. When you want to keep parts of your life hidden, for whatever reason, you come across as untrustworthy.
We’re not talking about losing your independence here. Freedom and independence in your relationship is important. No one wants to be reporting to their partner for every move they make. For some it’s even more important — you might have been in a very controlling relationship or family, and you’re swinging the pendulum way off to the other side. But complete freedom is a two-way thing. Loving partners allow each other freedom, they encourage each others’ independence, but there’s a responsibility that comes with it.
We have to be trustworthy and transparent with our freedom. If there are areas that you’re hiding from your partner, it puts distance between you.
You go to greater lengths to hide what you are doing, and they become more suspicious. When your trustworthiness starts to be questioned in a relationship, you become difficult to love. Love requires trust and when you lose it, they pull back.
If you value your independence, ask yourself why. Is it because you know your partner wouldn’t approve of your behavior when you’re on your own? Is it because you once felt controlled, or feel controlled now?
Instead of hiding, be transparent with how you feel. Let your partner know that you need space and time to yourself and reassure them.
If you know you’re not trustworthy, perhaps it’s time to examine what you need to do to change that.
4. “I said I love you, but…”
Most of us want to keep people happy. We avoid conflict the best we can, even if that means saying things we don’t really mean. We tell our partners “I’m not upset” and then silently resent them for days. We say, “Sure, I’ll come over this weekend” and then call it off at the last minute with an excuse.
Contradictory behavior is not only confusing, but it makes us unreliable. It seems kinder and easier to tell our partners a more appealing version of the truth, but we hate it when people do the same to us. We can tell a lot more from someone’s actions than their words. If they don’t match, we start to question it.
Some people are masters of saying what others want to hear. They aren’t trying to be unkind, it often just works well— you get what you want and avoid drama. People pleasing like this is hard to snap out of because it has such positive rewards. You make everyone happy and that makes your life easier. In the end though, saying one thing and doing another is really leading a double life. You have the you that people see and the internal you — they don’t match up.
We grow into much stronger people when we say what we mean, in kindness, but with honesty. It takes bravery and practice, but it’s a behavior that can be changed.
You can do it.
If you catch yourself saying something to please someone, and it doesn’t match what you’re really thinking, you can always go back and fix it.
“I know I said I’m fine, but actually I’m quite upset. Can I talk to you about it?”
“I said I’d come over this weekend because I didn’t want to upset you, but I really want to spend this weekend going on a hike. I need some time to myself, it’s been a stressful week, and I’m sorry I didn’t say that upfront.”
5. “That makes me uncomfortable.”
If you struggle with affection, you probably have good reasons to. You’ve had issues in the past with abuse, or you’re an introvert and you just like your own personal bubble. There are very valid reasons for struggling with affection and any partner should respect your right to say no.
The problem comes in relationships when affection is lacking completely or your affection needs are mismatched. We express and feel loved in different ways (we have different Love Languages) and one of these is touch. Most people can feel loved and express love through touch, but for some of us it’s vital.
One of my main love languages is touch. I feel most connected with my partner when he hugs me, or when I simply rest my hand on his knee. I feel loved when he rubs my back or touches my shoulder as he walks past.
If I had a partner who didn’t show affection through touch, it would be difficult. Knowing each other’s primary love language is useful, and strong couples will try to use the other person’s love language to make sure they hear “I love you” the way that works best for them.
Obviously, there are other ways to show affection than through touch. You can do something considerate or be affectionate with your words. A complete lack of affection however, takes your relationship from a romantic one to a friendship.
If you struggle with affection, there are ways to slowly overcome it. You may need to work with a counselor to process past trauma. You can take small steps towards showing affection — our skin can become sensitized if we are not used to being touched but you can overcome this. Therapeutic massage is one way to desensitize to touch and move past discomfort.
Struggling with affection does not have to be a behavior that you’re stuck with for life.