How to Stop Bad Examples from Hurting Your Relationship
Keeping a relationship healthy isn’t always easy, even for people with plenty of relationship experience. To make the issue even trickier, there’s a wealth of bad relationship advice out there, as well as examples of unhealthy relationships in real life and the media. Taking these bad examples to heart can hurt your relationship. Instead, learn to recognize and counteract negative relationship influences. Then follow a few principles of strong relationships, such as resolving conflicts peacefully and developing better habits.
Recognizing and Overcoming Negative Influences
Be careful where you get your relationship advice and role models.You can get advice about your relationship anywhere – from your friends, family, and even so-called “experts” – but take it with a grain of salt. Likewise, be aware that bad relationships are all too common, and it’s probably not a good idea to try to model your relationship on anyone else’s.
- Every relationship is different because of the individuals in it. Advice that works for one couple may not work for another.
- Some relationships that look fine on the surface may have problems underneath. Don’t assume somebody has a perfect relationship, even if they try to present it that way.
Have realistic expectations.Don’t expect your partner to act like your best friend’s significant other or the love interest in a movie you just saw. Instead, accept your partner as the unique, imperfect person they are. Understand that your partner won’t do everything right or always know what you want, just like you won’t always live up to their wishes.
Learn to evaluate relationship advice.Become a more cautious receiver of advice when it comes to your relationship. Generally, you'll want to shy away from advice that is unsolicited. You also want to avoid listening to those who seem to have ulterior motives. Take advice from people who are relatively impartial and not trying to steer you one way or another.
- For instance, a friend who just went through a nasty breakup tells you "All men are cheaters. It's best if you get out now before you're hurt." This advice is guided by your friend's own emotional experience and is, therefore, biased.
- Great sources for advice might be an older mentor, spiritual advisor or a relationship counselor.
Go to therapy for unresolved childhood issues.If you or your partner are children of divorce or abuse/neglect, you may need to see a therapist. If you were not raised by healthy relationship role models you might repeatedly get into bad relationships or sabotage your current one.
- See a counselor either individually or a couple to work through unresolved issues from your childhood that may impact your relationships now.
Dealing with Conflicts
Cool off before you talk.Keep tabs on your feelings, and notice if you’re getting angry with your partner. If that happens, take a break and calm down before you address the problem. Breathe deeply or take a walk until you feel level-headed enough to handle a discussion without losing your cool.
- Don’t try to argue when you’re angry. You might say something hurtful that you’ll regret later.
- Be mindful of your triggers. Pay attention to how you feel physically. For example, you might note things like shallow breathing, tensed muscles, and a racing heart. If you do notice anything like this, take time to calm down before you talk with your partner.
Remember that you are on the same side.Your partner isn’t your enemy – your mutual conflict is. No matter how irritated you feel with your partner, keep your focus on resolving the conflict so both of you benefit.
Express yourself clearly and directly.If you’re upset with your partner, be honest. Let them know how you’re feeling and why. However, don’t say anything inflammatory or accusatory. Use “I” statements to take the edge off your message.
- For instance, instead of saying, “You embarrassed me,” say, “I felt embarrassed that you put me on the spot in front of my co-workers.”
Stay calm and open.Listen to your partner’s perspective on the conflict, and don’t interrupt or argue with them. Accept that you may have contributed to the conflict, too. Prioritize solving the problem instead of trying to prove that you’re right.
Cooperate to build a plan for moving forward.After you talk a problem out with your partner, work together to create a solution. Create some clear guidelines that you can both live with. Write down your plan, so that you can reference and add to it later.
- Making a plan is especially effective for resolving ongoing conflicts such as how to raise your kids, manage money, or divide chores.
Building Positive Relationship Habits
Improve your ratio of positive to negative interactions.As a rule of thumb, it takes five positive interactions with your partner to make up for every negative interaction. If you and your partner frequently squabble or criticize each other, change the tone of the relationship by expressing more affection, gratitude, care, and humor.
- Even small positive interactions can have a big impact on people’s happiness in a relationship. Try giving your partner a hug when they come home, texting them just to say hi, or thanking them when they do a chore you dislike.
Avoid holding onto grudges.Old mistakes and hurts are in the past, so commit to leaving them behind you. Instead, focus on enjoying the present moment with your partner. Appreciate your partner’s good qualities, and don’t let yourself waste time thinking about things that are over and done.
Use conflict as a tool for learning.If you are patient and reflective, then you can use conflicts as a way to learn and grow. Try to be aware of your history and any baggage you might be carrying when you enter into a relationship. Also, be aware that your partner likely has some of their own baggage.
- Try to let down your guard and be willing to open yourself up to this new relationship. Remember that it is an opportunity to learn new things, experience more intense joy, love, and peace, and to grow and heal together.
Look for your partner’s best traits.Instead of waiting for your partner to impress you, practice noticing when their positive traits really shine. If you start to feel negative towards your partner, remind yourself of all the good things they’ve done lately.
- Give your partner positive feedback. Say something like, “I love how caring you are. You always make me feel better when I’ve had a bad day.”
Avoid complaining.It’s normal to need to vent a little sometimes, but complaining too much just brings you down – as well as everyone else around you. If you’re prone to complaining, it can grate on your partner, so make an effort to see the bright side of life instead. Look for solutions instead of focusing only on your problems.
- If your partner is a chronic complainer and it bothers you, talk to them. Tell them how their complaining makes you feel, and help them come up with alternatives.
- For instance, say something like, “I want to help you fix your problems, but when you complain so much, it wears me out. Maybe we could set aside ten minutes every evening just for venting, and then move on.”
Make time to connect.Talk with your partner daily, even if you can only spend a few minutes together. What you talk about isn’t actually that important – it’s fine to make small talk, as long as you’re not ignoring bigger issues in your relationship that need attention. Just focus on connecting with each other in a consistent, positive way.
- For instance, you could chat over coffee in the mornings, talk on the phone during your break at work, or catch up while cooking dinner together.
Listen carefully.When your partner talks to you, give them your full attention, even if you’re not discussing something important. Pay attention to their tone of voice and body language, not just their words. Make sure you’re understanding their message and their emotions, instead of just waiting for your turn to talk.
Use technology thoughtfully.Technology can help you communicate with your partner, but it can also drive a wedge between you. Reflect on how you can best use technology to stay connected, and avoid letting your phone and other electronics become a replacement for face-to-face time with your partner.
- For instance, if your partner has to travel for work, talking to each other over Skype might help you feel connected while you’re apart.
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