Relationships can be tricky and they almost all come with some challenges. If you’re lucky, you’ll notice the red flags before they become too serious. There are the obvious ones, such as emotional, verbal or physical abuse, that are automatic grounds for ending things. And a lot of drama (yelling, crying, continuous bickering, roller coaster emotions) rarely indicates a happy union.
But then there are the less obvious mistakes. The ones that, if left ignored or uncorrected, cause strain and could even ruin your happily ever after. If you are guilty of one or several of the eight below, don’t panic. All relationships involve learning and growing. Recognize where you can make improvements and then get to it.
1. Saying “nothing is wrong”
Some issues or insults can seem so obvious that you can’t imagine your partner not realizing they did something wrong. So rather than discussing the problem, you stay silent and sulk about how they don’t seem to care that you are upset. When asked, “What’s wrong?” it’s so much easier and less painful to say “nothing.” It’s a momentary band-aid, but the problem remains. You either stay angry and resentful, or you move on and sweep the unresolved issue under the rug, which only gives it the opportunity to arise days, weeks, or months later with even greater ugliness.
2. Walking away
This should not be confused with giving each other space. Taking a breather to calm down or clear your head during an argument is a good thing. If you want to leave, ask your partner if you can take a few minutes to collect your thoughts—kind of like hitting the pause button. But cutting the conversation off because you’re done is unfair play. Before we got married, my husband’s aunt gave us some great advice. “Never walk away,” she said. “That sets a standard. Then the next time you argue, you’ll need to walk away and slam the door behind you to prove your point. The next time you’ll walk away, slam the door behind you and never come back.” Her point is that allowing this type of behavior once makes it easier to up the ante every time. Don’t allow yourself to succumb to that slippery slope. Grit your teeth, swallow your pride, and finish the discussion.
3. Reacting on emotion
This is the hardest one for me. I’m an emotional person who likes to openly express my feelings, positive or negative, as soon as I feel them. When I first started dating my now husband, I would tell him right away when I was upset. Sometimes it was a good thing, but most times I made assumptions and reacted on those assumptions. I still remember my breakthrough moment: We were watching TV and he was checking Facebook on his computer when I saw over his shoulder that a certain ex of his had messaged him. Unlike usual, I resisted the urge to say something. I took a deep breath and decided to give it a night. The next morning he told me about the message on his own accord. By taking a step back, I had avoided a completely unnecessary fight born of emotion and assumptions.
4. Comparing your partner to an ex
The human mind naturally looks for patterns. When we experience a situation that’s even remotely similar to something from our past, we draw conclusions based on that past experience. This is how we improve our lives and learn, after all. But when it comes to relationships, this logic can be detrimental. For example, let’s say your ex took a long time to return your calls when he/she was losing interest in the relationship. Lately, your current partner hasn’t returned your calls quickly. Conclusion: Your current partner is no longer interested in you. Wrong! Fight your brain’s addiction to patterns and remember that every single person and situation is unique. This is not to say you shouldn’t learn from your past or set standards for yourself. Rather, keep an open mind and afford each person a clean slate. One final note: Never, ever say to your significant other, “My ex did that all the time.” Comparing someone you care about to someone you don’t is incredibly hurtful.
5. Keeping score
If you asked my husband what his biggest pet peeve is about our disagreements, this would be it. I have a crazy-awesome memory, which is really neat when it comes to pinpointing exactly what month of what year a song from my childhood came out. It’s not so neat when I remember every little slight or sacrifice from the past. Life is long, and if you keep a tally in your relationship, you’ll end up exhausted and resentful. When your partner apologizes for something and an issue is resolved, bury it six feet under. If you revisit the issue, it was never resolved in the first place. Move on. Accept apologies fully. You’ll both make plenty of mistakes, and you’ll both do plenty of wonderful things. Nothing will even out, of course, but the resulting happiness of letting things go is far better than any perfectly balanced scorecard.
6. Holding back
Similar to #5, ignore “fairness” when it comes to expressing love. Give generously to your partner without expecting your kindness to be returned. Don’t be afraid of loving too much. Women, especially, often fear that showing too much interest makes them seem needy or clingy. If you want to be cautious at the start of a relationship, that’s completely understandable. But once you’re both in it for the long haul, give as much as you can. If your significant other shows affection less openly and often, resist the urge to match their ways. Instead, communicate with your partner about how you need to receive love. Expressing love and showing kindness will never serve you wrong.
7. Threatening to break up
This is a dangerous mistake that places a dark cloud over relationships long after a heated argument has passed. The most fundamental part of a mature relationship is remaining committed in the lowest of times. By threatening to break up, even if you’re saying it out of frustration and don’t really mean it, you’re abandoning your partner in a cruel and cowardly way. You’re basically saying, “I’ll love you until” or “I’ll love you only if.” Threatening to break up is a selfish power play that benefits neither person. Avoid playing that card at all costs. When emotions have cooled, you’ll be so glad you did.
8. Assuming your partner will change
Let’s get right to the point: Your partner is not going to change. A lot of people confuse the concept of compromise with that of change. Compromise involves two people meeting in the middle when it comes to their differences, which is necessary. Change involves one person asking the other to be someone they’re not, which is impossible. You cannot change the essence of who someone is. This is not to say you have to love every little annoying thing about your partner (that is also impossible), but you must accept the fact that the who you are with now is who you will be with forever, flaws and all. My husband speaks his mind, and I am overly sensitive. We’ve both accepted this difference and have grown to see it as a positive: His straightforwardness is a result of his genuine and honest nature—something I’d never want to change. My sensitivity means he can count on me to empathize with and support him no matter what. If you’re unhappy in your relationship or your partner’s flaw is a nonnegotiable (for example, you want kids and he doesn’t), no amount of talking, arguing or time is going to change that. If you are happy and your partner’s flaw is something you can live with, focus on how this difference might actually be a blessing in disguise.