“It’s complicated” is more than a relationship status on Facebook or a really great Meryl Streep movie; it’s likely how we’ve all described our love lives at one point or another. Dating is about learning what we want, and learning comes with making mistakes that result in complications, fights, and even breakups.
As long as you don’t make it again, a mistake can be a huge learning experience and opportunity for growth. However, many of us make the same mistakes over and over again, resulting in bad dating cycles and an inability to achieve our happiest possible relationship. To break out of the cycle, here are eight relationship mistakes we’ve all made at one point or another and what to do instead:
1. “Winning” an argument
Some of us come to relationship disagreements like a lawyer fighting to win a lawsuit. We’re focused on proving a point and showing the other person why they were wrong. We’re human, after all. We come from certain biases that make us believe we’re right and the other person is wrong.
However, fighting to win an argument can foster resentment or even toxicity in a relationship. Most importantly, it isn’t productive for achieving a healthy, happy relationship. “Winning” doesn’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of your love life—besides the fact that you made your partner feel wrong.
What to do instead: The goal is to understand your loved one’s perspective, not to “win” an argument. Instead of proving a point, ask questions to better understand your partner’s point of view. Don’t think of the disagreement as them versus you; think of it as you two against the problem. Bonus tip: No matter what you have to say, it can be said kindly and respectfully.
2. Not setting boundaries
First relationships are usually more like trial periods—we have less of an understanding of our wants, needs, and what’s “normal” (hint: there is no “normal”). Your first relationship then becomes the baseline for all other relationships, meaning we can spend a lot of our dating lives going through the same cycles of partners that don’t make us happy or continuing to make the same mistakes.
What to do instead: Determine what you want out of a relationship and set boundaries accordingly. Be upfront with your dates or significant other on what you’re comfortable with and what you want out of your dating life. Have a list of non-negotiables when it comes to traits in a life partner (like sense of humor, loyalty, and compassion), and don’t settle for less. Your love life will be so much better when you know what you want a relationship to be.
3. Complaining about your relationship to other people
If your teenage years were like mine and Sex and the City re-runs were as much a part of your life as chemistry textbooks and homecoming dances, you probably had a vision for adulthood that included unrealistic clothing budgets and daily brunch with the girls. Impracticalities aside, Sex and the City told me the main activity to do with my female friends is to analyze every and all parts of relationships. But here’s the problem with sharing all the details: Not only does it break the trust in your relationship, but it’s also just not productive and keeps you focused on the negative.
What to do instead: Communicate with your partner when something isn’t right and work through it before you vent to your friends. Fix the problem at its root and build a better relationship instead of focusing on the negative (and probably annoying your friends). Just as a side note: Have more to talk about with your friends besides the latest boy drama (read: dreams, aspirations, and goals).
4. Social media stalking
I know, I know—this one is tough to come to terms with. You’re telling me I can find out the last three jobs my Bumble match had and see pictures of his ex-girlfriend, and I would choose not to? As tempting as it is, social media stalking can be detrimental to the potential relationship.
For one, you draw conclusions and form stereotypes based on their online presence without getting to know them first. If you already know they went to Hawaii last year or are close to their sister, it doesn’t leave much to talk about or to be genuinely curious about. You can also become insecure, feeling unworthy of their lifestyle or comparing yourself to ex-girlfriends (we’ve all been there).
What to do instead: OK, fine, scan through Google to make sure they’re not a criminal or escaped serial killer (you can never be too safe), but resist the temptation to scroll through their Instagram or Facebook. If the temptation is too much and you do scroll, remind yourself that online life is different from who they are in real life. You might be seeing one version of who they are, but separate the online version from the person you get to connect with (unless, of course, they post shirtless gym selfies. In that case, run for the hills).
5. Not being totally honest about your feelings
How many times have you stopped yourself from confessing feelings out of fear of rejection? Or the times you weren’t totally honest about how you felt because you didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings? What about the times you said “yes” but you really meant “no?” Odds are, most of us have had one time or another that we weren’t open when it comes to love and relationships. It’s hard to be transparent when hearts are on the line, but not being upfront can prevent you from achieving a healthy and happy relationship.
What to do instead: It’s cliché but true: Honesty really is the best policy. Don’t give more power to your fear of rejection and miss an opportunity to tell someone how you feel. Be compassionately candid when something isn’t working; the right person will allow you to be more brutally honest than you’ve ever been in your life.
6. Expecting your significant other to be everything
More than ever before, couples are looking to their partner to check every box on a long list of needs. We expect a partner to be our “best friend,” support system, roommate, eternal plus-one, and keep the passion and spark alive on top of it all. Maybe your spouse is even your business partner or co-parent. Let’s be real: If one person were to be everything we needed, they wouldn’t have the time or energy to have a life for themselves.
What to do instead: Build a community of people who fit your needs instead of depending on one person to do the job. If your significant other isn’t crazy about the new exhibit at the museum, find a friend who wants to go and give your partner the day off. Also, make sure your “support system” extends beyond just one person, whether it’s your mom, your best friend, or your therapist.
7. Sacrificing other parts of your life
Runaway Bride was the Richard Gere/Julia Roberts reunion we all needed in 1999 (it was a simpler time), but the iconic film also taught me a lot about relationships. Remember how Maggie Carpenter liked her eggs cooked differently in each of her past relationships? With one guy she liked poached, with another she liked scrambled, and with the health-obsessed football coach, she preferred an egg-white omelet. Every good romantic comedy has a metaphor, and the egg metaphor meant that Maggie would sacrifice herself for each relationship so much that she didn’t even know what she wanted.
We’ve all been Maggie. We’ve all had moments when we pretend we’re too cool to care about who wins The Bachelor or when we go on backpacking trips when we really just want to lay on a beach. You might have even neglected friendships or called your mom less often when you get into a new relationship.
What to do instead: First of all, find out what kind of eggs you like. Get to know yourself; figure out likes and dislikes and what you want out of life. In a relationship, you’ll have to compromise on how to spend your time and might even compromise whose family you spend holidays with, but relationships and interests do not have to be neglected. The right person will want to be a part of all your hobbies (even if it is The Bachelor), encourage you to keep up with your friends and family members, and want to try the style of eggs that you like best.
8. Expecting perfection
Most of the time, we refer to “love” as a noun. We fall in love, and then it’s happily ever after as if love is something that just happens to us. In reality, love is a verb. It’s something you practice, not something you obtain and check off the list. The less you practice it, the less you’ll feel it or even notice it. Expecting everything to be perfect and then getting mad (or even jumping ship) when it’s not is not practicing love. The more you expect perfection, the less you’ll feel in love.
What to do instead: Expect progress instead of perfection. Work on communicating better and getting closer to your partner. You’ll never reach “perfection,” but it won’t matter because love is not an end result. Love is the mess and the laughs and the tears and the part of every day that somehow just makes your life better, relationship mistakes and all.