9 Ways to Screw up a Relationship

9 Ways to Screw up a Rela­tion­ship  —  Think­ing that my inter­nal real­i­ty is dic­tat­ed by the behav­iours or actions of oth­ers is silly.

Want to learn more about liv­ing a full and mean­ing­ful life?

Want to have the best rela­tion­ship ever?

Check out my books

1  —  Guilting

ways to screw up a relationship

Guilt trips are one of the most com­mon games played in dys­func­tion­al rela­tion­ships. The pat­tern is “If you love me, then you will…” The expec­ta­tion is that your part­ner is there to meet your every need, and to ‘make’ you horny, secure, safe, or whatever.

It’s sort of as if peo­ple expect their part­ner to be a 24-hour genie, end­less­ly ded­i­cat­ed to meet­ing their every want and need.

Needless to say, this doesn’t work. 

Ini­tial­ly, dur­ing the very ear­ly stages of dat­ing, peo­ple tend to go out of their way to do this stuff. There’s this pan­icky ten­den­cy to say or do any­thing to keep the oth­er per­son around. But, soon­er or lat­er, the nov­el­ty wears off, and then the expec­ta­tion changes from “I’ll do any­thing to keep you.” to, “If you love me, you’ll accept me as I am.”

Now, the joke is, I’ve nev­er met a client who said, “If you love me, you’ll accept me as I am, and because I love you, I’ll accept you as you are.”

Guilt­ing is always in one direc­tion, and it’s based upon the fer­vent­ly held belief that I am right and you are wrong.

In a sense, all of the Ways to Screw Up a Rela­tion­ship are based upon this fallacy.

Experiment # 1

Replace this screwy behav­iour with this: Spend 30 days say­ing, “I accept you as you are.” As you upset your­self over some­thing you don’t like about your part­ner, say, “I’m judg­ing you and upset­ting myself.” In oth­er words, rec­og­nize what you are doing, and thus stop expect­ing your part­ner to put your inter­ests first. After all, you don’t put your part­ner’s first, do you?

2  —  Blaming

Blam­ing is also com­mon. Rather than using ‘sweet per­sua­sion’ (guilt­ing) to change your part­ner, you rant and rave and fin­ger-point. “My life is mis­er­able because of you! You need to change, and change right now!”

This is simply an escalation of guilting. Manipulation becomes demands and threats.

Most­ly, what this gets you is the same thing thrown back at you, or a deflec­tive behav­iour like ‘the silent treat­ment,’ spend­ing time away from home with ‘friends,’ or pas­sive  —  aggres­sive behav­iour, etc.

The main thing to get over in a rela­tion­ship is think­ing that rela­tion­ships are about chang­ing your part­ner.

I like to say that your part­ner is always and only what he or she does. So, if your part­ner, 90% of the time, is qui­et, and 10% of the time yells and stomps around, your part­ner is both of these behav­iours. The 10% is not an aberration — it’s what (s)he does 10% of the time.

You do not get to pick and choose who and how your part­ner is.

Experiment # 2

Replace this screwy behav­iour with this: Spend 30 days notic­ing what your part­ner does in var­i­ous sit­u­a­tions, with­out com­ment. Here is a hint. You are not your part­ner’s mom­my or dad­dy. You are not there to ‘fix’ your part­ner. Your only job is to decide whether you want to be with your part­ner as time goes by. Most healthy mar­riage part­ners say, “I haven’t been with her for 25 years. I’ve been with her one day at a time, by choice.”

3  —  Comparing

Remem­ber essays, and ‘com­pare and con­trast?’ It’s how each of us learned to cat­e­go­rize things. Thus, some­thing is big­ger com­pared to some­thing small­er. It’s also small­er than some­thing larg­er. We could say, then, that all char­ac­ter­is­tics are rel­a­tive.

Where this behav­iour becomes a prob­lem is when we com­pare each oth­er to any form of arti­fi­cial, exter­nal stan­dard. “Oth­er men treat­ed me bet­ter than you do.” “Oth­er women thought I’m a good lover.” “No one else yells at me.” “My last boyfriend treat­ed me like a queen.”

This is exact­ly the same behav­iour as the first two — it’s just anoth­er tack. Instead of com­par­ing your part­ner to your imag­ined part­ner and find­ing him lack­ing, you com­pare him to a third per­son, or the infa­mous “Every­one” (as in ‘Every­one knows…’)

You are like­ly notic­ing a pat­tern here: These behav­iours are all designed to change your part­ner (through var­i­ous ploys). This par­tic­u­lar one is espe­cial­ly weird, as it is all about expect­ing some­one to change to be more like your imag­i­nary friend.

Experiment # 3

Replace this screwy behav­iour with this: Speak only for your­self, and only in the present. When tempt­ed to com­pare, try, “I was won­der­ing if you would try this…” In oth­er words, ask for a spe­cif­ic thing. “I would like you to sit and talk with me for 15 min­utes,” is more effec­tive than, “All my oth­er boyfriends want­ed to talk with me.”

4  —  Sex as a Weapon

One client said her rela­tion­ship was­n’t going well. She was­n’t sure about get­ting mar­ried, as her fiancé liked to walk out when stressed.

I made a com­ment about ask­ing him direct­ly for what she want­ed, and she said some­thing to the effect that she could­n’t; the only way she could “make him behave” was by with­hold­ing sex. 

I tried to help her under­stand that sex is not a weapon, a proof of ‘love,’ (as in, and I’ve actu­al­ly heard this, “I real­ly enjoyed the sex so we must be in love,”) or an indi­ca­tor of any­thing oth­er than that phys­i­cal plea­sure feels good.

To use sex as a bribery tool (“Be a good boy and, I’ll have sex with you”) is juve­nile and stupid.

Experiment # 4

Replace this screwy behav­iour with this: There used to be an idea of leav­ing fights out of the bed­room, and it’s a good one. Sex has absolute­ly noth­ing to do with the state of your rela­tion­ship. Have sex or not, but drop it as a bar­gain­ing chip.
And while you’re at it, drop the coy stuff about sex not being impor­tant or some­thing you are inter­est­ed in.
No one believes you anyway.

5  —  Defaulting to Family

Many are the peo­ple who insist that all they are doing is edu­cat­ing their part­ner — train­ing them to be decent peo­ple who are into the right way of liv­ing and being.

That’s not the way my fam­i­ly does it,” is sup­posed to ‘wake up’ your part­ner to the inad­e­qua­cy of his upbring­ing, fam­i­ly, and cul­ture, all at once.

I sup­pose there was some sense to this a cen­tu­ry ago, when we lived in the same place and depend­ed upon our fam­i­lies, who lived down the street, or even in the same house. But even then, dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion of self from par­ents was a mark of grow­ing up. 

Anyone who thinks their mother or father is to be obeyed and followed into adulthood is dreaming in Technicolor.

A client once said, “My grand­par­ents sac­ri­ficed every­thing for my par­ents, and they sac­ri­ficed every­thing for me, and now I’m sac­ri­fic­ing every­thing for my kids.” I said, “So they can sac­ri­fice every­thing for their kids?” “No!” he insist­ed. “I’m doing this for them!”

I said, “Maybe your par­ents would say the same thing if they were sit­ting here.”

Your fam­i­ly is your fam­i­ly. No one else cares. Get over it.

Experiment # 5

Replace this screwy behav­iour with this: Your par­ents and fam­i­ly did things the way they did things. They got you to adult­hood. Good for them! Now, it is your turn to be an adult, form a fam­i­ly and start your own tra­di­tions and ways of being. You may love your par­ents, but they are not arbiters of any­thing oth­er than their own behaviour.

6  —  Dwelling on the past

Peo­ple think that it’s some­how help­ful to stack up evi­dence. The prob­lem is that is nev­er works.

Ther­a­pists call this “toss­ing in the kitchen sink.” It’s the infa­mous, “…and here are 50 more exam­ples from the past, which I am bring­ing up to ham­mer you with what a jerk you are.” 

Bring­ing up the past does­n’t work because your part­ner has his/her own per­spec­tive on past events, and also a list of all of the sins (s)he remem­bers you com­mit­ting. All that you end up with is a ‘who is the biggest jerk’ contest.

Back in the day, clients would come in for ther­a­py and expect me to solve their issues by pick­ing who was right and who was wrong. No com­pen­tent ther­a­pist would ever do that.

I worked toward get­ting them to stop the blam­ing and fin­ger point­ing, and get to the crux: is this the per­son I want to spend the rest of my life with?

Experiment # 6

Replace this screwy behav­iour with this: drag your per­cep­tion out of the past, and deal with the present sit­u­a­tion, in present lan­guage. “Here is the sit­u­a­tion as I see it (not ‘the right way’) and here is what I pro­pose. How do you see it, and what do you pro­pose?” From there, with dis­cus­sion, solu­tions emerge. Just like at work and in ‘real life.’

Note: If your present rela­tion­ship needs work, well…
check out The. Best. Rela­tion­ship. Ever.
It’s my rela­tion­ships book… you’ll find all the help you need!

7  —  Accusing

I start­ed coun­selling in 1981, and nev­er once did Kre­skin show up. By this I mean that I have nev­er met a mind-read­er.

Accu­sa­tions might also be described as ‘guess­ing anoth­er’s motive.’ Say­ing “You’re just doing that to…” has absolute­ly noth­ing to do with your part­ner. All you are real­ly say­ing is, “Here is how my twist­ed lit­tle mind inter­prets what I think I heard you say.”

Your judge­ments about oth­ers are not true. They are just sto­ries you tell your­self. To react to some­one on the basis of your sto­ries is plain­ly stu­pid. The oth­er per­son does­n’t even need to be there for this to hap­pen (and like­ly will leave if you keep it up.)

Experiment # 7

Replace this screwy behav­iour with this: Ask! “I’m won­der­ing what’s up for you” is infi­nite­ly bet­ter than say­ing, “I already have you all fig­ured out.” And let me add:o add: Curios­i­ty is not a weapon. “Here are all the ways you’re a total jerk, and I’m curi­ous as to why you act like that.” This is not curios­i­ty. This is judge­ment and crit­i­cism with a veneer of civility.

8  —  Doing what you say you don’t want your partner to do

I’ve lost track of how many times I watched some client yell at their part­ner, and as they yelled, they’d say, 

  • And I real­ly hate it when you raise your voice when we fight.” Or, 
  • Do you know how many times in the past you have brought up the past? Let me tell you!” Or, 
  • Don’t you dare accuse me of blam­ing you! You’re the one who always blames me!” Or, 
  • I promise I’ll nev­er try to manip­u­late you into doing some­thing you don’t want to do, as long as you do this one lit­tle thing for me…”

In my book The. Best. Rela­tion­ship. Ever. I sug­gest set­ting aside 15–30 minute a day for com­mu­ni­ca­tion. My instruc­tions are simple.

Pick a spot, pick a time, show up, and stay there. If your part­ner shows up, split the time in half. One talks, the oth­er lis­tens. Then, switch.”

No excus­es, no, “She did­n’t show up, so I stopped too.” Or, “He was­n’t doing it right (read, “He was­n’t say­ing what I want­ed him to.”) so I refused to do it.”

Just “Do what you say you are going to do. If you say you’re going to com­mu­ni­cate, com­mu­ni­cate. No excus­es. It’s not about what your part­ner does, and nev­er will be.”

Experiment # 8

Replace this screwy behav­iour with this: Be a per­son of integri­ty. Do what you say. If you don’t like yelling, don’t yell. If you want to talk, talk. If you want some­thing, ask for it. If you’re not sure, ask. If you are angry, own your anger as some­thing for inside of you (“I am anger­ing myself right now.”)

9  —  Expecting your partner to make you happy

Think­ing that my inter­nal real­i­ty is dic­tat­ed by the behav­iours or actions of oth­ers is sil­ly and plain­ly untrue. 

My part­ner’s job is to look after her­self, to ask for what she wants, and to let me know, with full hon­esty, how she is, and what she’s doing. She’s not report­ing in, and not get­ting my per­mis­sion. She’s let­ting me know because that’s our deal. And I do the same with her.

No one makes you any­thing, oth­er than you. If you are look­ing for your part­ner to cure you, heal you, make you whole, or com­plete you, you are doomed. 

If, on the oth­er hand, you want to estab­lish a rela­tion­ship based upon hon­esty, vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty and depth, drop all of the above stu­pid behav­iours, and begin anew.

Set your part­ner free (in your head) from respon­si­bil­i­ty for what you are doing to your­self, and begin to share who you are, what you want and need, and espe­cial­ly how you are mak­ing your­self feel. Share your thoughts and sto­ries and fears, all in self-respon­si­ble “I” language.

Invite your part­ner to do the same.

Your life, right now, is total­ly and com­plete­ly the result of what you have thought and what you have done. You have made you, and have made no one else. If you do not like where you are, you must change what you are doing and think­ing, while accept­ing your feel­ings and judge­ments, even the faulty ones.

If you will not shift your thinking and acting, you will never be any different than you are in this moment — or, you will ‘get worse.’ No one but you can do anything about this.

Start now, and own 100% respon­si­bil­i­ty for the only per­son you can ever be respon­si­ble about — you. From there, invite your part­ner to do the same, and to join you on a walk into the depths and heights of self-exploration.

Con­clud­ing Note

As a final hint, remember — if some­thing does­n’t work, repeat­ing it end­less­ly will not sud­den­ly make it work. None of the flawed behav­iours above work — and they nev­er have. Be one of the wise ones who gets this, drops them, and moves in anoth­er direction.

Scroll to Top