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