Because once you fall in, it’s hard to get out.
Wouldn’t it be great if relationships got easier? If, once the sizzle subsided, we just boarded a luxury train that took us on a journey to Happy Ever After. Especially if they served cocktails. 🍹
We all know it doesn’t work that way — far, far from it. That beyond the sizzle is where the “fun” really starts, the terrain gets more challenging (or more boringly predictable) and our relationships truly test us. And sometimes the tests don’t come from us or our partners. They come from the gravel that flies up at us from the road of life; the unpredictable twists and turns we’re forced to navigate. Obviously, there’s no blueprint for the perfect relationship — and no end to the ways we can trip up. But there’s no doubt some strategies work better than others. And, sometimes, the things we don’t do can take us in a healthier direction than those we do.
Here are the traps we most need to avoid.
“Listen. Just listen. You don’t have to agree. Just see if you can understand that there’s another person who has a completely different experience of the same reality.” — Esther Perel
1. Fighting dirty.
Conflict is a normal, natural part of a relationship. Okay, some couples never go there but they are the Saints who walk amongst us. Most of us need to — ah — air our grievances from time to time. Sometimes at great volume. But if you want to avoid setting your relationship — and your future together — on fire, you need to play fair. You need to keep the dirt out of the domestic arena.
Three of the most popular dirt-dragging strategies are (1) using a current issue to bring up a past mistake or (2) globalising your discontent (blowing a small issue into a massive one and (3) attacking an aspect of your partner that’s very difficult for them to change (i.e. their personality). Those strategies are futile — not be mention destructive. Keep your fights above the belt.
2. Using sex as a weapon.
Using sex as a weapon is a manipulation tactic: sex is withheld or “given” in order to get what you want. Or you have sex to distract your partner from an issue that needs to be addressed.
While it’s most commonly seen as a female tactic, both men and women use sex as a weapon. I recall one man who’d make a call every evening on whether to have sex with his wife based on whether she’d been “good” that day. She became desperate to have the sex she didn’t even want. Go figure. Be careful with this tactic because it will always backfire on you. It turns sex into something it shouldn’t be: a punishment or reward. And that means it’s always loaded.
3. Negative confirmation bias.
When you’re struggling in your relationship, niggling, fighting, bored, or just a bit over it you start REALLY seeing the things that annoy you in your partner. And once you see them, they start to glow — softly at first then they blow up like neon strobes on Broadway. So negative confirmation bias kicks in and you start looking for things that cast your partner in a bad light.
If this is happening, remind yourself of all that is good about your partner. If that’s hard, just look for one thing. If that’s hard, go back to when you first met them. If even that’s hard….what on earth were you thinking?
4. Breaking your unwritten agreements.
Plenty of couples draw up pre-nuptial agreements but very few sign off (officially) on the things that are deal-breakers for them, such as cheating, untreated addictions, using joint funds without discussion. We just Assume.
It doesn’t matter what your agreements are, as long as you are both clear about, and okay with, what it means. For example, an open relationship is fine if you are both willing participants and you are absolutely clear about what that looks like for both parties.
5. Avoiding the “hard stuff”.
Not talking. Not communicating. Not fronting up to the elephant in the room, the big issues that threaten to trip you up. This doesn’t mean you have to sit around for hours thrashing every minor difficulty you have at work or force your partner to reveal all the inner contents of their mind.
It means you each have a voice in the relationship; that you feel safe enough to raise the issues that are important to you. Marriage/commitment, kids, money, sex, religion, culture, where you want to live, travel, your future. Don’t plant your head in the sand and hope it will all go away. It won’t, it’ll fester into a wound that becomes hard to contain.
6. Getting lazy in love.
Anyone who’s been in a relationship for a while is vulnerable to this: lying back in the Great Relationship Deckchair with your cocktail and thinking all is well — none of that relationship crap for you. Woah. If this is you, back up and tread carefully. Complacency will put you on shaky ground; no-one wants to be taken for granted. Great relationships need ongoing attention. Make sure you’re still putting deposits in the bank.
Written by Kern Nimmo