Editor's Note: This is the second of a two-part series.
Have you ever noticed how surprised you are when a couple you know - or know of --calls it quits and breaks up? It is always a sober reminder that our intimate relationships are fragile, and that they must be handled with proper care and maintenance.
Many things can go wrong in a marriage. But there are things you can stop doing that directly relate to the health, well-being and longevity of your relationship. Last week I talked about how to strengthen your relationship, and today I will describe what behaviors destroy intimate relationships.
Here are some of the more common ways people ruin their relationship:
Being walled off and hard to reach. Being emotionally or physically distant, closed or withholding. A variation of this is to stonewall your intimate partner, which means that rather than addressing what bothers you, you wall off, and s/he has to guess what's upsetting you or what you want.
Poor listening skills. Most people talk way more than they listen, and they don't listen to genuinely understand.
Not making important to you that which is important to your partner. This includes not blending your ways, your preferences or your interests with his or hers, and not being adaptable to someone else. It also means not being willing to honor your partner's wants, needs, feelings or desires.
Not making your intimate relationship your top priority. It's easy to treat work, children, family, friends, sports, computer or TV as urgent and critical. Do that, and your partner will not feel s/he matters to you.
Reduced affection. Hand-holding, hugs, cuddling and physical tenderness is a glue that keeps two people close and connected to each other. If affection is low, your relationship has likely grown distant.
Not being communicative. It is essential to communicate your needs, wants, desires, feelings and dreams to your partner. To not do so forces your partner to be a mind-reader, and absolutely nobody is a good mind-reader.
Being critical, argumentative, rebellious or rude. It makes you difficult to be around, and it's embarrassing and annoying.
Being defensive, and therefore not allowing someone else to tell you what upsets, irritates, hurts or angers them. Over time, your mate learns to not say things that will cause you to react, and that will shut down communication, connection and closeness. Act defensive, and watch your relationship grow more brittle and distant.
Low trust. It's very hard to be with someone who is chronically suspicious, jealous or mistrusting - or who has a hard time giving you the benefit of doubt.
Seeking stimulation in all the wrong places - using alcohol, drugs, shopping, eating, porn, work, an affair or any number of other escapes. It separates and distances the two of you from each other.
Control. If you're controlling in a relationship, you're predictably creating a power struggle that you're unlikely to win. No one wants to be controlled or to feel powerless, so shared decision making is the wisest way to go.
Dishonesty. It's impossible to trust someone who doesn't act trustworthy. Anyone who is secretive, hidden, withholding of important personal information - or who has deceived, misled or betrayed you in the past --is extremely hard to trust. And low trust is the death knell for most relationships, because once trust is broken, there will always be a seed of mistrust in your partner's mind.
Not taking accountability for your words, actions or behaviors -or feeling so self-justified that you seldom think you owe an apology for your hurtful, insensitive or demeaning words or behaviors.
Having an anger issue, or being resentful, sarcastic or passive aggressive. Your partner will either avoid you, or will become afraid of you. Either one will destroy closeness, connection and trust. Being angry is not an acceptable reason for wounding another person or treating him/her disrespectfully - ever.
Acting narcissistic, self-absorbed or self-centered. Looking out for you, not for the welfare or the happiness of your partner - or your relationship.
Disinterest in sex, or sexual rejection. Your partner will inevitably feel resentful, rejected and angry.
Infidelity. The best method ever for starting a nuclear war.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder, Colorado. His column is in it's 20th year of publication, and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at (303)758-8777, or email him through his website: www.heartrelationships.com.