Relationships, are like anything else in life, they take work. Would you expect to get a job as CEO of a large company right out of high school with no training or experience? Of course not! Yet many people think this way about relationships. We expect to have happy relationships and marriages without any formal training, couples therapy, or work. We often expect our relationship will simply be great on its own, without any planning or effort.
Our relational health has as much to do with our own mental health as it does with the health of the relationships that surround us. If you are in your own personal therapy you are setting yourself up for a more successful relationship. However, if your partner or family members are not working on themselves as well, your relationships won’t be as fulfilling as they can be. Why? Because we can only be as healthy as our environment allows.
Many times, when one person starts getting healthy it upsets the ‘apple cart’ of their relationships. Some people may try and get the ‘old you’ back by criticizing, telling you ‘you’ve changed’, and pushing back against your new boundaries. This is a little like find out your old clothes don’t fit anymore and everyone asking you to put them back on.
Have you ever met a perfect person? No? Then you know it is impossible to have two perfectly healthy people in a relationship. Every couple get couples therapy, attend workshops, or read relationship books together on a regular basis. These things are not just for when a relationship is in crisis. These practices help us maintain a healthy, fulfilling relationship.
The 4 Relationship Destroying Behaviors
If you are experiencing any of the 4 behaviors that are destructive to relationships, you should not wait for things to resolve on their own. Get into couples therapy, read literature, or go to a couple’s workshop soon in order to get your relationship back on track.
Criticism is not a critique or complaint, which are often helpful in relationships and are to be expected. Criticisms on the other hand attack a person’s character, worth, or assume another’s motives.
- Critiques or complaints start with I statements. I feel this way when you do this.
- Criticisms start with ‘you’ statements – you never think about others, you are so selfish, you are never on time, ect.
- Contempt goes beyond criticism. It is communication from a resentful place. It is criticism laced with seething underlying anger. Contempt goes beyond ‘you statements’ to an outright sense of superiority over others.
- Contempt mocks, belittles, and invalidates another person and their experience.
- Examples: “You are worthless” “Oh, cry me a river,” “You are so lazy and selfish”
- Defensiveness is a natural response to criticism and very common in relationships. However, it can also be utterly destructive to relationships. Defensiveness allows us to remain in a victim roll, and makes us feel better about ourselves. However, what defensiveness tells our partner is very concerning. It tells them that we don’t take their concerns seriously, and we can’t or won’t take responsibility for our mistakes.
- Defensiveness can look like skirting a question. For example: One partner asks “Did you take the trash out today like you said you would yesterday?” Defensive partner “Why do you always nag me? I was so busy today, I have a meeting at 9am and ….”
- Defensiveness can also look like blaming others. Given the same questions as above, a defensive partner may reply, “Why didn’t you take the trash out? If it is so important to you, you should do it yourself.”
- Stonewalling is shutting down, turning away, and leaving the relationship ‘hanging’ in the middle of a disagreement. This behavior shuts out the other person and gives them and the relationship no chance to repair and reconnect. Often, arguing with a partner can feel too overwhelming to tolerate, and stonewalling can feel like an easy way out of the argument. A stonewalling partner may get “flooded” emotionally and need to take a break regroup before entering the conversation which is understandable. But a stonewaller may instead completely block the other person out making a repair and reconnection impossible.
- Instead of stonewalling, a better approach would be to take a break by saying something like this, “I am feeling too overwhelmed right now to talk about this in a healthy way. I need a few minutes to regroup and then it will be easier to talk this through with you.”
It is important to identify these destructive 4 behaviors in your relationship and replace them with healthier communication tools. Relationships are complex and many couples benefit from the help of couple’s therapy to overcome them. If you feel as though you could use help with your communication, give me a call. I can help you!
Do you live the Hanford or Visalia California area? Call me to set up a therapy appointment today!
Reno NV Therapist / California Teletherapy