5 Most Common Relationship Mistakes (and ways to avoid them)


Mistake #1: Criticism: The Blame Game

Whether we are talking to our spouse, our boss or our children, one of the most common mistakes is to bring up our complaints in a blaming, global manner. Over the course of a relationship criticisms have a very damaging impact.

Example, “What’s wrong with you? You are always late and this time you left standing there waiting for you in front of the movie theater for 15 minutes! You have no consideration for anyone else. ”

Solution: Raise issues as isolated events instead of character flaws

We are much more likely to have a productive conversation when we describe what is happening objectively and ask for what we want in positive terms.

Example, “I know you you’re juggling a million things right now, but it would be a big help if you could remember to give me a call when you’re running late so that we can change our plans and I’m not left waiting for you and wondering what’s going on.”

Mistake #2: Defensiveness: It’s not MY fault…

When we are being criticized it is human nature to want to defend ourselves from the perceived assault. The problem is that the more we explain why we did what we did, the more the conversation escalates as the other feels the message did not get through and needs to be said louder or with a harsher tone

Example: “I am NOT always late! How on earth was I supposed to know you were waiting outside? The highway was a parking lot and it’s against the law to call you on my cell phone so there was absolutely nothing I could have done!”

Solution: Take accountability

Find a kernel of truth in what is being pointed out to you. Try to see it from the other’s point of view.
Example: “I know it’s true that I have been running late these past few days, and I hate the idea of you waiting outside alone not knowing if we’re even going to make the movie.”

Mistake #3 Parallel lives: We’re so busy we don’t even have time to breathe

For many of us our fast-paced lives involve keeping many balls in the air. We often have to schedule time for fun with friends and family through vacations, dates or even playdates.

Solution: Take advantage of multiple opportunities throughout the day to have micro-bursts of positive connection.

  • Say “I love you” as often as you can
  • Send a flirty text-message to your boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Thank your daughter for remembering to hang up her coat
  • Let your Dad know you appreciate a life lesson you have learned from him
  • Tell your friends what you appreciate

Mistake #4 Difficulty sharing power and decision making

We all have strong ideas and feel passionate about important decisions that need to be made, but if we do not let our partners influence us it is unlikely to work for both people.

Example: With the best of intentions a young man plans his first date with a young woman. He makes reservations at a Thai restaurant and tells her he’ll pick her up at 7:00 on Friday night.

This sounds quite romantic, but if he doesn’t find out whether she likes Thai food and what her work schedule is on Friday, it’s possible that his efforts come across as controlling instead of charming.

Solution: Accept influence from others

Take the time to ask questions, and integrate both points of view in making plans, solving problems and making decisions.

Example: “I know this great little Thai place if you’d like to go there, but I’m also happy to try somewhere you suggest. I can pick you up any time after 7:00, what works for your schedule.”

Mistake #5 Not knowing the difference between solvable and unsolvable problems

In a corporate setting, successful businesspeople know how important it is to put time energy and resources into areas with a high probability of return. We don’t often apply the same principles to our arguments with our loved ones and end up having the same fight over and over.

Solution: Remember that not all problems can be resolved. Sarah will never be a morning person, Ed doesn’t like the ballet, and Tom prefers busy city life over suburbia. When we recognize these core aspects can’t change, we can put energy into the solvable problems through compromise.

Example: Ed might be willing to go to the ballet, and Sarah might be able to accept that while they can go together, he will not experience it with the same joy that she does.

Based on John Gottman’s research on what he calls “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” which are high predictors of divorce.