Long-term relationships are challenging. That is not news. The good news is that you have what it takes to get over the humps and keep your relationship strong. You just need to know what gets in the way.

Certain attitudes and behaviors put the kibosh on relationships. Relationship buster #1 is the belief that the relationship is an "it," as in, "I'll see how ‘it' works out." I don't know about you, but when I entered my significant relationship I wanted to be together, and did everything I could to make it happen. But after people are in a relationship, they begin to think of it as an entity with a life of its own. They forget that the connection is between two people making choices about what they do. Hence the "I don't know what direction ‘it's' going." "It" is going wherever you take it. If you want to be happier, try to think about what you can do to make both of you more satisfied. It builds trust when you show you care.

Relationship buster #2 is poor listening. Many people hear their partner's feelings as an reflection of themselves. It's interesting that we treat friends very differently. If a friend is upset or dissatisfied or sad, we tend to be sympathetic. We listen. With a partner, we're more likely to focus on a feeling or a complaint as a criticism of ourselves rather than as how someone else is feeling. We're much more likely to get defensive. "It" (the relationship) is getting to be a drag. It's paradoxical, but you have to be separate to be closer.

It's important to listen non-defensively, even if you don't agree with the feeling expressed. Your partner will feel understood instead of put down. Then you can share your perspective, which is best expressed as an "I" statement: "I didn't intend to criticize you," instead of "You always take everything as criticism." This is a good way to discuss anything contentious. Put all the ideas and feelings on the table recognizing all ideas and feelings as valid, and then see how you can compromise.

Relationship buster #3: We tend to take our partners for granted. All the nice little things we do for each other - those were expected. But you forgot to pick up the milk on the way home that's urgently needed? We're quick to jump to "You NEVER remember, or care, or think of anyone but yourself." A relationship can end up being like one of those distorted mirrors that emphasize all the features we don't like. Everyone needs to feel appreciated and none of us is perfect, so we need to cut some slack for each other. The words "never" and "always" are warning flags that we're over-generalizing and distorting. Partners help each other feel valued and good about themselves. Try an attitude of gratitude.

Buster #4: We often expect our partners to be mind readers .. if you cared, you'd know what I like/want. A relationship isn't a pop quiz. It's your job to be clear about what you want. You can shape your partner's behavior: let him (or her) know what you like by your clear positive reaction. It's OK if you have to suggest or initiate the behavior to get it going. Praise what you like and you'll see more of it over time. It works a lot better than nagging, which is a turn off for anyone of any age.

The solutions to many of these problems aren't that hard. Remember your partner is another person, and treat him or her with the consideration you'd give a friend. Good listening skills are critical to a good relationship. Appreciate what's good about your partner and say so. Allow each other some slack. And mostimportant - take responsibility for your half of the relationship. You want it to be better? Do something about it.

About the Author

Marcia Eckerd, Ph.D.

Marcia Eckerd, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist who specializes in autism spectrum disorders and anxiety.

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