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2 Patterns That Can Spoil the Goodness of Your Relationship

Relationships require constant attention to avoid stagnation or, worse, decay.

Key points

  • Two factors that can eat away at the heart of your relationship can be the company you keep and misaligned morals.
  • Associating with people in your community who are committed to their partners can help reinforce your level of relationship commitment.
  • To protect your relationship's purity, ensure your positions on moral and ethical ambiguities are fully aligned.
Gabby Orcutt / Unsplash
Source: Gabby Orcutt / Unsplash

Many people come to therapy wondering how their relationship got from "point A" to "point B." They may say things like:

  • “We were always rock solid. I don’t know what happened.”
  • “I never would have imagined that we would end up in such a resentful place.”
  • “How do I make things go back to the way they were before?”

Here, I’ll talk about two factors that can eat away at the heart of your relationship and what you can do to ward off their noxious effects.

1. Be cautious of the company you keep.

Has your significant other ever questioned why you remain friends with certain people? Perhaps they distrust these people and are worried that their unscrupulous behavior might rub off on you.

New research in the Archives of Sexual Behavior suggests that such concerns are not illusory or indicative of an overly controlling partner but have a firm basis in reality. Psychologist Gurit Birnbaum a faculty member of the Baruch Ivcher School of Psychology in Israel and the lead author of the paper, stated:

A peer environment that gives the impression that infidelity is acceptable may make people gravitate toward attractive alternatives, and knowing that others are having affairs may make people feel more comfortable when considering having affairs themselves.

In other words, people who associate with others who view cheating as not a big deal or even acceptable are more likely to adopt a similar moral standard. Regardless of whether one actually engages in physical or emotional cheating, a change in attitude on the topic, however subtle it may be, can erode the trust in a relationship.

Because of this, psychologists advise people in committed, monogamous relationships to be mindful of their social influences. Associating with people in your community who are committed to their partners can help reinforce your level of relationship commitment.

2. Keep your moral identities aligned.

Opinions regarding cheating and infidelity aren’t the only ethical positions that can drive a wedge in your relationship.

Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that any difference in what partners deem ethical behavior can present relationship problems.

“When someone close to us behaves unethically, we face a conflict between upholding our moral values and maintaining our relationship,” explained Rachel Forbes, the lead author of the study from the University of Toronto in Canada.

While it is human nature to take the side of our loved ones in ethically ambiguous situations, Forbes suggested this can have long-term mental health consequences.

“By protecting close others, we seem to bear some of the burdens of their misbehavior,” noted Forbes. “Our moral values lead us to feel embarrassed, ashamed, and guilty about their actions."

One way to overcome such feelings is to ensure you and your partner align on what you view as morally appropriate behavior. Taking the time to outline some shared moral standards can strengthen your relationship bond. You can do this preemptively (i.e., before any potentially problematic situation arises) or on an ad-hoc basis (i.e., reflecting on ambiguous situations after they occur and developing a shared moral position).

For people who might be struggling with being honest about their loved ones’ misbehavior, Forbes offered the following advice:

The ambivalence we feel when confronted with close others’ bad behavior is difficult to reconcile. When faced with a loved one’s unethical behavior, it’s important to reflect on our moral values and whether the act itself fits within those values.

Conclusion

It’s important for you and your partner to respect each other’s differences of opinion. But you also have to respect each other’s non-negotiables. To protect your relationship's purity, ensure your positions on moral and ethical ambiguities are fully aligned.

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