To keep a relationship thriving, intimate partners make sure they do not betray, that they work as a team, master communication skills, create satisfying sexuality, work towards the same dreams, and support each other in times of hardship. Yet, even if these goals are pursued, many relationships still falter. The reasons are diverse and multi-layered, and I have heard many over my four decades as a relationship therapist. But consistent among them is the idea that partners accepted certain behaviors at the beginning of a relationship that became unacceptable over time. In the shaping of a new relationship, most people understandably focus on what they love about the other person and push aside potentially sabotaging behaviors that can become deal-breakers as the relationship matures. They feel that the strength of their love will be able to easily deal with these behaviors. Sadly, that does not always happen.
As you consider the following 8 most-common lurking deal-breakers, ask yourself if you've allowed any to become a part of your relationships, and if they have ultimately contributed to their failures.
1. Ownership. Lovers do not own each other. They may reasonably expect to be a high priority for the relationship’s resources but not the automatic first choice in every situation. Though the first few months of new love do promise that “always come first” expectation, life requires other situations to take precedence, and great partners feel secure during those times of understandable absence. The most common contributor to feelings of entrapment in a relationship comes from the feeling that one partner wants complete control of the other’s life choices.
2. Exploitation of Vulnerability. Too often, a person lost in the difficulties of life will attract a rescuer who comes in to help by becoming the mentor, symbolic parent, or spiritual adviser to “fix” the situation. Too often, that fixing is what the rescuer wants the other to be, not what is best for the relationship. Molding is something a person may seek from another at times, but never as payback for security.
3. Pressure to Succumb. If one partner uses bribery, threats, coercion, threatened abandonment, ghosting, gaslighting, pressure, seduction, over-talking, or any other kind of pushing to get the other partner to subscribe to a way of life that is not good for them, the result is never positive. The “pushed” partner may appear to succumb outwardly but is more often martyred or angry on the inside, angry at themselves for selling out to the emotional blackmail. Other, safer havens will eventually beckon.
4. Score-Keeping. There are two kinds of giving, and both are fine if authentic and above board. The first is a clear transaction agreement as to what is offered and what is expected in return and agreed upon by both partners. The second is chivalry, the true one-way sacrifice that is complete within itself and requires no reciprocity. Never accept that something presented as a gift will come with an unexpected price tag later. People score-keep when they fear they are being treated unfairly. They can be that way from the beginning, or suffer too many unmet expectations.
5. Promises of Unconditional Love. Promises made by any partners that they will always be there no matter what, are doomed to fail. Life choices change, demands come and go, obligations arise, conflicts go unresolved, and dreams shatter or reform. The chosen partner knows that they matter but never expects to always be supported and sacrificed to in every situation and at all times. Certainly, there are sacred moments where both partners put aside anything for the other, but it must never be an automatic expectation.
6. Expectations of Always Being “Number One." Interesting and interested people make the most successful relationship partners because they live life so fully. A primary partner has every right to be included and informed as to what their partner thrives upon, but never to believe that relationship will fulfill all that the other needs to thrive. “I don’t care where you get your appetite, as long as you come home for dinner,” is one of my favorite aphorisms. Maybe added to it would be “and bring the best leftovers.” Great partners bring the benefits of those external experiences home to one another and the relationship is more alive as a result.
7. Expectations of Perfect Compatibility. New lovers often turn themselves inside out to prove to one another that they will always want the same things at the same time in the same places as the other. If one is hungry, then, of course, are as well. Sex, of course, whenever it comes up for either. Friends? Well, one has a few close ones. The other is surrounded by constant social chaos and thrives on it. They both want children, even if one didn’t feel that way before. They know they will easily and ultimately fit anywhere and everywhere in each other’s lives. All differences will blend into one perfect union. Compatibility creates less challenge but also more predictability and less energy. Different strokes for different folks, well received and relished, make for continued interest and spice.
8. Assumptions That All Outside Dimensions Will Mesh. New lovers live in a bubble. No one else matters and all other obligations are put on a back burner wherever and whenever possible. Within that bubble, both partners do everything they can to “blend.” No external threats are considered nor allowed to burst that idyllic atmosphere. As the relationship matures, life’s other dimensions arise and demand their fair share of time and energy. Past relationships, family expectations, work demands, social commitments, financial restrictions, hobbies, and other interests emerge. Those prior dimensions now require re-blending as they present themselves.
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