As human beings, we engage in patterns. No two humans’ patterns are exactly alike, but there is a great deal of overlap and many similarities to be found, particularly in relationships. What I’ve found through much of my couples’ work is that often we perpetuate patterns that are more hurtful to our relationships than they are helpful, and many of those hurtful patterns are not exclusive to any one couple. Here are some common mistakes I see couples make, along with some helpful tips:
- You think the goal is to win. I hate to break it to you, but you don’t get to win anymore. I tell couples that all the time: if you’re “winning” that means the person you love the most is “losing.” How exactly is that productive? I like to use my co-worker Danny Adam’s analogy for this: you’re not on opposing teams, you’re on the same team. You may have two different strategies for how to win the game, but you’re trying to win TOGETHER from the same side.
- You aren’t touching each other enough. If you’re having constant or reoccurring conflict, I guarantee you’re not touching each other anywhere near as much as you should. Touch is something that we need as infants and children in order to feel soothed and safe; that doesn’t go away in adulthood. We need the touch of those we love to feel connected, and touch facilitates the production of oxytocin, the bonding hormone. Hold hands more, kiss more, hug more, sit closer together on the couch, cuddle before you fall asleep. The conflict won’t necessarily go away, but it’s a lot harder to be mean to someone by whom you feel soothed.
- You think your perception is the ONLY perception. Have you ever had the experience with your partner where you feel like you each remember something that happened completely differently? That’s because it you experienced it differently. Each partner filters the things that happen during a disagreement through different emotions, body sensations, timing, etc. Of course your recollections won’t be the same. But don’t get caught up in the details. It isn’t important if you were 15 minutes late or 30, or if it happened two weeks ago or three. Each person has their own version of events, and both are valid because they remember that event through their own filters. Focus on the solution, don’t get caught up in the minor details of the problem.
- You think your partner hates/doesn’t want you because they say mean things during conflict. Sometimes, we hurt those we love to see if the hurtful things that we say and do will actually cause damage, because if those things do cause damage, that means the other person still wants and loves us and that is somehow reassuring. Human beings aren’t perfect by any means; put us in a relationship, and we’re that much more likely to be seriously flawed. Of course the mean things we say to each other hurt, they’re usually meant to. Trying to see your partner as hurt and scared rather than hateful can change the way you respond to one another.