There’s an old saying that goes, “If you meet one asshole in a day, that’s just bad luck. If you meet two in a day, that’s a coincidence. But if you meet three of them in a day, you’re the asshole.”
This somewhat crude statement contains an important lesson. If you’re having problems in your relationship for a short time, that may just be bad luck. But if the problems persist for too long, perhaps it’s time to take a hard look in the mirror. Maybe you are the problem.
Of course, even if you are willing and humble enough to admit that maybe you are the problem, or at least a significant part of the problem, how can you tell? What are some signs that you are causing the breakdown in your romance?
Here are five telltale signs that will help you figure out whether you’re the one rocking the boat.
What do you do when your partner talks to you, particularly about some troubling or significant subject? Do you tune out, or check your phone (either overtly or covertly), try to change the subject to something more comfortable, or do you interrupt and state your own opinion before they can finish?
This is particularly true when it comes to disagreements or arguments, when it is difficult to listen patiently without defending yourself. But it is just as important – perhaps more important, even – in ordinary, everyday communication. Remember what intimacy is – it is knowing your partner almost as well as you know yourself. This means knowing how they are feeling on a particular day, or a particular hour. In order for you to learn how they’re feeling, not only do you have to listen to them, but you also have to create a safe environment in which they can express themselves. If you habitually interrupt your partner to tell them what you think, or to tell them why they’re wrong, then they will never feel safe enough to express their hopes, frustrations and feelings.
If your partner doesn’t feel safe talking about what’s going on in their life and their heart, then the feelings they aren’t expressing during casual, everyday conversation are likely to build up pressure until they explode out during an big fight. That’s not good for your relationship. So try to build in ways to communicate better with your partner. If you have trouble keeping quiet while they talk, then get a timer and take turns talking. Listening to each other takes practice.
Trying to change them
Do you love your partner the way they are, or do you wish they were different? Do you wish they were calmer, or smarter, or thinner, or richer? Do you wish they worked harder, spent less, drank less, smoked less pot, drove more carefully?
It’s normal and natural to sometimes be irritated by some qualities of your partner or spouse – that’s part of the human experience. But a healthy, stable love relationship is based on accepting the other person as they are. If you’ve gotten into a relationship with someone you see as a “fixer upper,” then you are fixing yourself up for inevitable disappointment.
When you’re driving, do you get angry at what every other driver is doing, whether they’re going slower than you or faster than you? Do you feel like traffic would work much better if you were in charge and everyone did what you think is best? That’s not a formula for happy, calm driving. It’s an attitude that leads to frustration and road rage. Why? Because even if it were true that you’re a godlike genius and the streets and highways would work better if you controlled every vehicle on them (don’t worry, it isn’t true), you can’t control those other drivers. You can’t make them do what you want.
Neither can you control your partner and change their behavior. Oh, you have some slight control, and you can communicate your wishes and your needs. But you really have power – and even that is limited power – over yourself. So if you burn a lot of energy trying to change your partner, whether it’s nagging them to get another job, or urging them to get to the gym, or even telling them why they shouldn’t be sad or shouldn’t be angry, then you aren’t helping your relationship.
If you have a problem with your temper, even if your anger feels justified, that’s something to take a good hard look at. Righteous anger feels very powerful, and some people fuel their lives with it, whether it has to do with politics or in interpersonal relationships. But it is very damaging to others around you, particularly in your family and your romantic relationships. Look for more healthy ways to express your anger.
Mistaking sex for intimacy
This is a very common problem, and is related to communications and intimacy as discussed above. Sex is not a guarantee of intimacy. Rather it is sometimes a barrier to intimacy. Too many people think – “We’re having plenty of sex, so everything’s great.” But that’s a bit lazy. Intimacy takes work and communication. Just checking a box – “we had sex” – isn’t enough. True intimacy requires care and communication in good times and bad.
Failure to dream
This can mean a failure to dream individually for yourself, or as a couple, or both. Not only do you need personal dreams, both big and small, but you also need dreams as a couple. Personal dreams can include anything big or small that has to do with you and your life – getting a raise, eating at a new restaurant on your lunch break, going back to school and getting a degree, a holiday in Italy. And your dreams as a couple could include things like buying a home, having children, painting the dining room, taking a holiday together.
What your dreams are isn’t nearly so important as having them. If you have dreams as an individual, you will show up to your relationship as a better partner. Then you can work and talk together about your dreams as a couple. If you don’t have dreams, then you will tend to drag your relationship down by your own inertia.