Many of us make the mistake of believing that relationship therapy is only about what our partners need to do, rather than considering what we can do to help our partners feel more connected. PC&CC’s Rebecca Sears has identified five common missteps that keep people from having the relationships they truly desire. “We all make mistakes in our relationships and we are most apt to do so when we are scared or somehow feel unsafe,” Sears says. “What makes us feel unsafe is anything that causes us to feel we have lost our connection with our partner…some rupture in the connection.”
Sears has found that the following mistakes cause this loss of connection and leave us feeling lonely, disappointed, and frustrated:
1. Thinking you can “retire” from your relationship. “Relationships need intentionality!” Sears explains. “Since intimate relationships are really about healing and growth, getting what we didn’t get earlier in life and growing into whole fully alive people, we must think about what helps the relationship.”
2. Making interpretations and assumptions about your partner. Sears advises that people ask a question when they don’t understand what someone else means. “Don’t assume or make an interpretation. When we feel unsafe or triggered in our relationships we tend to make negative interpretations. Then we act on those interpretations and may lose further connection with our partners.” Sears notes that while the tendency to interpret is based on old survival instincts, we really don’t need such survival skills in today’s environment. “Interpretation and analysis invites our partner’s defensiveness. We want actions that invite safe connection,” she says.
3. Believing there is a “right” way and a “wrong” way. Sears notes that one often can be right or one can have a relationship, and we’re all free to choose. “While most of us like to be right, this just sets up the other to be wrong, not a safe connecting experience for either partner,” she says. “In a conscious relationship, partners work at trying to see conflicting views as ‘different perspectives viewed through different lens.'”
4. Saying what you don’t want rather than what you do want. Sears has found that focusing on the negatives in an interaction often triggers defensiveness, shame, or helplessness in our partners. “Learning the art of positive language and motivating through appreciation, rather than fear of conflict, is indeed an art and one built on years of practice,” she explains.
5. Taking your conflicts and problems as a sign that you have the wrong or a bad relationship. Sears emphasizes that conflict is just change trying to happen. “You will not be attracted to a partner who doesn’t frustrate you, because there is no growth potential. It will become boring and your energy will go outside the relationship,” she says. “Work at being curious about your conflicts and seeing them as invitations to grow and stretch. Never think you don’t have to change. None of us is perfect yet, and our partners more than anyone can see those parts of us that need to change. The problem stems from the fact that we often use criticism or withdrawal to show us our growing edges, which invites our defenses rather than our curiosity.”
Retirement Living TV recently interviewed Sears about these common relationship mistakes. Click here for more information.