5 Relationship Mistakes That Are Making Your Romance Less Awesome
So, after years of dud dates with Mr. or Mrs. Wrongs, you’ve been fortunate enough to be united with your true love, your hero, your soul mate. The two of you finish each other’s sentences, have the same views on the proper way to cut a sandwich, and share a mutual passion for the study of agrarian politics. Now you can just sit back, relax, and coast through the rest of the relationship, right?
The truth is, soul mates are about as real as that PhD in Human Sexuality you told your sweetheart you had when you started dating (you’ve come clean about that, right? Otherwise, your relationship problems may not be covered by the scope of this article). Lasting, fulfilling relationships take plenty of work on the part of both parties. Even if your partner ‘completes you’, the relationship is doomed if you never make an effort to ‘complete’ the housework.
Check out these five common mistakes that might be keeping your relationship from being as awesome as it could be:
Believing You Can Change Your Partner’s Core Nature
You’ve heard it time and time again: he’ll cut back on his drinking when we have a family. She’ll take more responsibility for the housework when we get married. He’ll change his mind about having eight kids who are all named ‘Tiberius’ after we start having kids.
Over time, if given a good enough reason to do so, a person may change their habits and/or their opinions. These changes may even be pretty drastic. I, for example, used to eat nothing but chicken nuggets and macaroni. Now that I’m an adult, I also eat salad sometimes.
But don’t bank on their core nature, that which makes them who they are, changing dramatically. Ever. If your paramour is a geek, they’re probably always going to be buying comics and nerd-raging whenever they hear someone say that Christopher Eccleston was the best Doctor (David Tennant was the best Doctor. I will fight you).
If they’re a grump now, they’ll likely be spending their old age menacingly suggesting that the neighborhood kids stay off their lawn, like a less-racist Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino. They could change, but it’s more likely that they won’t.
This is, unfortunately, a fiction that many of us have been brought up believing. Ana spends the entirety of the Fifty Shades trilogy trying to change Christian from a deviant and dominant man into a loving, monogamous partner. Beauty and the Beast is basically the same story with fewer badly-written sex scenes and instances of the word ‘murmured’. You get the point.
If you’re looking for a significant other with a certain set of qualities, find a partner who possesses those qualities – trying to force your current partner to integrate those qualities into their personality will only lead to you feeling disappointed and them feeling resentful. Love your geek for who they are, even if it means that your family car has a vanity plate that says ‘TARDIS’.
That being said, a person may be able to change their habits if you’re willing to be patient and understanding about the time and effort required in doing so. For example, if your beloved is not naturally a romantic, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever mold them into the ‘sweep you off your feet, make you a mix tape of pop-punk love ballads and Barry White slow jams, hire a skywriter to emblazon [Your name] is the bomb diggity across the sky’-type.
But if romantic gestures are important to you, you could try explaining this to your partner and giving them examples of simple things you’d like them to do for you. For example, you could ask them to plan a date for the two of you – you may end up having tacos and beer by candlelight, but it’s the thought that counts. With time, patience, and understanding, you may find that they’ve become prone to an occasional outburst of spontaneous romance.
Having Negative Expectations
Men are horny, fun-loving dopes who are incapable of taking care of themselves or completing even the simplest of household tasks.
Women are emotional, rule-oriented, materialistic, and they don’t really enjoy sex but aren’t above using it to get what they want.
Sound familiar? That’s because these are stereotypes propagated all throughout pop culture. And, consciously or unconsciously, many people internalize these messages. Have you ever seen somebody shake their head and exasperatedly declare, “Men…” (or ‘women’)? That’s the internalization of those messages in action. Don’t do that. Biology, or your perception of biology, is no excuse for disrespectful behavior.
If you believe this type of thinking, then when a man and a woman decide to get married, it’s basically a death sentence for both (“Enjoy your freedom while it lasts,” say the sad married folks to the newly engaged). The woman takes the role of his mother (the old ‘ball and chain’), forcing him to assume responsibilities he does not want and keeping him from doing anything fun. The man takes on the role of a child, having to be ‘told’ to do things and kept in line.
(In my experience, this doesn’t seem to be as common a way of thinking when it comes to gay relationships, though I could be wrong.)
It does not have to be this way. The solution is simple: don’t do that. Don’t fall into the trap of viewing marriage is the death of all things fun and your partner as a burden. Don’t allow your marriage to be defined by what your parents, your friends, and King of Queens tell you a marriage should look like. In fact, just make it your goal to make your life look as little like an episode of King of Queens as possible and you’ll come out ahead. Or Yes, Dear. God, that show was awful.
Taking Your Partner for Granted
This is a really easy trap to fall into, and it happens to couples all the time. It’s also a pretty reliable destroyer of formerly-solid relationships. If you’ve ever been in a long-term relationship, this has happened to you.
You’ve ‘got’ your partner. The thrill of the chase is long past, and the initial uneasiness of a new relationship has faded as well. You’ve taken trips together; you’ve had long, deep discussions until the wee hours of morning; you’ve shared your hopes, fears, and history with each other. Now what?
It is as this point that it becomes almost effortless to see your partner as an extension of yourself, a permanent and unchanging fixture of your life. He does the dishes. She handles the finances. He’s always going on about his fervent love of extreme ironing and I couldn’t care less. She won’t mind if I’m late for dinner because I had to go on a raid.
Next thing you know, you’re taking your partner for granted. You’re using harsher words when the two of you argue because you expect them to still be there when it’s over. You’re forgetting to thank them when they do something nice for you because they always do that thing. You’re treating them with less respect than you’d treat a stranger with.
Think about all the weird quirks that your partner accommodates, and the things they do for you without you even having to ask. Think about how you mentioned once that you like your underwear folded a particular way, and they’ve been doing it dutifully ever since even though you’re probably the only person in the world who folds their underwear. Remember how they offer to cook dinner and do the dishes when you’re not feeling well. Remember these things, and remember to thank your partner for them.
While your relationship will likely never look the same three years in as it did in the first few months of courtship, it should be your goal to keep as much of that passion, respect, and caring alive as possible. Take an active approach to treating your partner as well as you did when you first started dating: leave them little notes, text them just to say ‘I love you’, take time to listen to their worries, and remember to thank them for everything they do for you. Your relationship will be much better for it.
Putting All of Your Eggs in One Basket
Undoubtedly, you know a couple (or have been half of a couple) who does everything together. Despite having passed the initial stages of infatuation, they still spend every waking moment together, and you never see one without the other. You may even suspect that they own one of those creepy tandem toilets.
You’d think that this would result in the happiest couple ever, but more often than not, those people are stagnating. Because they do nearly everything together, they have nothing to talk about. Because they feel compelled to always be by each other’s side, they either give up the hobbies that they aren’t both interested in, or force each other to endure leisure activities that one half of the couple doesn’t find particularly leisurely.
By cultivating separate interests, separate friends, and lives beyond the relationship, each partner enriches themselves as an individual, and thus has more to bring into the relationship. It also helps to decrease the incidence of stagnation, in which one or both partners feel as if the relationship isn’t enhancing their life, but feel compelled to stay in it anyway.
It is important to try to take a genuine interest in your partner’s passions, but that doesn’t mean that you have to have long, frequent discussions about every detail of everything your partner is into. It works the other way as well: don’t bore your partner with an hour-long monologue about the history of extreme ironing if you know they’re not interested. Instead, find others who do share your passion for the combination of extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt. Maybe you could start a league or something.
Lack of Communication
This is the mother of all relationship issues. In the end, the majority of the problems that exist within your relationship can be fixed by talking about them with your partner. Not endlessly lamenting to your friends that he doesn’t consider your needs in bed. Not complaining to your mom that she doesn’t appreciate the things you do for her. Actually sitting down with your sweetheart and telling them, constructively and non-confrontationally, how you feel. And listening to your partner when they tell you how they’re feeling.
Along the same vein, don’t work yourself up trying to interpret the ‘signals’ that your partner is ‘sending you’.
Stop reading magazine articles (I’m looking at you, Cosmo) that try to tell you that when your boyfriend squints his eyes and scrunches up his face when you ask him a question, he’s really saying that he’s feeling unsure about how the relationship is progressing. He might just have gas.
Instead of agonizing over ‘decoding’ her every comment and her smallest gestures, just freakin’ ask her what you want to know. And if she hasn’t given you a reason not to believe her, then believe her.
If you find that your attempts to communicate often end in arguments, reading about non-confrontational communication techniques (such as ‘I’ statements) and active listening, or even considering couples’ counseling, may be your ticket to a happier and more fulfilling relationship.