When it comes to failed relationships, some people can point to a single moment that ruined everything, but the vast majority can’t. Instead, their problems added up slowly over time, growing and growing until they morphed into something else entirely; something much more difficult to fix.
The good news is that by growing your awareness of these toxic tendencies and staying vigilant, you can intervene early and alter your relationship’s course—and live a happier more fulfilled life in the process. We’ve looked at four of the most harmful tendencies in relationships and then applied relevant EQ strategies to help you get your relationship back on track.
Tendency #1: Seeing your relationship’s glass half empty. The beginning of most relationships is one seen through rose-tinted glasses. All the excitement and passion cloud potential problems and annoyances. Then, as evidenced in countless romantic comedies, as time passes, we begin to notice little things that bother us—a trail of clutter, constant nail-biting, or staying up late playing online videogames. These things wear on us and begin to bug us to an almost all-consuming degree. The newfound disillusionment may even erode our ability to recognize all the good things our significant has to offer, the things we appreciated in the first place.
EQ Strategy #1: Practice gratitude. “The greatest catalyst for change in a relationship is complete acceptance of your partner as they are, without needing to judge or change them in any way.” –Eckhart Tolle
Rather than trying to force someone to change or spending all our time dwelling on the things that person isn’t doing, practice being grateful. Consider their strengths, past kind deeds, and the things that make them unique. With apps and the internet, we can get caught up in the seemingly endless options of people to date and examples of other seemingly perfect couples. Instead of getting caught up in all the hypothetical “others,” take a good, close look at all the positives you already have. One study looking at relationships over time even found that couples who exaggerate the positive traits of one another, who see each other as even better than they might actually be, are far and away the most likely to maintain a healthy long-term relationship.
Tendency #2: Letting in contempt. “Contempt is the sulfuric acid of love.” Psychologist Dr. John Gottman.
Contempt is the single greatest predictor of failed marriages. The more we let contempt grow in our relationships, the more difficult it becomes to manage. Acting overly critical, defensive, mocking, or cold/quiet are all examples of ways that contempt may manifest in a relationship.
EQ Strategy #2: Have that uncomfortable conversation. Communication before contempt. Before our contempt gets the chance to grow and flower into something corrosive, we have to learn to communicate the little things that are on our mind. It may sometimes feel like over-communication will open doors we’d prefer to keep shut, but when we keep them shut too long, our contempt can grow and grow.
Tendency #3: Letting conflicts fail. If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the years at TalentSmartEQ, it’s that each time we mindlessly let our negative emotions dictate our actions, we are strengthening that bad habit by letting our brain get used to the easy way out. The same goes for couples: When conflicts aren’t seen all the way through, the negative emotions are left to fester. And worse yet, the failed approach to conflict is strengthened, becoming not only a bad moment, but also a bad habit.
EQ Strategy #3: Develop your approach to conflict as a couple. Researchers like Dr. Gottman can judge how poorly an entire conflict will unfold based on the first three minutes of a couple’s interaction. If we can learn to set a good tone in our conflicts from the get-go, they’re much more likely to be productive. To do so, we first have to learn to manage that influx of negative feelings at the outset of a conflict. Left unattended, these negative emotions can overwhelm us and seize hold of our ability to communicate effectively. It’s often our uncomfortable emotions that make us lash out, go quiet, or get defensive. One simple approach is to agree as a couple to step away from conflicts the moment they occur. Each person can then do some much-needed breathing, thinking, or talking it out with a friend before their unhealthy coping mechanisms have a chance to steamroll a necessary conversation. Then, both people can return to the conflict with a clearer head, better fit for being considerate and doing some real problem-solving.
Tendency #4: Dwelling on bad memories. Mentally returning to wrongdoings and tough times is a dangerous tendency. Instead of dwelling on past failures or tough times, it’s essential to learn to reframe past struggles as difficulties overcome together.
EQ Strategy #4: Grow and learn from failures together. Dr. Gottman wrote in an article that when especially happy couples “talk about the tough times they’ve had, they glorify the struggles they’ve been through, drawing strength from the adversity they weathered together.” This growth mentality toward failure turns bad memories into a bedrock of strength from which a couple can build and grow.
From Insights to Action. So many of the relationship problems we face are the result of things left unsaid, unappreciated, or unchanged. This Valentine’s Day, maybe add a little gratitude and conversation to the chocolates or flowers you bring home this year and you may be surprised what a difference it can make.
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