Romantic relationships are a tapestry of both the monumental moments and milestones, such as getting engaged, getting married and having kids, and the smaller day-to-day details.
And it’s how we navigate our partnership every day that can build or break it.
Last month, experts revealed four daily habits that hamper romantic relationships.
This month we asked experts to share the habits that hamper any relationship.
Inability to Empathize
“Empathizing involves putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and looking at the world from their perspective,” said Mudita Rastogi, Ph.D, a marriage and family therapist in Arlington Heights, Ill. Not doing so jeopardizes any relationship, she said.
Rastogi shared this example: A woman is anxious about possibly getting laid off. She spends most of the day worrying about what she’s going to say and wear to her work meeting. When she asks her sister for advice on her outfit, her sister replies that it doesn’t even matter.
An inability to empathize also manifests as blurting out insensitive or offensive things (i.e., not having a filter), said Christina Steinorth-Powell, MFT, a psychotherapist in Santa Barbara, Calif. For instance, a father tells his recently divorced daughter that she should’ve worked harder in her bad marriage, because she’s past her prime and no one will want her.
“[W]as [this] really necessary to be said? Absolutely not. Did it change the fact that his daughter was divorced? No. Is it true that no man will ever want his daughter because she’s not in her 20s? No. Then why say it?”
What to do instead: Empathize with others by listening carefully and imagining what they’re feeling and experiencing, Rastogi said. This might include asking questions and paraphrasing back what we think they’re saying or feeling to confirm we understand.
“Whether or not we agree with someone, if we can show them that we empathize with them, we create a stronger bond with them. Many times, when people feel understood, they are willing to invest more effort in the relationship.”
If you need to tell someone something potentially offensive, use as much tact as possible, said Steinorth-Powell, also author of the book Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships. For instance, instead of telling someone they look terrible, gently ask how they’re doing.
Not Reaching Out
Many people hesitate to reach out to others for help or support because they don’t want to overwhelm, bore or burden them. However, “Calling, texting, emailing or meeting up with a friend or family member to discuss what has been going on in your life is nourishment for the relationship,” said Nikki Massey-Hastings, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Hinsdale, Ill.
What to do instead: If you’re worried about “sucking dry” your support system, set a time limit – such as 2 minutes – for yourself to share what’s going on before letting the other person respond, she said.
Also, tell your loved one that you’d like them to support and listen to you, but you don’t expect them to fix your problem, she said.
Reach out to several people. “Remember that people you care about are likely to interpret silence from you as rejection…rather than knowing the truth [that] you’re having a difficult time and don’t want to burden your friends.”
Only Reaching out with Problems
Some people only reach out when they need to complain, vent or ask for a favor. “When these issues are the foundation for making contact, the relationship is likely to begin to erode,” Massey-Hastings said.
What to do instead: Positive interactions build up your relationship; negative interactions can tear it down. Massey-Hastings cited John Gottman’s research, which found that the critical ratio for couples of positive to negative interactions is 5 to 1.
“We can assume that this is a good guideline for all other relationships as well,” Massey-Hastings said. She also speculates that the ratio for positive interactions for kids and parents is even higher.
Positive interactions don’t need to be grand gestures. Massey-Hastings shared these suggestions: Tell someone when you appreciate something they’ve done or you’re thinking about them. If something happens that makes you laugh or you learn new or interesting information, share it.
“Gossip can and will hurt any type of relationship — from a close friendship to a business relationship,” Steinorth-Powell said. It’s seldom true, and no one likes to be talked about behind their back, she said. Plus, “nothing good ever comes from gossip.”
What to do instead: Don’t participate in gossip, she said. “If someone asks you to gossip, simply say ‘I don’t like to gossip,’ and change the topic.”
“Yelling to get one’s point across and feel heard is a sure-fire way to decrease intimacy and connection in any relationship,” Massey-Hastings said. Yelling activates the fight, flight or freeze response in our bodies. “[This] changes brain function, and consequently, one’s ability to process information.”
This is why you typically have to repeat what you’ve said when you were yelling. The brain focuses on the yelling – not the content – and defending itself, she said.
What to do instead: If you’re frequently yelling at others, this might be a sign that you need to take responsibility for your own emotional experience, cope with it and learn to communicate better, she said.
“Yelling is not communication…Whatever is going on under your skin — scared, angry, overwhelmed [or] sad — is your responsibility and yours alone — not your child’s, not your spouse’s, not your employee’s.”
She suggested checking out The Orange Rhino, a website created by a mom who committed to not yelling at her kids for an entire year after realizing its damaging effects. “It’s a great resource for anyone looking to stop yelling in any type of relationship.”