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The 5 Most Damaging Things You Can Do to Your Relationship

the most damaging things you can do to a relationshipWhat’s the most damaging thing you can do to your relationship? Right away, most people would probably say infidelity. But cheating is far from the only way we feel betrayed. There are a lot of other behaviors that harm relationships. The scary thing? They’re much easier to do, and much harder to notice, than infidelity. Read on to find out what they are and how to avoid them.

1. Using Damaging Phrases

It requires skill and delicacy to communicate your concerns to your partner. Often, we rely on phrases that come with all kinds of implications. Regardless of whether those are intentional, it’s best to avoid saying certain things — for example, “You never help out in the kitchen” or “you never listen to me.” They may not seem that harsh, especially when we’re upset. But resorting to these kinds of blanket statements can make your partner feel shut out and hopeless. Rather than including them in a dialogue or a solution, they leave no room for discussion.

Framing your statements as “you” can come across as aggressive and cause your partner to become defensive, blocking your message instead of receiving it.

The same goes for “never mind, I’ll do it myself.” When we’re stressed, sometimes we want to just get things done ourselves. Involving your partner can make things seem more complicated. But if you say “never mind,” you’re blocking them from finding out what you need.

It’s best to use inclusive language that focuses on the positive, framing your statements as “I” instead of “you.” It can be much more productive to say “sometimes I’m not sure you’re listening to me 100 percent,” or “I would love your help with this.”

2. Mind-Reading

Many of us are familiar with this situation. When a conflict arises, rather than have a discussion, one partner falls silent. Then, unsurprisingly, the other partner follows suit. The wishful thinking is that you can read each other’s minds, and the other person will somehow figure out what you’re thinking. Usually, it’s a result of feeling too vulnerable to engage directly.

Now a study shows just how harmful this kind of thinking can be. According to the research, expecting your partner to be a mind-reader reflects anxiety in the relationship. It is also more likely to result in angry feelings, resentment, frustration and a communication dead end.

3. Withdrawing

Withdrawal is the evil twin of mind-reading. You get in a fight with your partner. Then, instead of engaging, or hoping the other person reads your mind, you just withdraw. Rather than waiting for the problem to be solved, you just ignore it until it goes away. Usually people withdraw when they feel they are being attacked. Research shows that this is even more damaging than mind-reading.

Next time, rather than pulling away, try to be as transparent as possible. That’s often hard, and it can be scary. Explaining your feelings, especially if you feel like you’re being attacked, is more tempting than just shutting down. But in the long run, it is likely to make the difference between a close connection and drifting apart.

4. Leaving Your Phones Out

Of course, smartphones have made communication over a distance easier and better. But face to face, they can send communication straight downhill.

Say you’re spending time with your significant other. If you’re constantly checking your phone, it can derail your connection and intimacy. That might be obvious. But research shows that just having your phone out on the table while you’re talking takes a toll as well. In the study, couples who chatted in the presence of a phone reported less closeness and lower relationship quality.

The message is clear: if you want to spend quality time with your partner, put your phone away.

5. Failing to Maintain Trust

The bottom line for healthy relationships is trust. Even if there is a bump in the road, if both partners trust each other, then they can express themselves and find a solution. But what if one partners commits a serious betrayal and trust is broken? Again, betrayal can come in many forms, not just infidelity.

Any broken agreement, whether explicit or implicit, is vital to the integrity of a relationship. When that happens, there are two paths forward:

  • Both partners are committed to a resolution. They talk openly and honestly, getting all their feelings, motivations, disappointments, resentments and hopes for the future out there on the table. In severe situations, they seek couples counseling. Consequently, there is the possibility that trust can be repaired.
  • There is a coverup. Lies and denials follow the original transgression, and the true implications are often ignored or disregarded. Communication grinds to a halt. Trust is not restored. And when trust disappears, the relationship will almost certainly deteriorate.

Even in healthy and happy relationships, there can still be conflict and disagreement. But don’t be fooled. The difference between a damaged relationship and a thriving relationship isn’t about whether you fight. It’s about whether you work together to solve problems and ultimately build that trust.

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The 5 Most Damaging Things You Can Do to Your Relationship

Harriet Pappenheim, LCSW

Harriet Pappenheim, LCSW, BCD, has over 30 years’ experience in relationship and couples therapy, helping couples and individuals find a deeper content and personal fulfillment in their relationships. She is a founding therapist of Park Avenue Relationship Consultants (PARC), a group of expertly trained clinicians based in NYC, specializing in couples therapy, family therapy and marriage counseling. Harriet is the author of For Richer For Poorer: Keeping Your Marriage Happy When She’s Making More Money. She has also been featured on national radio, Good Morning America and the Today Show. Harriet can be reached by calling 212.289.0295 or through the PARC website.

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APA Reference
Pappenheim, H. (2018). The 5 Most Damaging Things You Can Do to Your Relationship. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 14 Jun 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.