Published:
February 10, 2021
Last Updated:
February 11, 2021

The Biggest Mistakes You’re Making in Your Relationship, According to a Therapist

We’ve been raised to wish for happily ever after. However, while romance and passion are factors we can all desire for our romantic partnerships, we never see what happens after the horse-drawn carriage heads into the sunset. We can only imagine the happy couple experiences marital bliss, but what does that mean and what does it entail?

The reality is healthy relationships require work. After the credits of our favorite fairytale roll, let’s hope the sweethearts are consciously committing to building a relationship in which they both feel secure and supported from prioritizing healthy communication to pursuing continued personal development. When there’s disconnect, miscommunication, or other issues that need to be addressed, a family and marriage therapist can be a great tool.

Family and marriage therapists see the same kinds of patterns and themes that can disrupt an otherwise harmonious relationship. These five big mistakes – that occur time and time again – are key to resolve for a healthy relationship:

Mistake #1: Remaining on the surface

When breaking toxic relationship patterns, the first thing to be aware of is whether you are operating from a surface level or a depth-based level. Another way of looking at this is to discern whether you are both “awake,” meaning you are consciously aware of the processes taking place within your relationship, or “asleep,” meaning you are operating at an unconscious level.

When we operate at an unconscious level, we fall victim to old patterns. It causes couples to feel burned out and hopeless as they wonder if their relationship will ever improve or if they are going to be stuck on a cyclical merry-go-round forever.

The difference between couples who are able to get off the merry-go-round and those who can’t depends on whether the couple is able to go below the surface to bring awareness to the unconscious processes taking place within their relationship.

Getting a licensed marriage therapist or professionally trained couples coach is often the fastest way to break ground to take your relationship deeper. If your spouse is not on board with hiring a professional, inviting a neutral party into your relationship, or being in a therapy setting, there are also couples retreats that invite you and your partner to take a deeper look at your relationship while you also get some much needed rest and relaxation. Why not kill two birds with one stone?

Mistake #2: Letting your relationship act as a distraction from doing personal development work

If you are entering into a relationship while “asleep,” you will often find the relationship is being used as a distraction from attending to your personal development work. This often is seen in the form of one partner projecting their own unconscious material onto their partner, which can look like pointing fingers or blaming the other for their own internal discord. This is also seen when one partner accuses the other of feeling certain emotions they are feeling on a deeper level but do not want or know how to attend to.

In order to step away from these tendencies, you must begin to use your relationship as a tool for deeper exploration rather than a distraction from it.

Mistake #3: Moving too quickly

Conscious relationships are about slowing the pace, taking space when needed, and creating space between you and the part of you being triggered so you can see clearly the process that is taking place on a deeper level.

If you continue to engage as your triggered self, you will continue to get wrapped up in the familiar pattern of blaming, arguing, and victimizing. Not until you are able to slow down and bring mindful awareness to your process will you begin to have a different experience.

woman sitting outside with mug in front of plant

Think of your ability to slow down and bring mindful awareness to a situation as a mental skill to develop and strengthen, much like a weak muscle you want to tone. Practicing 5–10 minutes of mindful meditation or Vipassana meditation is a great way to strengthen your mindfulness muscle. Devoting a small amount of time to this task regularly will improve your ability to slow down, create the mindfulness necessary to observe underlying patterns, and increase your ability to bring a higher awareness to any situation. This awareness will in turn allow you to respond consciously rather than react unconsciously.

Mistake #4: Taking things personally

When your partner is triggered and begins to blame you for their uncomfortable emotions, you have a choice whether to accept responsibility. If you choose to take the bait and accept responsibility for your partner’s emotional experience, you are inviting an unproductive, unconscious process to unfold. If you have actually made a mistake, there is no shame in owning up and taking responsibility for your actions. However, when you let your partner’s process unfold unconsciously – by allowing them to project their unresolved traumas onto you – rather than encouraging them to do their deeper work, you are enabling their stagnation and preventing their opportunity for personal growth.

To prevent enabling your partner’s unhealthy patterns, bring your grounded awareness into the situation and see your partner as their triggered, wounded self in the moment. In doing this, you are practicing the skill of not taking things personally, which allows you to see things for what they really are. From this place, you can develop curiosity and empathy for your partner’s processes and invite them to do their deeper work.

If you continually come into each heated discussion on edge, you will continue to create one argument after another. There will be defensiveness, blame, guilt, shame, anger, resentment, and disconnect. Only when we can make the conscious decision to slow down, create space, and become curious about the underlying processes taking place can we begin to create the insight necessary for healing, connection, and intimacy.

This is the art of conscious relationships.

Mistake #5: Expecting gain without investment

Many people make the mistake of expecting their partner, themselves, or their whole relationship to change, without putting any effort into creating the change they seek. It is like someone wishing to win the lottery, but never taking the time to drive to the gas station, get out of the car, walk into the store, pull out their wallet, and purchase a ticket. Romantic relationships are the biggest opportunity for personal development but only when used correctly. If we continue to let the same toxic patterns play out in our relationship, eventually we get burned out, leave the relationship, and enter into another one only to have the same old toxic relationship patterns play out once again. If you truly want a successful relationship with lots of personal gain, you must invest in your relationship.

As with most things in life, the more you invest, the more you will gain. Whether you are participating in monthly couple’s therapy, signing up for a coaching course, completing DIY workbooks, reading the latest couple’s self-help books, or indulging in a luxurious couples retreat, engaging in activities that prioritize relationship growth can help you receive the relationship qualities you are craving.

Investing in your relationship can look like many things; invest in ways that take it from being surface level, unconscious, and asleep to deep, conscious, and awake. That is a sure way to give your relationship a big chance of success!

Nourishing your relationship as you would nourish your body

Just as we take care of our bodies with a colorful and varied diet, exercise, and plenty of sleep, we can shift our mind-sets to take care of our relationships in a similar fashion. And not just romantic relationships – the mistakes and resolutions described can also be applied to close friendships, which are important to our overall well-being.

When nurtured properly, relationships can feed us in ways that food never can. By understanding this concept of primary food, or all the areas of our lives that feed us but aren’t on our plates, we can prioritize the relationships that lift us up and make us feel like the best versions of ourselves. To learn more about this unique IIN concept and how it can become the foundation for your healthiest life, check out our free Sample Class.

Author Biography
Amy Harper, LMFT
,
IIN Content Writer

Amy Harper is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Couples Coach in California.

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