If there is a trend I’ve noticed in the 23 years I have been a relationship and marriage therapist, it’s that many people never enter a healthy intimate relationship, and even fewer know how to maintain a healthy relationship over time. Here are some of the ways people sabotage their relationships:
- Single people are having a hard time choosing one person, bonding and settling down. Internet dating, bars, introduction and dating services and parties can make being single similar to being a kid in a candy store, where it’s easy to go from one potential partner to another—without ever getting terribly serious about anyone. Some still cling to the fantasy of tasting every piece of chocolate in the entire chocolate factory. Others keep things so casual, standoffish or independent, that no heart-to-heart connection can develop. In such an atmosphere, many people are having trouble taking a relationship to a deeper level of depth, connection, bonding, intimacy and commitment.
- Many people have trouble with the bonding process. They don’t know how to bond, or they have lots of defenses, walls, armors and self-protective veneers—which essentially block them from becoming very emotionally deep with another person, and inhibits them from truly offering their heart.
- Many people don’t know who they are, what they feel, what their needs are, what they want in a partner—or what qualities they consistently offer to another. They mean well, but they don’t know themselves well enough to either choose an appropriate partner—or to be an appropriate partner to another.
- Most of us want a good intimate relationship in the worst way. But we’re spectacularly lacking in effective relationship skills, such as good give and take emotional communication, being a good listener, knowing how to deal with conflict and differences without destroying love, trust and good will in the process, being in charge of our own emotions, reactions, angry impulses and defenses, knowing how to effectively and consistently be responsive and nurturing to another, how to wisely negotiate through all the power/control issues every intimate relationship encounters, and how to stay open, trusting and loving to each other even when inevitable differences arise.
- Many people quit valuing their partner once they’re in a relationship. They find themselves staying home night after night, watching TV, doing virtually none of the things they did when they were courting—the things that created such a loving connection in the first place. Many people quit trying—quit being loving, caring, romantic and affectionate; quit valuing intimate connection and close personal engagement; quit going out of their way to consistently do special things for each other, and quit acting as if they truly cherish their partner.
- Many people are “takers” in their relationships, rather than “givers.” They take more than they give back. After a while, their partner’s reservoir of effort, good will, benefit of doubt and generosity runs dry.