- It’s normal for relationships to have some degree of conflict
- But psychological research has found behaviors that weaken a partnership over time
- Below, find nine of the most common — and what to do instead
Every romantic relationship goes through ups and downs. Even if you just had a massive fight about who stained the living-room couch with coffee (we know: It wasn’t you), it’s not the end of the world.
That said, certain behavior patterns can weaken a partnership over time, leaving one or both people wanting out.
Psychological literature is rife with examples of such behaviors. Below, we’ve rounded up nine of the most common.
Note: If you recognize one or more of these patterns in your relationship, that doesn’tnecessarily mean you’re headed for Splitsville. Use this opportunity to take a step back, take a deep breath, and see what you can do to work it out.
Distancing yourself from your partner
A 2016 study, published in the journal Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, found there’s a deadly combination of characteristics that predict relationship dissatisfaction: sensitivity to rejection and the tendency to cut your partner off emotionally.
People who are really worried about getting hurt might distance themselves from their partners, which ends up making the relationship less satisfying in the long run. In other words, they effectively create what they fear.
If this sounds like you, try telling your partner about your fears. You might be surprised to learn that they share some of those concerns, and you can work through them together.
Closing yourself off to new experiences
A growing body of research suggests that couples who try new things together are happier in their relationship.
The inverse might be true, too: Writing in Psychology Today, clinical psychologist Lisa Firestone says when you stop being open to developing shared new interests, it can hurt the relationship and create resentment between partners.
So take up your partner’s offer to try a new restaurant or go hiking instead of spending Saturday at the movies — at least once in a while.
Hiding your finances
Nearly two in five Americans in one poll for the National Endowment for Financial Education said they’ve lied to their partner about money (financial infidelity), which can lead to fights, distrust, and in some cases divorce.
The problem is that money isn’t just about numbers — it can symbolize power and love. So insecurity about what your partner’s doing with his or her money means insecurity about the relationship in general.
Before you decide to combine (or even partially combine) finances with your partner, it helps to have a conversation about budgeting and your financial histories, and to come up with guidelines for making big individual purchases.
Giving your partner the silent treatment
A 2014 study, published in the journal Communication Monographs, suggests that couples engaged in “demand/withdraw” patterns — i.e. one partner pressuring the other and receiving silence in return — are less happy in their relationships.
The lead study author, Paul Schrodt at Texas Christian University, says it’s a hard pattern to break because each partner thinks the other is the cause of the problem. It requires seeinghow your individual behaviors are contributing to the issue and using different, more respectful conflict-management strategies.
Forming a ‘fantasy bond’
Psychologist Robert Firestone coined the term “fantasy bond,” which describes the illusion of connection with your partner.
You replace genuine feelings of love and passion with the idea of being a couple, or a unit. Emotional closeness is often replaced by adherence to routines.
The real danger, according to Firestone’s daughter, Lisa Firestone, is that you start to lose your individuality in your attempt to find safety in the relationship.
If you feel like you’ve entered into a fantasy bond, Robert Firestone says it helps to explore your fears of individuation and separation from your partner and work toward developing a more honest communication style.
Hashing out tough topics via text
The lead study author, Lori Cluff Schade, told NPR that for men, texting may be a way to withdraw from the relationship.
In some situations, texting may not be the best alternative for either partner. The study author advises couples to consider moving conversations offline. She told NPR: “You may need ways to say, ‘This is getting too heated for me. I need to talk with you later about this in person.'”
That’s a term for when you and your partner are fighting and you remember something else hurtful they did, even if it’s not directly related to the conflict at hand.
Psychologist Douglas LaBier shares an example in Psychology Today: You’re arguing about your summer-vacation plans and suddenly you start talking about that ugly chair your partner purchased the other day.
A 2016 study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that people who reported kitchen thinking also reported having more frequent and intense conflict and feeling worse about their relationship.
The study didn’t establish that kitchen thinking caused more conflict; it could be the other way around. Either way, watching a mental parade of your partner’s flaws and transgressions probably isn’t so productive.
Showing contempt for your partner
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As Business Insider’s Erin Brodwin has reported, couples who display contempt are more likely to split up.
According to relationship expert John Gottman, contempt — a mix of anger and disgust that involves seeing your partner as beneath you — is the No. 1 predictor of divorce. That’s because it becomes harder to see things from your partner’s perspective.
The first step to resolving the problem is cultivating appreciation and respect from both partners, and finding a more positive way to express your feelings.
Speaking negatively about your partner to others
A 2017 study of heterosexual married couples, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, found that “social sabotage” is one form of aggression that can hurt a relationship.
As psychologist Susan Krauss Whitbourne writes in Psychology Today, social sabotage involves behaviors such as going behind your partner’s back and sharing private information as well as trying to embarrass your partner in public.
Interestingly, though women in the study were more likely to be guilty of social sabotage, men’s use of social sabotage was more damaging to the relationship.
Krauss Whitbourne writes: “Instead of creating the toxic environment caused by going outside the marriage for support, the authors recommend that couples address their problems directly or seek professional help.”