It’s surprisingly easy to ruin a perfectly good relationship.
You may not be aware that you’re doing it. Hell, you may think that you’re doing everything right to help keep your relationship healthy and strong… so when your significant other sits down across from you at dinner with that look on his or her face – you know the one – it comes as a total surprise.
The problem is that sometimes what helps a relationship survive – and what ends up killing it instead – can be completely counter-intuitive. Some behaviors, especially if you’ve been single for a while or just aren’t used to committed, long-term relationships, may feel absolutely natural to a single person… but they’re poison to relationships. If you want to keep your relationship running strong, you need to know what you may be doing that might be ruining it instead.
You’re Letting Sex Just “Happen”
One of the biggest lies that we tend to absorb is that we shouldn’t think too much about sex. Sex is best when it is utterly spontaneous and the best way for sex to occur is that you throw yourselves at each other like a couple of weasels in heat when you happen to have a free moment.
The strength of your relationship is measured by how often any alone time turns into the two of you sucking face like a couple of hogs eating the same banana. If you really love each other sex will just happen. If the sex happens to slow down (or stop all together)… well that’s a sign that something’s wrong. You’re probably not doing enough to help your partner relax and get in the mood.
So What’s The Problem?
That random, spontaneous sex is great… when you’re still in the honeymoon stage of the relationship and everything is new and exciting. The problem is, that mad passion is going to fade. It’s a part of every relationship – the initial wave of passion recedes and is replaced by a deeper emotional intimacy and companionship. After that initial wave of passion, when you’ve started to settle into your life as a couple, it gets harder to make sex “just happen”. Responsibilities mount up and eat away your free time. You may have deadlines that you can’t afford to miss and trying to meet them saps your energy. Your partner may be stressed about work and just can’t spare the time to think about sex. The housework has mounted up to the point where you feel like you’re fighting an unending battle against disorder and mess. There will be more and more nights when one or both of you are just so goddamn tired that the spirit may be willing but the flesh would really rather go to bed and try again tomorrow.
And if you have kids… yeah. Good luck.
An active, satisfying sex life is incredibly important to a relationship – too important, in fact, to just leave it up to chance. So instead of hoping that life really is like a Cialis commercial and waiting for the right moment to come around, you make it happen. You put sex on the schedule and stick to it.
Treating sex like something on your weekly to-do list can feel a little odd at first – it’s hard getting past being taught that sex is supposed to be a spur-of-the-moment thing – but it actually makes sense. If it’s a regularly recurring event, you learn to schedule around it and ensure that you have the time to make the magic happen. Even if you’re not strictly in the mood, taking the time for at least some naked snuggling can help reduce tension, improve feelings of intimacy and get those endorphins flowing.
You Have Too Much Togetherness
One of the best parts about a relationship is that you don’t just have hot-and-cold running sex on demand and splitting half the rent, you’ve got yourself a partner in crime! You never have to feel lonely because you know that they’ll be right there with you through thick and thin! Right there! All the time! Because that’s what couples do!
So you’re dragging her off to watch Prometheus – even though she can’t stand sci-fi – and in exchange you’re going hiking in the woods with her even though you hate the sun and are allergic to just about everything with more than two legs. Even when all you want to do is unwind after a very long day of dealing with the assholes at work and blow away some pastel colored bastards in Whimsyshire, she wants you to come with her to do the grocery shopping. Meanwhile when all she wants is to relax on the couch with some popcorn and quality time with the boys from SAMCRO, you want her to come with you to the beer tasting at the local microbrewery. And when it comes right down to it, your friends have all come to accept that hanging out with one of you means hanging out with both of you… despite the fact that what you really want is just a night out with your buddies.
Because you’re supposed to share every moment you can together. Because that’s what couples do.
Even if it means that you’re sighing with barely concealed frustration in the produce aisle. And she’s pointedly checking her watch while you’re in line for the Pecan Porter. And your friends have quit calling because… well, they’re getting frustrated over the fact that you’re only available as a package deal.
So What’s The Problem?
Just because you’re in a relationship doesn’t mean that you’re now joined at the hip or that you no longer have any need for time on your own. In fact, it’s more important that you both get some alone time than it was before you started dating. There is no better way to smother the flames of romance than to squeeze every single ounce of togetherness you can out of life. Think of it like two rats in too small of a cage; eventually they end up trying to kill each other. All of those petty little irritations and annoyances have a way of building up over time; if you don’t have some sort of a release valve, you can quickly find that your love has been replaced by bitterness and resentment for smothering the life you used to have.
You need space, emotional as much as physical, to let your frustrations dissipate and have an identity beyond “Half Of A Couple”. A brief escape from all that togetherness – whether it’s physically going somewhere else or taking a couple hours to zone out in front of the computer or Xbox without being disturbed – can make all the difference between feeling as though you’ve got your beloved trying to crawl up your ass and remembering that you’re actually in love even though he annoys the shit out of you sometimes.
It’s worth noting that teen couples are especially prone to this behavior – when you’re young and full of fluctuating hormones, every relationship feels like THE MOST EPIC ONE IN HISTORY!!!! and you’re supposed to be wanting to spend every waking moment around your honey or else it’s proof everything is falling apart and he’s cheating on you and she’s about to go pull a train on a bunch of jocks because you fucked up and she’s mad at you.
They get over it.
You’re Not Putting The Work In.
You’re not fighting, exactly, but things are tense. A lot. And it’s confusing the hell out of you. You know you still love her but it seems like you’re spending more time mad at each other than you are actually enjoying each other’s company. In fact, it seems like neither of you can do anything without prompting another chilly confrontation. She keeps telling you that you just aren’t taking part in this relationship, which you just don’t get. What are you not taking part in? You’re helping out around the house, you’re paying the bills… Is this about not going out last weekend? You told her all you wanted was to just chill at home but it was fine for her to go out without you. So what if you haven’t had a date night in… shit how long? Who knows. But come on, the weekends are your only time to kick back and spend some quality time in Azeroth. And sure, you may have made plans after work without telling her, but c’mon. You’re giving her space so she can do her own damn thing.
Really, who wants to think about all this shit? All you want is to just smoke another bowl and get back to Warcraft; the new expansion comes out soon and your guildies need to make sure you’re ready for the new end-level content.
So What’s The Problem?
This is the opposite end of the spectrum from too much togetherness: you’re treating your significant other like a roommate, not a partner. You’re acting as though the relationship can sustain itself without any active input from you while you’re busy focusing on your interests and plans. The problem, of course, is that you’re living like you’re single again when you’re not. You’re part of a partnership now and that means that you can’t just do your own thing without considering others.
It’s an easy pattern to fall in to. After the courtship – when you’re on your best behavior because you’re trying to earn your relationship – and the honeymoon period, all the cartoon hearts and shmoopieness fades and you’re left with reality, and the reality is that relationships take work. It’s a matter of sharing responsibilities to each other. This isn’t about who does the dishes and who cleans the toilets, this is about taking your partner into consideration even when it’s doing minor things like making plans for after work. It can be frustrating sometimes – we’ve spent most of our lives only really having to be responsible for ourselves and it can be difficult to make the transition – but it’s the price of entry to having an adult relationship. There has to be a balance between having your space and being willing to put aside your own wants for the good of the relationship.
Men are especially vulnerable to this behavior; the idea of relationship-as-prison is practically axiomatic. We grow up accustomed to hearing jokes about “the old ball-and-chain” wedding rings as “manacles” or having to “ask permission” to hang out with our friends. Having to check with your significant other before making plans isn’t about having to get permission from your parole officer or hoping that The Funwrecker isn’t going to drop the hammer, it’s about courtesy and remembering that you’re not living in a vacuum anymore. You’re part of team now and that means that your decisions affect both of you… even if it seems like it shouldn’t.
What We Have Here Is Failure To Communicate
You have no idea how it starts but it seems like every time the two of you have a discussion, it ends in another yelling match. You don’t mean to get snappish but it’s so goddamned hard not to when it feels like all your girlfriend does is complain about how much better things were back East before she moved – there was more culture, the grocery stores were better, it wasn’t so humid in the summer, she lived right by the beach so she could go surfing and now she can’t… every time it feels like another dig at you, personally, for loving it here. But you bite your tongue because, frankly, who needs another fight?
Not that it helps. It seems like you can’t do anything right. She wants you to do the dishes, you do the goddamn dishes and now it’s an issue that you had to be asked to do the goddamned dishes. And when you point out that you were doing what she asked – without complaining, even! – she’s upset because of your “tone”. What the fuck does that even mean? There was no goddamned tone! You were using a perfectly even, rational voice! It’s like you aren’t even speaking the same language any more.
So What’s The Problem?
You’re talking but you’re not really saying anything. There’s a whole lot of talking going on but not a lot of actual communication. A successful relationship lives and dies by being able to say what you feel and making sure that you’re actually being understood.
How many movies have you seen – especially romantic comedies – where you find yourself thinking “Man, this could all be resolved if they would just stop and have a goddamn conversation?” Now think about your relationship issues. Remember last week when you asked me what the definition of the word “irony” was?
It’s more than just an issue of how men and women argue differently: it’s about holding back on the little thingsBeing in a relationship means you need to be willing to bring up actual concerns – even when they seem minor or petty. Going along to get along causes minor issues to fester and grow into bigger fights. In the example above, the girlfriend in question doesn’t realize that the way she’s talking about missing her home town is coming across – but the boyfriend isn’t doing himself any favors by not explaining how it makes him feel. That growing resentment – feeling as though he’s being judged personally even though that’s not her intent – ends up affecting how he responds to her concerns.
At the same time, she’s bringing up a symptom of her frustration, not the cause; the classic “I want you to want to do the dishes” isn’t about who’s doing their share of the housework, it’s about feeling unappreciated and taken for granted.
Stopping to explain – he feels as though he’s being insulted, she feels as though she’s not appreciated – without getting accusatory or pointing fingers could diffuse so many issues before they start.
By the by, being willing to express how you’re feeling is equally important when you’re feeling good too. It’s easy to assume that your significant other knows you think he’s sexy or that she makes you happier than you’ve ever been; as a result it doesn’t get said often enough. A little reminder every now and then is always appreciated.
You’re Acting Like You’re Single, Financially
Dealing with finances as a couple should be fairly straightforward. You’re supposed to be equals, so it only makes sense that you should split everything. Everybody kicks into the pot, the bills get paid and money becomes an unimportant issue because hey, you’re in love! Love is all you need! The Beatles said so and you’ve always taken your love advice from bands that broke up more than 40 years ago!
You’re paying the rent (although the apartment’s in her name… but that’s cool, she had the better credit score), she’s paying for the utilities and you’re splitting the groceries. At first, anyway. You may have been a little late with the rent check and after she got the nasty letter from the landlord, it was decided that you were going to go 50/50 and all was well. Until you decided to go splurge on that laptop. Now your girlfriend’s feeling resentful… but it came out of your pocket, so no harm done, right? OK, it did mean that things were a little tighter because you weren’t able to kick in quite as much as you said you could but it’s all about balances.
I mean, sure, she’s having to save her money because her student loans are coming due, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be able to indulge yourself a little, right?
And if that means that she has to pay for the groceries this week because you went to the Apple Store and came home with a new iPad, it’s not that big of a deal! You’ll make it up to her next time! Although next time may mean “next month” when the credit card bill comes due…
So What’s The Problem?
There’s nothing more likely to sink a relationship than financial matters. Being in a long-term relationship – especially if you’re living together – means you need to sort out your financial situation ASAP. The sooner you establish the ground rules, the less likely it is to ruin an otherwise happy situation.
You need to be willing to sit down and hash out everything: what your household budget will be and how you’ll handle paying it. How much can you contribute to the budget? Just because your take-home salaries are close doesn’t mean that you have the same level of personal debt. Whose name will be on the lease and utilities? Which one of you will be the de-facto administrator of the household budget, making sure that the bills are paid every month and that you’ve both contributed your part to the budget? If there is an income disparity, how are you going to make things work out? Will you have a joint account for household expenses, or will one person be paying out of pocket and getting reimbursed? Can you trust your significant other to make his or her share of the payments on time? Or to deposit their half of the money into the joint account?
What about individual purchases? At what level do you need to discuss things with your partner before you buy something you want?
There’s no one set way that works for every couple in every situation – you need to hash out a system that works for the both of you… and make sure you can both make it work. After all, fighting and dissatisfying sex may lead to a break up… but at least it’ll be over. Money issues on the other hand, will follow you for years to come like a millstone around your neck.
Bad enough when your ex got all your CDs when you broke up. You don’t need them fucking your credit score while they’re at it.