Frequently I sit down with married or seriously dating couples that are struggling. I see similar points of conflict again and again. I’m convinced many relationship mistakes can be proactively avoided. Here are some pitfalls to avoid.
1. Smothering Each Other
It’s healthy to enjoy activities away from each other. Give each other space to engage friendships and hobbies individually. Encourage each other to build strong bonds with other good people. Insecurity, and the lies it tells us, hurts relationships. Be confident!
2. No Goals & Vision
Intentionally create the future you want for your family, or it won’t happen. The healthiest couples decide what they want their lives to be like in 5, 10, and/or 20 years. They create a vision together. They work towards goals together. If your dating, talking about you goals and life vision will help you determine if you’re the right fit.
3. Avoiding Your Past
Learn to accept what’s happened, come to terms with it, and move on. Don’t live in the past, but don’t live in denial of its impact on your current functioning. If you don’t work through your past, it will impact your relationships today.
4. Expecting Too Much From Each Other
Expectations need to be realistic. If you expect your spouse to work full time, fix everything that breaks, manage the finances, and cook every meal, you may be expecting too much. Be willing to accept that your expectations might be unrealistic.
5. Bringing Up Past Issues in Conflict
Only bring up the past when it directly relates to a the conflict at hand. I’ve seen many relationships damaged, because one spouse could not move past an already resolved issue. Choose to forgive and learn to intentionally leg go. Easier said than done, of course.
6. Not Setting Limits
Establish what you will, and will not, tolerate in the relationship. Set and maintain your boundaries. Don’t be controlling and don’t compromise your core values. Standing up to each other is scary, but necessary. Learn to tolerate the discomfort of conflict.
7. Undermining Each Other’s Parenting
Support each other, even if their parenting style is different. Share disagreements about parenting in private. Compromise and agree on a parenting strategy together. Reading a parenting book together like Parenting With Love & Logic can help.
8. Not Engaging Both Sides of the Family
Resentments build when both sides of the family aren’t given relatively equal attention. Sometimes this is logistically difficult due to distance, but making the effort is key. (e.g. FaceTime). In rare situations, equality isn’t possible or healthy due to other issues (i,e. addiction, boundary violations, etc.).
9. Listening to Anxiety
Anxiety lies! Don’t make relationship decisions, or any decisions, out of fear. It tells us that bad things that happened in the past are going to happen again, and the worst outcome will become our reality. Recognize it and learn to replace it with truth.
10. Not Standing Up for Your Spouse
Many adults are afraid to stand up to their parents and others. Be open to their support and feedback, but don’t allow your family or friends to criticize or mistreat your spouse. Allow influence, but don’t be pressured or manipulated you into doing things their way (e.g. money, spiritual beliefs, etc.). Make your own decisions as a couple.
11. Being Too Busy
Prioritize your relationship. Your kids, job, soccer practice, church activities, and exercise are all important, but they should come second to your marriage. Protect your time together. A weekly special time to connect is important (e.g. date night).
12. Poor Boundaries with Others
Emotional affairs can start through initially innocent relationships that meet unmet needs. Agree on acceptable boundaries (social media, work lunches, etc.) and this can build trust and grow your relationships.
13. Not Talking About the Important Stuff
Avoiding a reoccurring problem, won’t make it go away (e.g. money, anger, alcohol, etc). Issues that keep rising to the surface, probably need be addressed. Share how you feel! Say what you mean, but don’t say it meanly. Avoidance causes anxiety and addressing issues brings relief. Talk to a family therapist. Use The Legacy Jar to improve your communication skills.
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I hear many excuses from couples. Things like “we’re too busy for a date” and “my husband’s family is too negative to be around”. Positive change is hard. Take these points to heart and you may avoid some problems down the road.