This Valentine’s Day you were named “World’s Greatest Girlfriend” (and you have the Hallmark card to prove it). And it’s no wonder—you are an awesome woman. But perfection eludes us all. The truth is, many of us practice bad relationship behaviors that are secretly undermining the quality of our relationships. They creep up and embed themselves in your relationship without you realizing their presence. In fact, you might even think they’re normal and expected.
Here’s how to recognize three frequent offenders and how to avoid them in the future.
01. Dismissive behavior
You and your man are out on a nice date together and he starts to tell a joke. You cut him off midway, roll your eyes, and say, “You told me that joke last week and it wasn’t funny then, either.” In your mind, he deserves the rebuke because he should have remembered and not bored you by repeating the same old joke. In his mind, you’ve just thrown a wet blanket on the evening by being dismissive.
Even if you feel justified when you make a dismissive comment—“You know I hate cream cheese frosting! Why would you buy me this cake?”—your words are beating your spouse or boyfriend down. What we’re doing when we’re being dismissive is turning away from our partner’s bid for attention. Marriage expert Dr. John Gottman calls this one of the most devastating actions in a relationship.
Instead of focusing on the practical circumstances of your boyfriend’s action that you find annoying, focus on the reason behind his bid for your attention. Maybe the joke-telling is really his desire to laugh with you, or the cake was him trying to show you he cares. And remember that creating a habit of dismissiveness is a sure way to turn your guy off from seeking your attention in the first place.
02. Blaming behavior
I know my first reaction in an argument with my husband is to search for examples of how he contributed to the problem. I rarely start by examining my own role.
A University of Texas study found that women tend to blame their male partners for relationship problems far more than the opposite. Whether it’s failure to help out, avoiding quality time, or inattentiveness, we always seem to find reasons why our partners are to blame for our relationship troubles.
Certified life coach Ana Yrausquin suggests hearing your guy out before you bring up your laundry list of bad things. “Improving your listening skills is probably the best thing you can do in a relationship, and we can’t do that if all we’re thinking about is that he forgot to take out the trash two months ago,” she says.
This tip has definitely helped me. Whenever an argument starts brewing between my husband and me, I take some time to cool off and think about it from his perspective. Is forgetting to take out the trash really linked to getting home late from work, and is that combination really indicative of a deep apathy to his home and family? Generally, the answer is no, that’s ridiculous.
03. Needy behavior
It’s OK to be needy sometimes; to enjoy your man’s company, to look for new ways to spend time together, and to ask for advice and help when you’re struggling. But it’s not OK to let neediness consume you.
Psychologist Carolyn Daitch has written that needy people often end up pushing away the very people they are trying to cling to. Maybe you get anxious easily, or maybe you’re terrified of being alone (BTW, one in three of us is). Whatever the reason, it’s important to find other outlets to help you find relief, rather than smothering your boyfriend or spouse.
Yrausquin says neediness can significantly hurt a relationship since it can make your partner feel pressured and used as a tool to fill a void in your life. When the urge to give in to neediness strikes, Yrausquin suggests keeping in touch with old friends, making new friends, finding a new TV show, or developing a hobby like reading or biking. “Your full life will make for a happier, freer, and healthier relationship,” she says.
Nipping these bad habits in the bud will help you build and keep a lasting love.
Photo Credit: Britt Rene