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As much as I love writing about intimate relationships, I’m fascinated with relationships in general.
I watch and study the dynamics between friends, family, co-workers, and strangers, and as much as I want to mind my own business and not interfere, I see too many people upset because their expectations aren’t being met.
Those expectations are ours, which means the upset is ours as well. People in our lives may do things that are hurtful, unfair, and triggering, but we often make the same mistakes over and over again in our relationships. We aren’t victims unless we choose to be. We have choices. The choice to stay, the choice to go. The choice to speak up. The choice to stay silent.
These are the most common mistakes I see people make in their relationships.
They don’t enable growth in our relationships. They don’t honor us. And they don’t help us transcend the petty bullsh*t so we can get to a place of true, genuine connection and authenticity with the other person.
1. You don’t communicate.
This is the #1 worst offender that kills relationships. We don’t communicate what we want or need, when we’re upset, hurt, or when the other person does something we don’t understand. We just stay silent. In working with coaching clients, I can’t recount the times when they’re upset and angry about a situation and I ask, “Have you said something to this person about how you feel?” their response is a defensive and angry, “Well no…I’m not saying anything!”
Okay, great. Then expect that relationship will never be what you want. And that’s on you. People can’t give us what we want or need or even right a wrong if we don’t tell them what’s wrong in the first place. Honest, authentic communication is the crux of every great relationship. Having difficult conversations can bring you to a deeper, more intimate level with someone you care about. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt and being willing to go to those hard places with them and say what’s in your heart—that’s what leads to expansive relationships. Not staying silent.
2 You make assumptions.
Assumptions are the root of all evil. You assume your co-worker is going to do something and they don’t. You assume your boss knows you deserve that promotion because they see how hard you work. You assume your friend is too busy for you and sucks because they haven’t reached out for a while. After you write them off for sucking, you learn they’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer and are dealing with treatment. Again, if you want your relationships to thrive and be authentic, don’t make assumptions, then go back and read #1.
3. You keep “score.”
If you often hear yourself saying, “I feel like I put way more into this relationship than the other person,” it may be time to do some inner reflection and bring it back to yourself. Relationships aren’t transactions. We should be giving because we want to give and doing because we want to do. If you’re running a tally of how much you do versus how much they do, the other person will always come up short.
I love what Jay Shetty has to say about this type of relationship, “Don’t make sacrifices for people if you’re going to make them pay for it. If you say to them, ‘I’m doing all of this for you’ and then you’re waiting for payment, then you’re not doing it for them, you’re doing it for you.
Relationships aren’t transactional. In friendships, there will be times when a friend asks a lot from us, for example when they’re going through a difficult time. We may find we’re giving way more than we’re receiving. But none of us are immune to being needy at times and hopefully when we go through a difficult time, those same people will be there for us. Things aren’t always in perfect balance in relationships. The key is learning discernment—discerning temporary and situational imbalance from a long-standing issue that isn’t changing. We always have a choice to give more or less in our relationships. We also have the choice to communicate how we’re feeling. A genuine, authentic relationship of any kind is not based on keeping score. If you keep score, you will always be the one who loses.
4. You’re waiting for them to be different.
I had someone say to me the other day, “He’s such a great guy, but really needs to work on himself. He never does, but if I give him time, he’ll get there.”
Waiting for a person to change, become who you want or grow into their potential is not a loving choice…for either of you. We can choose to accept and love people unconditionally for who they are and where they’re at, or we can expend a whole lot of energy wanting, praying, and waiting for them to be different. If someone you cared about was waiting for you to be different, how would you feel? We all want to be accepted for who we are. Waiting for someone to be someone they’re not doesn’t just dishonor you, but them as well.
5. You’re not fully present.
You’re with someone, but you’re not really there. We see it all the time, couples out to dinner, co-workers in a meeting, families at the dinner table and nobody’s making eye contact, instead, they’re looking down at their phones. I’m guilty of this with my own kids…I’m there, but I’m not. Physically, I’m on the couch watching a movie with them, but the entire time, I’m multi-tasking on my laptop or responding to the endless texts and emails beeping from my phone.
People know when we’re not present. They feel it. They see it in our body language. They sense it. And it breeds feelings of resentment and makes them feel unimportant. The greatest gift we can give to anyone we care about is our full attention when we’re together.
“Your presence is the most precious gift you can give another human being.” ~ Marshall B Rosenberg
6. You expect too little.
Sometimes we expect too much from people and are disappointed when they don’t deliver. Then there’s the rose-colored glasses phenomenon. We’re so excited about landing that new job we’ve always wanted that we tolerate any kind of treatment. I had a client who was so excited to be working with one of his mentors that he accepted insanely low pay, 80-hour workweeks, and being told: “vacations were for the weak” until he ended up in the hospital.
In our closest relationships, we can often overlook some really bad or even indifferent behavior. The person doesn’t respond when you reach out to them. They don’t make you a priority. They talk down to you or are disrespectful. Sometimes we need another person in our lives to bring it to our attention to really see it. But when we do see it, it’s our responsibility to communicate what we need to the other person, and if they can’t meet us there, walking away.
7. You stay far too long in the relationship.
I see this with friends, in business partnerships, with couples, and at companies. We know it’s not working. We might be in a toxic or unhealthy relationship. Or in a friendship that’s run its course. We’re unhappy and we know it. By the time we decide to walk away, irreparable bitterness, anger, and sometimes even betrayal have festered. Indeed, cheating and affairs are often byproducts of staying in relationships that aren’t working.
I have two good friends who shared a tumultuous relationship but stayed in it for the sake of the friendship group. They were always fighting. Neither felt seen, heard, or respected by the other. Conversely, neither wanted to be the bad guy and sever ties. They remained together for far too long. When they finally did part ways, it was an ugly ending.
Sometimes, when a relationship has run its course, we can part on better terms and preserve the relationship through timely communication that it’s time to part ways. Think about how many times you’ve stayed in a job far longer than you knew you should and ended up getting fired (the universe’s way of rescuing you) or had a full-blown meltdown that finally convinced you leave. I have friends who’ve needed nervous breakdowns, getting sick, or medical leaves to convince them it was time to go. Why go through all of that when your heart told you it was time to leave long ago?
Our hearts know when it’s time. Listen to your inner voice. All relationships are not meant to be forever regardless of whether they’re professional, partnerships, friendships, and, sometimes, even family. When you’re trying to make the decision whether to stay or go, I find sitting silently and feeling into my body helps me answer the question. Our bodies don’t lie. Deep down we really do know the answer.
We don’t always want to do what we know needs to be done. But self-love and self-respect come from a place of honoring what’s within. Our inner compass is always leading us to the next right step. Trust in that and your life will be left only with those relationships which truly nourish your soul and expand you.