Top Five Relationship Killers and How to Avoid Them

Most people know what doesn’t work in a relationship. If you thought about it, you could probably come up with your own list and it might include; yelling, blaming, criticizing, and ignoring each other. I think we can all agree that any physical violence would definitely be a relationship killer too.

People know inside themselves what doesn’t work in a relationship. You can feel it. I think we all know whether our relationship is in a good place or not.

Relationship experts know there are certain behaviors that get in the way of good communication and trust.  These behaviors, over time, will corrode the quality and strength of the bond between two people.  Sometimes the thread between a couple has deteriorated over time and it’s just too hard to repair.

But for many relationships, repairing and strengthening is exactly what is needed.

So first, here are The Five Top Relationship Killers, according to John Gottman, PhD. The worst things you can do in a relationship are the following:

  1. Criticize – We all do it, and it hurts.  Just imagine what it feels like when someone criticizes you.  It feels terrible.  You might even feel bad, like you’ve done something wrong.  This is a top relationship killer.
  1. Contempt – If you’ve ever felt this you will not forget it.  It feels as if the one you love hates you.  If you have felt it toward your partner, they have felt your hate.  It hurts deeply.
  1. Defensiveness – It’s not uncommon to defend yourself against unkind words or accusations.  It’s something many of us do to protect ourselves.  But if we go immediately to a defensive posture every time we feel threatened there is little room for true communication.  The relationship loses.
  1. Stonewalling – Not communicating is a posture many of us find ourselves in also.  In this position we just don’t talk.  We keep our feelings stuffed inside ourselves and we don’t communicate them to our partner.  We just block them out and go about our business… alone.
  1. Blame – Sometimes when we accuse the other of something we might initially feel better, but blaming the other for things they did or did not do is a sure fire way of starting something even bigger between the two of you, and that may be really unpleasant.

If you are in a relationship chances are you may dip into the above positions.  That’s pretty normal.  If you live in them you probably are feeling pretty lousy about your relationship and could be helped by couples counseling.

For a quick guide to help couples get closer let’s explore the word “attune” which means “to bring into a harmonious or responsive relationship”.

Spelled out, here is your guide for closeness and understanding:


A = Become aware of what you are feeling, especially if it is negative – This means you just look at what’s happening to you, that’s all, just get an idea of what you bring to the table.

T= Turn toward you partner, even if you are angry, don’t turn away and go upstairs and slam the door.  Even when you are feeling your worst, turn toward you partner, don’t shut him or her out.

T= Remember to be Tolerant; there are at least two different opinions here, yours and your partner’s.  Each of you is right. Take a step back to realize that both of you are here, not just you.

U= Understand where you partner is coming from.  This part is hard if you are still wanting to get some relief from your partner because you got your feelings hurt or something, but it’s important to understand that each of you come from some place different and they are both valid.

N= Non-reactive responding.  Don’t get upset when you talk.  This is a hard one too because if you are still angry you may not be able to be calm and understanding and be able to listen without reacting.  But if you can do it you are on your way to healing and connection.

E= Empathy, feeling your partners pain and other feelings.  This is a wonderful place for a couple to be in.  This is where you feel safe and you can say anything because you know your partner will listen and love you no matter what.  This is the place where you feel accepted.  When couples can get here, they pretty much can figure out the rest.

To improve our relationships, like anything else in life, it takes practice. It’s O.K. to try something new, especially when you realize the two of you could become happier.

Let me know what you think.  Send me your comments.  Let’s talk about it.

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