Despite your best intentions to be loving, reasonable and considerate toward your partner, your brain likely has an agenda of its own. Once this agenda becomes habitual, it can make every romantic relationship you enter seem like an unfulfilling broken record.
Here are five of the most common relationship habits we fall into time and time again, and how to best manage them:
Many people want to master disappointment — so they create disappointing situations over and over again until they become world-champion martyrs. Called repetition compulsion, this phenomenon makes you addicted to hardship, so you live in a constant state of recovery.
Solution: The human psyche feels compelled to reenact its prior traumas, but you can combat this tendency by setting your high beams on “thriving.” Avoid relationships that make you feel like you constantly have to prove yourself, and seek ones where there is enough space to give, love, imagine and develop without being graded.
2. The victim game
You can’t avoid pain in relationships, but you can certainly avoid hitting yourself over the head repeatedly. Called maso-masochism, couples will commonly compete about who is the bigger victim. One person is always sicker, having a harder time at work or suffering more in general. Typically, this habit stems from unaddressed anger or animosity.
Solution: Stop internalizing your aggression. Constructive anger can actually be good for your health, so open up and speak your mind about a prior argument or issue that’s been simmering inside you. You’d be surprised at how helpful it can be to release the shame and guilt that holds you back.
Self-handicapping is avoiding effort because you fear failure. In relationships, this can lead to avoiding the most difficult issues for fear of losing the other person when, in fact, you have already lost each other. This habit can sap both partners’ motivation levels.
Solution: Rather than lowering the bar for your life and relationships, raise it. See failure as a sign that you are trying to improve your life, and reward yourself for small successes along the way.
4. Blinding reflections
In your brain, there is a chain of neurons that form a “mirror” that reflects your partner’s emotions. Called mirror neurons, these are the culprits that make your partner’s moods contagious. Women are very sensitive to this mirror effect; it’s easy to fall into the same hole your partner is stuck in.
Solution: You don’t have to feel bad just because your partner does. If you don’t want to catch your partner’s mood, try thinking about things you love while you help your partner climb out of his or her horrible situation. It will take some practice, but it’s possible to feel OK while also being supportive and empathic.
5. The folly of goals
Our goals have minds of their own. All they care about is reaching the finish line. In fact, goals even compete with one another in your brain. If, for example, you want to make more money, but you think your partner has terrible spending habits (and you have an “anger” goal and a desire to “hurt” your partner), your resentment will likely hold both of you back from financial success.
Solution. Ask your partner what goal could be holding up your primary goal. If you’re trying with all your might to reach a personal goal but just can’t quite seem to get there, your partner may have a competing goal residing in his or her head. That means your primary goal to make more money may be superseded by a goal to avoid your partner’s wrath, and all your energy is taken up by this worry. Guilt, resentment and anger and their associated goals are often culprits lurking to obstruct your goals in your brain.
If you’re having trouble feeling fulfilled in your romantic life, it’s likely that one of these five habits is lurking in your head right now. Whether you constantly feel like a victim or are struggling to reach your goals, all it takes is a few mental shifts and open communication to break free from these habits and enjoy longer, more satisfying relationships.
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