Fixing our relationship mistakes will simplify life faster than any decluttering tip. These mistakes apply to friendships, romantic relationships, family ties and how you interact with co-workers.
We all make mistakes that are hurting our relationships but becoming more aware of common pitfalls will bring us closer to the people we love. Don’t blame or shame yourself if you’ve been making these mistakes. Instead, get curious. What would things be like if you worked on one or two of these mistakes. Will it improve your relationship and your own level of life satisfaction? If the answer is yes, then it’s worth a look.
I’m not a relationship expert (not even a little bit) but I have made these mistakes and I see what shifts when I shift my behavior. Fixing these relationship mistakes won’t make every relationship perfect but they will help you feel better within them. It may take some time to fix these relationship mistakes but I’ll share a simple step for each one so you can begin to work on being happier within your relationships and happier in your life.
1. We don’t take care of ourselves.
I’m listing this mistake first because it’s the most crucial. We neglect our own wellbeing in the name of taking care of everyone else and wear ourselves down. When that happens, we either can’t take care of others the way we’d like to our we resent everyone who needed so much from us. That moment, when you don’t think you have time to take care of yourself is the exact moment you have to take care of yourself.
Simple step: For big picture self-care, you’ll have to go further than a bubble bath or massage (even though those are nice ways to unwind). Consider what kind of self-care will bring you back to you. One of these 8 unconventional approaches to self-care will help.
2. We take everything personally.
We all partake in this relationship mistake. Before you make it all about you and create stories about how the situation you are dealing with is going to impact your life, stop. Tell a different story. You might use this practice with someone you know or someone you’ve never met. Here are a couple of examples. If you are meeting a friend for lunch and they are twenty minutes late, you could assume that they don’t value your time. With that story in mind, you’d get more and more frustrated with every moment they are late. How dare they treat you like that. Now, tell a different story. Wow, with everything that’s on her plate right now, I can’t believe she had time to meet me at all. It must be stressful for her to be running behind. This story makes you feel more compassionate.
Usually, when we think someone is thinking or saying something about us, they aren’t. When they are thinking or saying something about you, it still isn’t about you. It’s about them. That’s why the feedback you give says so much more about you than the feedback you receive. If you are harsh with someone, check in. What’s going with you? If you are hungry, sad, rushed or bothered in another way, your comment may have had nothing to do with someone else. As Martha Graham said, “What people think of you is really none of your business.”
Simple step: Remind yourself that it’s probably not about you by reframing the story you are telling yourself about any given situation. Additionally, don’t engage in hard conversations when you are hungry.
3. We don’t communicate.
Lack of effective communication can lead to misunderstandings, resentment, and a breakdown in any relationship. Not expressing needs, feelings, or concerns can create tension and prevent conflict resolution. We desperately want to be understood, but to avoid conflict, we hope someone will read our minds instead of having to share what we need. Sometimes it’s the things that are unsaid that are the biggest relationship mistakes.
Simple step: Listen to The Dear Therapist Podcast. This podcast encourages better communication through real world examples of people who are usually struggling to connect and communicate.
4. We don’t put our phones down.
There’s a great saying that goes something like, Love is 2% effort and 98% putting your phone down. It sounds funny when you put it like that but this a serious relationship mistake that most of us make. Disconnect from your phone and other digital devices so you can connect to the person sitting across the table from you.
Simple step: Schedule phone-free time during meals or at another convenient time when you want to encourage better connection with someone you love.
5. We don’t listen.
There are so many reasons that contribute to this relationship mistake. We don’t listen because we are thinking about what are going to say next or because we are distracted (see no. 4) or because we haven’t created the habit of listening. We want everything immediately and we are used to quick hits of information from social media and other digital connections so we forget to pause and make space for the words and feelings of someone we love. Active listening is crucial in a healthy relationship.
Failing to listen attentively, interrupting, or dismissing the other person’s feelings can create a sense of invalidation and erode trust and intimacy. When you listen well, you won’t just hear the words, but you’ll see how someone feels too. Recognizing and acknowledging the way someone feels as they are communicating with you shows that you care.
Simple step: Slow down your conversations. Allow for silence in between sentences so you can take in what’s really going on. Practice silently counting to three before responding to give yourself time to listen and process.
6. We have too many expectations.
If we are easily disappointed by the way others treat us or by how they spend their time and live their lives, the relationship mistake may lie in our own expectations. It’s likely we are disappointing ourselves by placing unrealistic expectations on other people. Even though we think we are doing it from a place of love, that’s not how expectations are received. If you keep going and tell yourself that you are just trying to help, remember as Anne Lamott says, “Help is the sunny side of control.”
Wanting things for other people more than they want it for themselves is one of the 8 things we’ll regret when we’re older if we don’t stop now.
Simple step: Think about how you receive expectations that are put on you. Do they bring you closer to someone or push you away. Ask yourself if your expectations may come across as controlling instead of helpful.
7. We forget about the little things.
It’s rarely the grand gestures that sustain a relationship. Instead, it’s the little things. Forgetting them or discounting their importance is a relationship mistake that seems easier to make the longer we are in a relationship. Connect with the people you love with the little things. If you don’t have time for an hour long video call, try a 10-minute phone call or send a text that simply says, “thinking about you.”
8. There is a lack of boundaries.
We often think of setting boundaries in bad relationships but where boundaries are really powerful is when they are used in our best relationships. Failing to establish and respect boundaries can lead to resentment, and an imbalance of power in a relationship. Clear communication and mutual respect for personal boundaries are vital.
If you feel threatened or upset by boundaries, Elizabeth Earnshaw says, “When people set boundaries with you, it’s their attempt to continue the relationship with you, not an attempt to hurt you.” Instead of rejecting a boundary, reframe and ask yourself how it might bring you closer to the person setting it.
Simple step: Read The Book Of Boundaries by Melissa Urban for 130+ scripts with language you can use to set boundaries with bosses and co-workers, romantic partners, parents and in-laws, co-parents, friends, family, neighbors, strangers—and yourself.
Simplifying your life can help you develop closer relationships as you create more space and time for the people you care about. AND, improving your relationships will help to simplify your life as you remove drama, chaos and misunderstandings by taking simple steps and focusing on your behavior. Just like clutter, it’s so much easier to notice other people’s relationship mistakes but start with your own. Take a look and see how you engage with the people you love and spend time with. It’s not too late to take a simple step and improve things.