Recently, I was thinking about my couples counselling practice and pondering what I think are the three biggest relationship offenses that couples commit. I know there’s John Gottman’s famous “4 Horsemen” (patterns of criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling) but here are my top three.
1. Blaming: As I’ve discussed previously, blame is the nuclear weapon in relationships. No other dynamic is more damaging than the toxic energy of blame. Successful couples are good at taking responsibility for their own feelings and experience. A good way to learn how to do this is to learn “Nonviolent Communication” by Marshal Rosenberg.
2. Mind Reading: I sometimes call this nasty habit “mind raping.” It’s when you assume you know what your partner thinks and feels and then you react emotionally to those assumptions. You may be right or partially right, but in either case, when you mind read, it tends to make your partner get defensive. The simple antidote is to stop doing it or if you do, ASK PERMISSION. Say, “can I have permission to read your mind?” If you do this, your partner will likely say “yes.” It’s respectful and reduces the likelihood of conflict.
3. Placating (“people pleasing”): This is the common pattern of “giving in” to keep the peace and avoid conflict. It’s when you don’t speak your truth and suppress your true feelings about something that’s important to you. What inevitably happens is resentments begin to surface. When you keep “biting your tongue,” your feelings will eventually come out, usually in an angry or passive aggressive manner. Learn to stand up for yourself without putting your partner down. Develop the habit of being open and direct with your feelings – without blaming your partner for them.