None of us were taught how to have healthy relationships. In fact, most of us learned unhealthy relational skills from our parents or primary caregivers, television and media, and elsewhere. While we're all doing the best we can, as adults we need to learn new relational skills in order to create the amazing, healthy relationships we long for.
The good news is that you have a lot of agency over how your relationships feel and how healthy they are, once you learn the relational skills you need. Then, you’re not dependent on others or the universe to improve your relationships; you’re not helpless and things aren’t hopeless. The more healthy relational skills you learn and practice, the more you can create relationships that feel deeply connected, nourishing, reciprocal and secure.
You can’t change others no matter how relationally skilled you are. But, when you change how you participate in your relationships, you change your relational system. That means you can make a huge difference in the health of all of your relationships just by changing yourself.
The following is a list of common relationship mistakes that you may be making. These mistakes make relationships feel much more painful and difficult than they need to. All of these mistakes require you to take ownership of your part, and work on changing yourself internally and then changing the way you engage with others.
1. Blaming the other instead of taking ownership of how you are participating to co-create the unhealthy dynamic. Most people are much more aware of the other person’s actions, perceived intent, and how hurt they are, rather than how they themselves are participating in what is being created. If you focus solely on the other person, you’re going to feel stuck. If you shift to focus on your actions instead, you’ll find ways that you can engage in a more productive way. Your power to improve lies in yourself, not in the other.
2. Projecting. It's important to be aware of your projections. You project when you assume others think something about you when it’s actually YOU who thinks it. There’s no evidence that others think it (other than your assumption). For example, you may think all of your colleagues think you’re stupid. Maybe they do, but maybe they’re too wrapped up in themselves to think much about you at all. We can’t know what they think. We do, however, know that you think you’re stupid, or you fear you’re stupid. You’re projecting that onto others, but it’s coming from you, not them. If you don’t become aware of your projections in your relationships, they lead to pain and disconnection.
3. Making up stories and treating them as facts. Anything you make up about the other that you have not checked out with them is a story. Until and unless you check your stories out with the other, you don’t know what is true for them. You don’t know what they think, what their intent was, why they reacted a certain way, why they did something or didn’t do it, or anything else about them (unless you ask). It’s a relational mistake to make up stories and believe them without checking them out with the other. When you do this, you feel hurt, angry, anxious, etc., based on something that you don’t really know is true. That leads to disconnection with your partner both because you feel hurt by your stories that you believe are their truths, and because you’re not involving them in understanding them. That’s not relational. You need to include the other in understanding them and your experience of them. If you don’t involve them, you’re having a relationship with yourself (and a painful one with stories and assumptions that hurt you).
Now that you’re aware of some of the common relationship mistakes people make, pay attention to yourself in your relationships. Notice if you make any of these mistakes. The first step to changing is always awareness. If you are making these mistakes, you can begin to practice healthier relational skills, and create more nourishing relationships.
This blog was originally published on Psychology Today.