The majority of us have experienced the moment when we realize a relationship is in rapid decline. Although such a slide often ends in a breakup, it doesn’t have to. In all likelihood, there’s some behavior undermining the relationship’s foundation of love and friendship—and if you can identify it, you can save the relationship.
Here are 5 of the most common relationship killers, as well as quick remedies to heal the hurt:
1. Blame and shame.
Aside from all-out abusive behavior, blaming and shaming may be the fastest way to kill your connection. Both behaviors communicate contempt for your partner, displaying that you view him or her as beneath you or deserving of scorn. This point of view has toxic effects not only on the person receiving blame, but on the person doing the blaming as well.
Quick Remedy: Start every disagreement or conflict with the presumption that the problem is not caused by a character flaw in your partner. This will help both of you deal with the problem at hand without hurling personal insults at each other.
2. Kill the fun.
This behavior, while damaging to a relationship, often sneaks up on couples unawares. A husband will wake up one day, look at his wife and think, “When was the last time we just had fun together?” Deep in the trenches of an ongoing fight, a wife will turn to her husband and say, “Can’t we ever just have fun?” Once all the joy and lightheartedness is gone from the relationship, it becomes a struggle just to stay together.
Quick Remedy: Identify one thing the two of you used to enjoy doing together. You don’t necessarily have to resurrect that exact activity today (or you may not be able to), but the memory of that joy can inject hope for future fun into the relationship.
3. Use breaking up as a bargaining chip.
When you threaten to break up with someone (or divorce them) during everyday conflicts, your partner will develop the impression that the relationship doesn’t matter very much to you. These threats don’t work very well for getting what you want; worse, they imply that you don’t value the relationship—an implication often far more damaging than the source of the current conflict itself.
Quick Remedy: Simply put, use something other than the relationship as your leverage. Instead of threatening, “If you go to Vegas with your friends, I’ll break up with you,” try, “If you go to Vegas with your friends, I’ll be worried the whole time.” Not only is the second statement probably more honest, it opens the door for you both to addressing the deeper issue at hand.
4. Conjure the ghosts of exes.
Everyone knows that talking about exes is a minefield. If you remember them with too much fondness, your current partner may become jealous or insecure. If you speak of them with too much disdain, your partner may wonder if you have anger issues. Past relationships are an intractable part of your life story, but if you constantly conjure the ghost of an ex, your current relationship will start to feel haunted.
Quick Remedy: Communicate what you liked (or disliked) about an ex behavior without mentioning the ex himself (or herself). For example, instead of saying, “My ex always cleaned up after himself,” try, “It would mean a lot to me if you cleaned up after yourself.”
5. Keep one foot out the door.
This is the stealthiest relationship killer on this list. A relationship could be going well, by all accounts, but it somehow feels…off. It feels shaky. You wouldn’t be totally surprised if your partner broke up with you tomorrow; alternately, the idea of ending the relationship yourself sounds plausible. These are the symptoms of keeping one foot out the door. This relationship killer is not a bullet, like blame and shame; it’s a poison.
Quick Remedy: Be more transparent in your thoughts and actions. There’s no need to commit yourself body and soul to every relationship you enter into, but relationships become painful when you never know what’s going on. Ask questions—and reveal your own honest answers.
If you feel your relationship is suffering from one of these killers, give it a healthy dose of behavior change. It may recover quite nicely.