In my intimacy and relationship coaching practice, I have heard countless women, men, and couples share with me the inner workings of their relationships. They have opened up about their biggest fears as well as their deepest longings and desires when it comes to soul-satisfying love, companionship and commitment with a partner.
We all know that the sting of sexual betrayal is one of the most difficult experiences a couple can go through. However, it is only one of the many ways people sabotage their relationships. Here are six of the insidious ways you could be betraying your relationship—that have nothing to do with cheating.
1. Neglecting your relationship.
Relationships are living, dynamic things. They need to be nurtured day in and day out.
I know so many couples who have bought into the idea that once they found a great partner and committed, no more effort would be required, and the relationship would naturally take care of itself. So instead of prioritizing quality time and communication with their partner (like they did when they were dating), the relationship gets pushed to the back burner.
Your relationship will not thrive if you only invest in it when it suits you. This kind of neglect is a one-way ticket to splitsville. Your partner requires (and is worthy of) more than scraps of leftover time and attention.
2. Letting yourself go—mentally and/or physically.
Some couples achieve a certain level of comfort in a relationship, and then gradually stop taking care of their physical and emotional wellbeing. This can mean your physical health falls by the wayside, or your their personal growth work is deprioritized. This can lead to poorer communication, or complacence, and selfishly ignoring your partner's feelings.
When we put less emphasis on being the best version of ourselves, we bring less joy and fulfillment to our relationship. In fact, we start to cultivate opposing feelings: boredom and dissatisfaction.
True closeness with a partner requires true closeness with and value for yourself. Your own healing and self-care strengthens your relationship.
3. Viewing your relationship status as more important than your relationship quality.
We receive so many cultural messages that teach us to think that we’re not good enough, important enough, or desirable enough if we’re single. In response to this, many people go on a fanatical quest to find a partner, get the engagement ring, and run down the aisle.
This way of approaching relationships puts the label “relationship” on a pedestal, and distracts us from the thing that actually matters most: having the human experience we desire most. Dr. Robert Firestone refers to this as the "fantasy bond." In his book, Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice, Dr. Firestone says the fantasy bond is the single most important factor leading to the deterioration of love and attraction in a relationship.
When you make the relationship label a higher priority than the actual relationship, intimacy, affection, and the strength of your bond will start to weaken, and in time, disappear altogether.
You have to develop a solid friendship with your partner and routinely check in. Ask yourselves, "Is this still the best relationship we've ever had? If not, what can we do to make it so?"
4. Using your partner.
If you aren't truly owning your development and growth as an individual, you can easily fall into patterns of codependence and begin to (unconsciously) expect your partner to be responsible for your happiness. This is incredibly draining for your significant other.
I’ve seen many people resist personal growth work, and then place the burden on their partner to make up for the emotional groundwork they’re not willing to cover for themselves. This creates an extreme inequality in the relationship—one person is mostly in "give" mode, and one person is mostly in "take" mode.
When we take responsibility for our emotions and internal healing, we take the weight of unfair expectation away from our partner, and allow them to support us as an equal, instead of having to carry us.
5. Insisting on being "right" more often than not.
One of the most damaging ways people respond to fear and insecurity is by shaming others. I’ve seen this quite a bit with the couples I work with. When we are afraid, or feel threatened or triggered into employing our coping mechanisms, we sometimes try to undermine the person we see as "threatening" by shaming or attacking them. The alternative is working through the circumstance, which requires vulnerability.
Shaming can be a statement, tone of voice, or facial expression, that communicates the idea that we think the other person is inferior—that there’s something wrong with who they are. You can also shame someone by simply rolling your eyes or being sarcastic. Here are a few examples of shaming language:
"What is the matter with you?"
"You are just like your mother."
"Be a real man."
"You're so needy!"
Learning to express how you feel versus calling names, reverting to judgment, or trying to undermine your partner, is the difference between pushing love away and building a deeper, more worthwhile connection and sense of trust in your relationship.
When we haven't dealt with our baggage or developed healthy coping strategies for triggering circumstances, we often revert to damaging behaviors like comparison, belittling, shaming, and disrespecting our partners. This kind of behavior slowly chips away at the emotional stability of the relationship. And unless each partner feels emotionally safe, there is no intimacy. Without intimacy, the relationship is in a downward spiral toward an inevitable end.
6. Trying to change your partner.
It’s natural to grow and change over time. As you change, your relationship with your partner will have to adapt and change, too. With clear and loving communication, the individuals in the relationship, and the relationship itself, can evolve fluidly. Adjusting the parameters of your relationship as you and your partner change is healthy and to be expected.
What is very unhealthy is trying to change the core of who your partner is—their unique qualities and personality traits. Trying to create this kind of change sends your partner the message that “I don’t accept you as you are," or “I will love you more if…”
This is not unconditional love. This is love that comes with a checklist.
When you try to change your partner (their wardrobe, their friends, their way of speaking, their career or business dreams), you’re basically telling them that they can only have your love and affection if they throw away their true self and become whatever you want them to be.
This puts our partners in the painful place of having to choose between being authentic and being loved. This breeds resentment and almost always leads to the breakdown of the relationship, as well as to poorer self-esteem and emotional health for both parties.
Whether or not cheating has been an issue in your relationship, ask yourself if you (or your partner) might be betraying your relationship in one of these other ways. It could make the difference between "forever" and "forget about it."