1. Insisting that sex is always spontaneous: "Let's not plan this. It'll just happen, OK?"
Sure, in the first stage of your relationship, sex happens spontaneously with an excess of passion and willingness. Even those who may have a hard time getting turned on find their desire levels off the chart as inhibitions fall away and you can't get enough of each other. But this fades as life returns to normal.
There are deadlines to make, family to visit, unplanned taxes to manage. Little irritations begin to crop up, power struggles close you down, and the responsibilities of life take over. You look at money differently, and one of you is an introvert while the other loves huge crowds … Among all that, and probably more, it's no wonder you ask yourself, "Where did the passion go?" as you long for that magical time again.
The good news:
You can bring it back if you don't insist it "just happens." Make time for one another. And don't stop touching and snuggling and talking about the things you each need to feel open and turned on.
2. Needing to be right: "You're taking that out of context! Of course you're wrong!"
When two people experience the same event, there are usually two different stories about what happened. Most of the time, both stories are correct, or at least understandable. But when we insist that our story is the right one, it turns off our ability to have empathy for our partner, to see them as separate. A lack of empathy stops communication, puts your partner on the defensive, and contributes to the damaging idea that communication is about "winning & losing" rather than helping us see someone else's point of view.
The good news is:
One of the greatest gifts of a relationship is that it makes our world bigger; it opens us to new ways of looking at life and teaches us to make room for someone else. Imagine a bridge connecting your world to your partner's. Find ways to cross that bridge regularly so you can see life from your partner's eyes. You don't have to give up your view, just recognize that there are many ways to see the same scene and that more than one can be right.
3. Criticizing your partner — often: "You left the dishes out to dry — AGAIN!"
Living with another person has challenges; one of the biggest is that they do things differently than you do. (My husband and I have been arguing about how to do dishes since the first day we met — forty years ago!)
Yes, we need ways to talk about what isn't working for us. We also need to learn how to HEAR our partners' complaints without being defensive. The keys here are skill and intention.
The good news is:
Learning to object or complain skillfully (without attacking your partner personally or damaging trust) is an art — one that people who want a thriving relationship are called on to learn. But this is something anyone can learn — just be willing to. Just like you once learned to use a computer. Moderate your criticisms with those things that build goodwill, ongoing appreciation and respect, regular affection, and sharing each other's worlds.
4. Being defensive: "What do you mean I'm defensive? No, I'm not!"
The cost to intimacy of being overly defensive is endless and fills the offices of marital counselors. Recently, I saw a couple in which even the simplest request, "Would you buy some spinach on the way home?" was turned into a put-down in the mind of one of the partners: "Don't you think I would have thought of that on my own?!" This man had a father who corrected his kids by telling them they were worthless; as a result, my client became "allergic" to the simplest communication, even if it was just a request.
His partner began to post stories about him on social media, which she defended as "just fun," except that they were hostile and showed him in a poor light to all the readers. This is a very unskilled and damaging way to handle frustration if you can't express your upsets to your partner. But this is a good example of what happens when we feel bottled up with unexpressed complaints.
The good news:
Learn the art of hearing someone's complaint without then criticizing yourself. Just consider whether there could be any grain of truth in it, remembering we all suffer from the same human condition: IMPERFECTION.
This skill will actually help heal the people with the most sensitive "skin" because to hear someone else's complaint gently means learning to manage one's own inner critic.
5. Insisting on being together every moment: "You're going out with your friend? Without me?"
"Let there be space in your togetherness," said Kahlil Gibran in The Prophet, published in 1923, stating something that is the taproot of relationships. In the beginning, the stage I call "the merge," being together is fueled by delicious changes in brain chemistry, which are very close to the same ones that cause addiction. Our source of pleasure, being with the other person, is so strong we want to get "our fix" all the time. We can even find it threatening when we are not together.
The good news:
The need to be "individual," to find our own separate and unique place, is as strong as that pull for togetherness. The question of "who am I?" is one we continue to answer all our lives, an answer that is not possible to find in a relationship.
We are all on our own inner journey. When we can balance the need to be with the need to grow our own unique self, we have much more richness and interest to bring back to our partner.