These 3 Issues Can End Relationships, But Here's How To Overcome Them
Every relationship has its nuances, and we should give up the notion that a "successful" partnership has a specific set of criteria. "It's very important that we not develop a norm of what we think is the relationship that is perfect [versus] the relationship that is beyond repair," says psychotherapist and world-renowned relationship expert Esther Perel on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. A glaring red flag for you might not be as big of a deal to another (except for abuse, which should be taken very seriously)—so let's remove the shame and comparison from the conversation upfront.
However, experts (including Perel) do come across common issues that, if constant, can potentially sever the bond over time. Below, she identifies a few of these obstacles, as well as how to overcome them as a pair. Consider this your crash course on lifelong love (Perel has a more detailed class, too, if you'd like even more actionable steps):
1. Trouble communicating.
You've likely heard it once or twice before: Healthy communication is nonnegotiable for a successful relationship. In fact, a lack of communication can sneakily ruin relationships over time.
Of course, "communication issues" can mean different things for different couples: "There are a lot of reasons why we don't communicate well," says Perel. "One is that we are often more invested in what we need to say than in what we need to listen to and hear. We often talk without paying enough attention to how the other person is registering what we are saying." That said, take a minute to check in with your partner before striking up a conversation: What is the other person trying to tell you, perhaps with no words at all (facial expressions, body language, etc.)?
Another layer to the issue is expectation, says Perel: "If I, in advance, feel that you fundamentally don't really value what I have to say, that is going to change all my communication," she notes. "The emotional undercurrent of expectations that we bring to the relationship is going to block communication."
Finally, she mentions confirmation bias. "We tend to hear that which reinforces our preexisting beliefs rather than pay attention to change," Perel explains. So often one partner will say something that triggers the other, and the two go back and forth in a feedback loop of conflicting assumptions rather than actually listening to one another. That said: "Try to actually not look for what you already are used to seeing or hearing," says Perel. "See if you can hear something else, and then communication [will] open up."
2. Growing apart.
It's a common fallout for long-term relationships: We just grew apart. What does this actually mean, though? According to Perel, it's not that couples must have the same exact interests and passions—they simply must share in each other's excitement with genuine interest and curiosity.
"It's not the fact that I'm interested in this and you're not," she says. "It's that when I try to engage you in the thing that I'm interested in, you're not interested in me. Day after day after day, [I'll] start to feel like, 'If I'm here or not here, what difference does it make? Do I exist for you?'" She adds, "When you start to have the sense that the other person barely notices when you enter the house and when you leave the house, it's deadly."
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3. Losing the spark.
Another common question Perel hears all the time: How do you keep the spark alive in a long-term relationship? The answer isn't so clear-cut, but she declares that relationships require give and take—you need tasks that are familiar, cozy, and comfortable to solidify the foundation, but you also need adventures, healthy risks, and crossing thresholds to keep the eroticism alive.
"Curiosity, novelty, playfulness—it's that whole other dimension of life that is not about management," says Perel. "Family life wants consistency and routine and predictability—and that's great for the kids—but the couple actually needs very different things... What makes for good parents is not the same as what maintains the spark."
That sense of curiosity is different for every couple: For one pair, perhaps a boating trip sets your heart aflutter; for another, it's a long and challenging hike up a mountain; for others, it's reading certain books and having a thought-provoking discussion. Whatever it is, "it has to do with exploration," says Perel. "Like children, we grow through exploration by entering the world a little bit more—our inner world and the world around us."
The most common issues in relationships are not impossible to overcome, says Perel. Her parting words of advice? "Relationships are like plants...they do demand attention. Otherwise, they're left languishing."
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