• Isabelle Morley, PsyD

You're Doing It Wrong: Common Mistakes People Make in Relationships

Updated: Mar 11

From having unrealistic and unfair expectations, to handling fights badly, here are the top mistakes people make in their relationships.




Being in a relationship can be difficult, and we can all make mistakes. From my years of doing couples therapy, there are a few mistakes that people frequently make without knowing it. Although it may be tough to realize you have been engaging in this behaviors and need to change, it will be for the better.


This is not a comprehensive list, by any means, but here are the heavy hitters for mistakes people make in their relationships.


If you see yourself in one of these, don't panic! All of these behaviors can be changed, it just might take some work on your part.




Expecting Your Partner to do Things Your Way

We all have things that we're particular about. Maybe you really care about how the fridge is organized. Perhaps you have a thing about how folded laundry should immediately be put away. I, for example, am strangely picky about how towels are folded and where they should be hung after use (it all makes sense in my head, I swear). A very common particularity people have is how the bed should be made- some people have a very specific way they want the bed to look (throw pillows and all), whereas other people really couldn't care less.


It's perfectly alright to have your preferences and want things done a certain way. However, and this is a big however, you should not harass your partner to do everything your way. Can you request that they make an effort to keep the fridge organized by putting things back where they came from? Sure. But should you get upset every time your partner forgets to do this and create a hostile environment where they are afraid to cross your rules? Absolutely not.



It's perfectly alright to have your preferences and want things done a certain way. However, and this is a big however, you should not harass your partner to do everything your way.


Being Mean in Arguments as a Retaliation

I can't tell you how many times I've heard couples say incredibly cruel things during arguments with no goal except to hurt the other person. I know, they felt hurt first, but it's no excuse to launch an emotional grenade at the person you're trying to build a life with. Being intentionally mean in this way serves no good purpose.


You know your partner better than anyone and therefore you know what comments will cut to their core and sting more than anything. You have the most destructive ammunition, but again, what's the point of attacking the person you love in that way?


Just don't do it.



Controlling Your Partner Under the Guise of Helping Them

Although many people will be surprised to hear this, forcing your partner to be "better" is actually a form of abuse. I don't care if you think you're helping your partner "be healthier" or "handle problems more effectively," you do not get to tell your partner what they should or "have to" do in their own life. You may want your partner to eat more vegetables, exercise, confront their boss, get rid of toxic friends, or any number of "good" changes, but you don't get control their behavior.



Adults have agency. They get to make their own choices in life. No one gets to have authority over another adult because, to be super clear, that's abuse.


Loving encouragement is okay. Making requests is okay. Offering to help is okay. Demanding change and attempting to control their actions or decisions is not okay. Punishing your partner when they don't comply with what you want is an attempt to control and manipulate their behavior and, you guessed it, it's not okay.


Adults have agency. They get to make their own choices in life. No one gets to have authority over another adult because, to be super clear, that's abuse.



Arguing Your Point to Death and Staying Angry

We all want to be understood and often we want to be right, too. When your partner concedes that perhaps you were right in an argument and that they see your side, don't spend the next 30 minutes explaining exactly why you were right. They just said they agreed and understand where you're coming from, so you don't need to hammer it home another 18 times. Unless you think they're just placating you to end the discussion or that they actually don't understand what you're saying, take the concession and repair.



People make mistakes, and unless it's a significant rupture like an affair, it's in your best interest to learn how to accept your partner's apologies, forgive them, and move on.


Many people also struggle with repair after a fight, even when their partner has apologized. It's perfectly alright to still feel sensitive or hurt, but staying angry for another three days probably won't help. People make mistakes, and unless it's a significant rupture like an affair, it's in your best interest to learn how to accept your partner's apologies, forgive them, and move on. Hanging on to anger won't prevent your partner from making mistakes in the future and it won't make you feel better in the moment, either. For a great example of this on television, check out Keeley and Roy from Ted Lasso, the masters of communication and repair.



Expecting Your Partner to Fix Your Bad Mood

As much as we lean on our partners for support, we cannot expect them to make us feel better. Sometimes they can, sometimes they can't, but either way, it's not their job. It's our job to make ourselves feel better. This is called self-regulation and it's an incredibly important personal and relational skill. You are in charge of your own mood, full stop.


This can be scary to some, who look to others to regulate their feelings (which can lead to codependence). But if you embrace the fact that you are the one responsible for and capable of taking care of your mood and needs, it is very freeing.



... if you embrace the fact that you are the one responsible for and capable of taking care of your mood and needs, it is very freeing.



"I Do All of These Things! Now what?"

Have you done any of these things in your relationship? How about your partner?


Don't panic, it's ok!


We all make mistakes in our relationships. Now that you're aware of these missteps, try to do things differently. Catch yourself when you start to dictate demands to your partner, accept their concession or apology and move on, always speak to them with kindness and respect even during your worst fights, and work on taking care of your own mood instead of waiting for them to cheer you up.


And, if you need some help breaking the bad habits, individual or couples therapy may be right for you. It's incredibly helpful to have someone else intervene when you start to get mean or engage in unhelpful dynamics during fights, guide you on how to set fair expectations, and teach you self-regulation skills. It can be hard to learn and practice these things on our own, so having another person assist and support you in the process is a great resource.







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