When you’ve split from a partner, dating again can feel a bit intimidating. You’ve got kids to think about now. You’ve got limited time. And given your recent breakup, you might even feel like you’re not sure how to have a relationship anymore.
You might be questioning your relationship skills as well as the mistakes you might have made that contributed to the breakup. You want to do things right in your next relationship. But you’re no longer sure what that is.
The bad news is that some mistakes are, as you may have already learned, relationship-ending. They’re such a big deal that many relationships simply can’t withstand them.
But the good news is you’re not flying blind when it comes to what those mistakes are. We can identify some of the biggest mistakes that can lead to ending a relationship so you can avoid making them.
Not being completely honest about your feelings
There are plenty of reasons you might want to hide your feelings. You might be afraid of being vulnerable. You might think your feelings are silly or unwarranted. Maybe you’re afraid you’ll hurt your partner’s feelings or insult them.
Whatever your reasons for not being upfront about your feelings, it’s the wrong move. Emotional honesty is critical to a relationship. You each need to know how the other feels. Otherwise, you’re likely to keep doing things that hurt, annoy or otherwise bother each other. And your partner definitely can’t make things right with you if they don’t know how you feel.
There is, of course, a right way and a wrong way for expressing your feelings. You should avoid hurting your partner’s feelings unnecessarily and don’t scream at them. You should also avoid letting feelings build up before you express them. But you should always express how you feel, even if you’re scared or uncertain how you’ll be received.
Complaining to everyone else about your relationship
A flip side of not expressing your feelings to your partner is expressing them to everyone but your partner. Specifically, when you complain about your partner and/or your relationship to everyone else.
Whether you talk to your partner or not, complaining to others about your relationship is a bad idea for many reasons. First, every time you complain about your partner to someone else, they get a slightly more negative opinion of your partner. This negative opinion doesn’t go away after you and your partner work out the problem.
Second, nothing gets resolved when you complain to others. They can’t fix an issue between you and your partner. So it’s purposeless to complain.
There are times when we feel we need an outsider’s viewpoint. But there is a difference between complaining and asking for advice or another perspective. It’s not a fine line, either — it’s a pretty clear difference. And even if you are seeking advice or another view, it’s important to make sure you’re not doing it constantly.
Not trusting your intuition
Sometimes the signs of trouble are as clear as a billboard. Other times, they’re more subtle and it’s only the whisper of our intuition that tells us there’s a problem. But what if we ignore that whisper?
We do it all too often. Many of us have ignored it so much that we can’t even recognize it anymore.
But when we ignore our intuition, we end up in relationships that are unhappy, unhealthy, and filled with problems. We spend all our time arguing, being angry, and trying to fix a relationship that we shouldn’t even be in.
Not trusting our intuition can be one of the easiest mistakes to fix, though. It’s a matter of trusting how you feel. When your stomach threatens to revolt every time you’re around someone, it’s a sign they’re not right for you. When you get a headache, feel dread, or instinctively pull your body away from someone, those are all your intuition telling you this isn’t the person for you.
There might be other things you notice — but they all come from your intuition.
Heed the signs your intuition sends you. Even when you don’t like what it’s telling you, your intuition won’t lead you astray.
Fighting to win
Every couple argues. If they don’t, it’s because someone’s holding back, which isn’t good for the relationship. But while every couple argues, not every couple argues in a healthy way.
Do you argue to solve the problem or to win? Do you understand the difference?
You and your partner might see different ways to resolve an issue — that’s where the argument comes from. But arguing to win is arguing to get your partner to admit they’re wrong and you’re right. There is no room for compromise or acknowledging that your way might not be best.
Arguing to find a solution, on the other hand, is knowing that you might each have a different perspective but you can find a solution together. It’s seeing the situation as the two of you as a team against the issue, not the two of you pitted against each other.
If you fight to win, you risk resentment and bitterness, or a partner who gives in simply to avoid the fight. Instead of trying to prove your own point and be crowned winner of the argument, ask questions and try to see your partner’s point of view.
Before you meet a partner and get into a relationship, you’re a whole and complete individual. You have interests, hobbies, preferences, and opinions. Does that still hold true after you enter a relationship? Or do you find yourself sacrificing yourself, sacrificing your identity and your life, in order to make the relationship work?
Compromise is a necessary part of relationships. And we all want to have things in common with our partner. But compromise should come from both sides, and we should look for things we authentically have in common.
If you’re letting go of pieces of your identity in order to be in a relationship, it’s going to end badly.
A loving, good partner should encourage you to keep up with hobbies and interests. They should encourage you to maintain relationships with friends and family. They should be able to deal with you liking mild salsa while they enjoy spicy.
Not setting, and keeping, boundaries
Wednesday night is family movie night for you and the kids, and you’re determined that won’t change once you start dating. But then you meet someone. Maybe you tell them Wednesdays are out of the question or maybe you don’t. Either way, they suggest a Wednesday date and instead of declining, you agree.
Boundaries matter in a relationship. They can feel like a rejection if you’ve struggled with them, but they’re necessary. They ensure your life stays in balance. They ensure respect. They help us get what we want from our relationship rather than settling for whatever we happen to get.
Some of them come about organically as you and a new partner define your relationship and the expectations you each have. But others are yours personally and set long before you meet someone. Some of those boundaries are familiar to you: has to be someone who likes kids, no drugs, maybe no smoking or drinking, having an open or monogamous relationship, etc.
But there might be others that you haven’t identified yet. These might be things like not taking calls on Saturday mornings when you’re at your kid’s soccer practice, being home from all dates by 10 p.m., or only dating when your kids are with your ex.
Whatever your boundaries, you need to set them, clearly express them to your partner, and make sure they’re respected.
Social media stalking
This tends to be something we’re guilty of more before we get into the actual relationship, but it’s easy to become obsessed with it and continue it into the relationship. Sometimes it happens when we feel we can’t trust our partner.
We start scouring social media, or the Internet at large, for anything and everything we can find out about our partner. We read their posts and comments and analyze every word and every image, looking for possible trouble brewing. We look for signs of cheating, major debt, criminal activity — anything we wouldn’t want to be associated with and we’re afraid might take us by surprise.
It’s not a horrible idea to do a quick Google search on someone you haven’t met in person yet. Confirming there’s no criminal record and that they’re not currently married is smart. No one wants to go out on a date with a serial killer if they can help it.
But limit yourself to that. Don’t track down their social media profiles and start scrolling through the last 12 or 15 years of their life, or even the last couple of weeks. Don’t start clicking on the profiles of their friends to see if you can figure out who they might have dated before or which one is their former spouse. You’ll driver yourself crazy.
And once you’re in the relationship, resist the temptation to stalk for signs of trouble. If you feel you can’t trust your partner, or are worried about something you’ve heard or seen, have a conversation with your partner. They can provide context that social media posts can’t.
Sneaking peeks at devices
Hand-in-hand with social media stalking is sneaking peeks at a partner’s device. You think they’re cheating so you wait until they’re in the shower and grab their phone to go through their texts, recent call log, and look at their emails. Maybe you even go to real extremes and install spyware so you can check their device without even touching it.
This is bad, bad, bad. First, you’ll get caught. Maybe not right away, but you will. And if your partner is innocent, you’ve betrayed their trust for no reason and ruined your relationship.
Second, any time trust is an issue in a relationship, there should be a conversation about it. When you go searching for answers on your own, you are looking for proof to back up what you think is happening. That means you will find that proof, even if means twisting something innocent to fit your theory.
A conversation with your partner, however it turns out, is much better for your relationship (and your mental health) than sneaking peeks at their devices and trying to interpret what you find.
We all make mistakes. We’re human. Yet we often hold others, especially those who love us and whom we love in return, to a higher standard. We expect perfection from our partners — or even demand it.
When you expect your partner to never make a mistake, you doom them to failure.
Instead, know that this person cares about you and the mistakes they make aren’t intended to hurt you. Give them the benefit of the doubt when there are miscommunications or other problems. Work together to improve your relationship and overcome problems and avoid laying blame.
Remember that you’ll make mistakes too. Just as you wouldn’t want your partner to expect perfection from you, you should give them the same grace.
Expecting your significant other to be everything for you
Your best friend, lover, co-parent, entertainment, educator… sorry, but you can’t expect your partner to do it all.
Rom-com movies and books and TV sitcoms have contributed to the myth that your partner should be able to fulfill any and all roles in your life. And while some couples seem to be able to do that for each other and make it work, the reality for most of us is one person cannot and should not be expected to be everything you need.
The pressure to be everything to someone, to meet all their needs, is too much for most of us. It can leave your partner feeling claustrophobic, overwhelmed, and frustrated, especially when they can’t meet a need. It sets you up to be disappointed in your partner. And in the end, it can doom your relationship to fail because no one’s happy.
Instead, you should have a whole community of people and resources who fulfill different roles for you. In addition to a healthy relationship with your partner, you should have family and friends, hobbies, interests, and activities to fill your time and meet your various needs. Your partner should only be one part of the entire picture of your life.
Having a healthy relationship means letting go of mistakes
Healthy relationships require forgiveness, compassion, and understanding. Everyone makes mistakes, and if we can’t find it in our hearts to show compassion, understand where our partner is coming from and forgive them for their mistakes, the relationship is doomed.
The mistakes I’ve outlined here can be forgiven. And couples can work through them, if they’re willing to acknowledge the trouble and put in the work. But the best thing for your relationship is to never make these mistakes in the first place.
Wendy Miller is a freelance relationship writer & meditation teacher. After years of settling for abusive and otherwise toxic relationships, she got fed up. Using meditation and other tools, she got to work on healing herself, setting boundaries, and only engaging in relationships (romantic and otherwise) that bring her joy. She wants to help other single parents find the love they seek, including and going beyond romantic love. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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