Relationships, the pitfalls and the ways to keep it alive

Gleaned from many sources and my own life experience, may they serve you well ....

First things first, the pits we all can fall into. One of the most common pitfalls in any relationship is a typical human trait ... which is, having expectations. In a relationship that is not working, it's having expectations, that are going unmet. And of course, our human tendency to be somewhat selfish.

This shows itself in many ways, for example: You first get together and we treat each other with our best party manners, until later, when the new wears off and we go from doing all the extra things, and showing appreciation for the things done for us ...  and then, we tend to follow a very predictable pattern. We go from where we notice everything and show our appreciation, to taking such things for granted ... to finally ... where we get self-centered, and now we expect  such things and only notice them, when they are absent.

Where once we showered our mate with thanks, now we rag and whine at them, for the lack of the same things, they gave to us freely in the beginning. And the reason such acts are lacking in most cases, is that you have made the mistake of taking them for granted.

This is likely the largest pitfall of any relationship, this tendency to take each for granted. Now, any relationship has the new stage, where we do the hearts and flowers, and that fades with time, as it must. As most of us cannot keep that kind of romance up, to the same degree we did at the beginning ... but our tendency to let the relationship die entirely, for a variety of reasons, a slow death I might add, is the problem.


At the base of every relationship, is the expectation of some kind of benefit from being in the relationship, or else why are we there ? However, when those expectations are not met, problems follow.

Expectations are human nature, we do not go into any relationship, of any sort, without them. However, what most of us fail to realize, is that unmet expectations, are the real reason behind many of the problems in our relationships.

It can be a challenge to see or even understand what our real expectations are, "as we are often blind to them, we honestly don't even realize we have them, until, like the air we breathe, we don't get them." So the hardest task becomes realizing what is at the base of our problem. It's often a far different issue than we first believe.

For example, little stuff. Everyday that we live with another, there are always the little things that we do, with almost no thought as to their effects, which can distress our partner and they do the same to us. However, since such things are, in and of themselves, considered petty complaints, we tend not to talk about them. This is a major mistake ....

Lack of communication on the little things:

Now, the "big" stuff, as in the really major issues, most of us can handle, it is the little things that trip us up.

Example: You leave the bathroom a mess every morning, as you get ready for work. You get in a hurry, as your running late, whatever the reason. However, it is what happens next, that matters. Now, your gone and your at home mate walks into the bathroom, and sees the wet towel on the floor, toothpaste in the sink, hair on the counter, etc. etc. that the mate, at least by implication, is now expected to clean up. I know of almost no one who will not come to resent this over time.

Now, in the over all scheme of things, this is minor right ? However, to the at home mate, this can easily be taken to mean ... my partner doesn't care about me. Your mate then complains to you, about how messy you are, but the reality is, that they are upset because you are showing so little care and consideration for them. Which is an entirely different issue, than their complaint that you are messy.

Even the so called big things, are often based on relatively, smaller issues. Example: the number of relationships that break up over money problems, is staggering. However, if you look carefully, it is not really the money itself, that is the problem. As it does not matter if we have very little money or we have "money to burn", the same problems ensue.

As if one partner say, "spends too much." We might fight over the money, but what we are really fighting over, is the idea that the mate who spends too much on themselves, is being selfish. That is what we are really objecting to.


There is no bigger stumbling block to real communication, than selfishness. I mean you could sit down with your partner and tell them anything and everything that you want or expect from them. Sounds reasonable, right ? Thats communicating, isn't it ?

No, it's really not, if your whole diatribe, is centered on YOU and you alone. Trust me, it almost goes without saying, but I will say it anyway, that if you regale your mate with a long list of things you want, anyone with half a brain can see there is a problem with that. That is, they can if nowhere in that list did you say anything about their needs or wants.

So it comes down to not only speaking your needs, but understanding how you are perceived by others, when you do speak up. Selfishness gets you nowhere, as with the above example. The one hearing your laundry list of wants, it is likely to A: not pay much heed to what you have said, much less what you want and B: is not going to waste their time, reciting a list of their own. As you have made it very clear, by your manner of presentation, that the only thing your thinking about, is yourself. So why would they waste their breath trying to talk to you about what they want ? As a result, no one gets what they want, and the relationship, dies.

Selfishness, is the root under just about any relationship problem that you care to name. Don't think so yet ? Lets break it down a bit more and see.

As noted, the minor issue of leaving the bathroom a mess, the first party who left the mess, is being selfish, as they are expecting their mate to pick up after them. When, one assumes, that they are perfectly able to pick up after themselves. Money, same thing, if you are overspending, you are being selfish, as you are tending to your own wants, over and above the needs or wants, of your mate or family. Anything can be a selfish act, from sex, as in you get what you want, more than your partner does, on down to who drives the car when you go somewhere together... Over and over, many of the problems that come up, the root problem, is selfishness on someone's part.


This can range from having a major secret, to just keeping all of your feelings and thoughts, to yourself. Both are damaging, for the simple reason, any major thing your hiding, will come out at some point in time and your partner will, rightfully feel very abused by this. Further, by keeping everything to yourself, you are not sharing with your partner, hiding who you are and what you think from them. In short, your being selfish, and dishonest, by keeping everything to yourself.

Now, there are times, when telling the truth, can do more damage than a lie. We all know of people who use the "truth" like a stick, that they beat their partner over the head with, full of self righteousness, as, after all .... it is the truth. There is a large difference between constructive truth, and using it as a weapon. Be honest, but in the right way, as to do otherwise, is to risk damaging your relationship, beyond repair.

There are many forms of dishonesty. What most people think about, is infidelity. Which, while very damaging, we can generally forgive that. Again, it's the little things that can totally ruin an otherwise good relationship. 

All the "white lies" about where you have been. ( to spare them being upset of course ) The evasions, when you are doing things, that you know your mate would not approve of. It is like all of the promises you made to each other, just flew out the window, as you justify your lies .... Time it seems, has eroded those promises, and they no longer matter to you.  Even if you never get caught at these lies, you know you did them and it effects how YOU behave and therefore, the relationship suffers.


For any relationship to work, there has to be equality. When one person tries to play the "one up on you" game of being the superior one, it's a recipe for disaster. Now, it is true, that on some things one or the other, will be better informed or better skilled at a given task. However, at no time does this mean that you are better than your partner, over all.

Your gender is not relevant, nor is your age or income level. Everyone has things they are best at and it is that person, if you want things to run smoothly, who likely should be doing the task. But that is not always possible, so you just have to accept, that from time to time, one of you is going to be doing a thing, that the other might feel they could do better. So what ? The task gets done, that is all that matters.

Having to be right all the time:

This, is the kiss of death to just about any relationship. This comes from basic insecurity. Anyone, who MUST be the one who is right all the time, has a serous problem. Not only within themselves, but they create one for anyone they are dealing with, their partner in particular. 

No one likes to be made feel that they are wrong all the time and will resent it, often bitterly. As consider this, even if you are right and you win, what have you done to your partner and their self-esteem ? Is it worth it ? A reasoned compromise, almost always makes more sense.

"To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you're wrong admit it,
Whenever you're right, shut up!"

Ogden Nash

June issue of Readers Digest, 1994


Now the first thing that comes to most peoples mind when you say this word, is physical abuse. Which is dreadful of course, but there are many kinds of abuse, some that are worse in their own way, than if you hit someone. Bruises will heal, but mental hurts, cuts to ones self- esteem, passive aggressive withholding of affection, can be even worse.

Hit me and I will heal, but cut me up like a band saw with mental abuse, and I may never recover from it. Any time you see an abuser, what you are seeing is someone who is insecure in themselves. Someone who is hypercritical, and seeks to control ... everything. This means, that they do not trust their partner to behave in a reasonable manner, without  brow beating them or trying to control their every move. This lack of trust, is a death knell to the relationship, as any relationship has to be based on trust.


Which brings us to the next point, the how and why of criticism. There is a right way and a wrong way and it is the wrong way that gets us into all sorts of trouble. Example: The partner that demeans their mate, in public for their faults. Bad move, even if your entirely right.

Shut your face, ( I know it is hard, but do it :) and wait, until you can have your say in decent privacy and you might get a better hearing. Furthermore, accept the fact, that you are not going to be able to change everything about them. You got together with the person, just as they are. If you are nitpicking them to death, it will seem to your partner, and rightfully so, that you hooked up with them just to try and make them over into your own ideal.

Mind you, this is not to say that you just have to put up with anything the other party dishes out. If the behavior is one that even they should want to change, if they care about how you feel. It is reasonable to at least have a hope for change, if you have discussed the issue. Be warned however, that no matter how "helpful" you want to be, or how much you want to see change take place, you cannot MAKE the other party change their ways. If they are to change, they must do it for themselves, for their own reasons.

Gunny sacking:

What this term means, is keeping all the little hurts and issues, to yourself. That is, until you have had entirely enough of the other person's behavior and then rain all over their heads. Not only with the last thing they did, but perhaps for EVERYTHING they have ever done, depending on how long you have been holding it all in. Such things must be spoken of, while they are still fresh in the mind, not hoarded up, just waiting for a moment of anger, to dump it all on their heads.

People are not mind readers and they may not even see, that "look" on your face, that expresses your displeasure at some action of theirs. Subtle hints, are for AFTER the matter has been discussed and agreed upon, that they will attempt to change the behavior. But do not expect that such "hints" will be enough to make the point for you, without discussion and agreement first.

Taken to its furthest extreme, a person can gunnysack for their entire relationship, and that relationship will literally dissolve when one party, has had "enough." They often just up and fade away, leaving the other party wondering why they left. With good reason, as if all of these "petty" things had not been discussed, at any time in the relationship, they literally DO NOT KNOW why you left.


The flip side to the coin of being criticized, even in a constructive manner, is being defensive. As lets face it, none of us is perfect and there is always room for improvement. And who is in a better position to see our faults, than our partner ? So getting all uptight and hissing like a scalded cat, every time your partner brings up some flaw in your nature, is not very productive.

As it cuts you off from some very good insight. As we all have blind spots, things that we cannot see about ourselves, that others can. If we are being reasonable we will take such constructive criticisms, for what they really are,
and at least give the matter some serous thought.

Now, the problem can come in however, when the party who is pointing out these faults, does so ... with bad intentions. It goes back to being hypercritical and abusive, if the one doing the "corrections" is doing so, just so they can put down their partner and thereby "prove" their own superiority.

There are many variations on how one can criticize ... poorly, so learning how to do so, with finesse and fairness, is paramount. It is a fine line we walk, between giving constructive
advice, to going over the line into fault finding and put downs.

Ben Franklin said, "The sting of another's criticism, usually comes from the truth in it." so when you are the one pointing them out, be aware of this fact, and do not expect immediate capitulation. It takes time and understanding on your part, to realize that no one "likes" their faults being pointed out, and that it will take time for them to even agree to the need for change, much less take action on it.

Not only that, if you, the one being told, refuse's to at least listen to such advice, you may continue to make the same mistakes, over and over again, until the other person gets tired of it ... and therefore, of you. 

This reluctance to accept our own faults is commonplace, and we often compound that problem, by our failure to even attempt to amend them. This may be why people can go from one relationship to another, often with the same disastrous results.

Certainty: Or another version of ... I am always right

"Whatever else you do, always remain certain that whatever you think, feel, or believe--about relationships, your partner, life in general, etc.--is true. ( even if there is evidence to the contrary* ) Never let doubt or contradictory evidence creep in. Never ask for guidance or support from others. And above all else, never admit any shortcomings that might make you appear weak or stupid. Always appear to know exactly what you are doing, even when you don't have a clue..." ( see links )

It does not take a rocket scientist to see whats wrong with this picture. This is the partner, who rather than admit there are things they do not know, will rush headlong into trouble, usually running over anyone in the way, with their idea of how things should be. This is the person, who will come along and literally take over whatever your doing, as your not "doing it right".

Probably the most misunderstood word in the English language, is the word "should". As the word implies, it means that someone is doing or thinking something, as that is what they are supposed to do. Never mind the fact, that all too often, they have never questioned the rightness or fitness, of the beliefs they hold.

Nor, in extreme cases, do they want to question them, and they most certainly do not want YOU to question them. ( read defensiveness ) Always second guess anything that comes with the word "should" attached to it. As very often, it's some grafted on idea, that has never been tested by anyone, for accuracy. So when someone points this out to you, do yourself a favor and at least try to listen. :)


You will find it often said in most missives about relationships, that one should never do anything for your partner, expecting your partner to reciprocate. Well, sorry, I don't happen to believe in that idea. For one basic reason ... it does not work like that. Now yes, we can do things for our partner, as a gift and say we expect nothing in return. Sounds great right ? Yes it does, however it is another recipe for failure.

It goes like this, no one does anything for anyone, and does not expect at least recognition of what they give and or, reciprocal behavior. That is a basic fact of human nature. We might put up with being the one doing all the giving, for a while, even a long while. But sooner or later, we will come to resent the other party, as we are doing most of the giving and little of the getting.

In short, if you get, you have to give, or very soon, you will stop getting, at the very least. Moreover, the party doing all of the giving, will either tire of it and leave you, or worse ... they will become a score keeper.

A score keeper is someone who counts up all the "good deeds" they have done for you and will use them like a stick to get their own way. As in " I have done all this for you, now you owe me." Making the other party miserable in the process. There is no room in a working relationship for this kind of behavior.

While we are on the subject, let's discuss the idea of 50-50. I will be blunt and say, there really is NO such thing in any one given event. Now, can there be over all ? Of course, but the trap this otherwise grand sounding idea creates for people, is expecting 50-50, in all cases. Not gonna happen people. It goes back to, who is best at a task, is ideally the one who needs to be doing it.

However, again the warning implied here is, if one party happens to be good at "most" things, this does not mean they get stuck with all of it. 50-50 is a workable idea ... provided you understand a simple concept. It is a matter of dividing up the tasks of life, so that each party is doing, in as much as they are able, their fair share. 

A good example: In the current day, most partners work outside the home, for a wage. The reason for this is simple, one paycheck is seldom enough now a days, to cover expenses, especially if you have children. However, to expect that all of the household work and child care, fall to only one partner, because they are " better at it" is nothing short of ludicrous.

As what you are really asking, is that they should work all day and then come home and keep right on working, with no help ? Can you say NOT ! It is an idea that might, I say "might" have made some sense in the day when most partners, did not work outside the home. That is not, and has not been the case, for many years and if you want to keep your relationship, you need to wake up to a new reality and act accordingly.


Even in a relationship, one can be alone. In fact, it is the worst kind of loneliness.

You can, if your not careful, get so wrapped up in your job, your hobbies, almost any pursuit you can name, to the point where you totally neglect your mate.

Now if you both have busy lives and you agree, that for this task, you need that kind of solitude, your mate can likely handle the separation. But it's when it's not agreed upon, that we run into major trouble. The neglected partner will reach a point where they will say to themselves, " If I am going to be alone anyway, I may as well be in fact, alone" and they will walk out of your life, as they have given up looking for the sharing, that is not forthcoming.

Me and Mine:

Once you have passed the point, of "getting to know" each other and have said that you plan to stay together. Stop saying things like my house, my car, my money etc. I don't care if all of the above, technically speaking IS yours, in that you came into the relationship with it. At some point, other than personal mementos, or things that you set aside before you joined, as personal property, everything has to become ... ours. Otherwise, what you are saying to your partner, is that everything is mine and I can take off with it, whenever I like. Think about it. How would you feel if they did the same thing ?

It says that you won't even share your possessions with them. It is like a dog, marking their territory, saying MINE. This leaves your partner with only one thing they can really think. That being, that you plan on leaving them at some point. Otherwise, why would you make such a point, of claiming what "belongs" to you all of the time ? As expected, this action can become a self fulfilling prophecy, as you won't have to bother leaving them, as they will often leave you instead.

Personal attacks:

I think it should go without saying that personal attacks are a not, in any relationship, but they happen. Moreover, they are often subtle and not out in the open. For example:

Invalidation and contempt:

This is where one party, is always putting down the thoughts, feelings or even character of the other. This can take many forms. Sarcasm being an all time favorite, which often just signals contempt for the other party. The age old excuse of " I was just kidding" rarely cuts it. As most people are NOT kidding when they are being sarcastic, they are dead serous and the other party knows it. I don't care if their self esteem is lower than the basement, at some point, they are going to fight back, and it will not be pretty when they do.

As discussed above, fault finding or excessive criticism is another favorite, often cloaked in the mask of "I am just saying this, for your own good" when the other party may mean no such thing, they just want to feel superior ( read superiority ). In short, if you are with a person, one assumes that you care for them and being belittling, is not showing care, it is showing contempt. If you find yourself in this situation, you need to seriously re-evaluate the relationship.

Nagging, Stonewalling and other fun games:

We all tend to play avoidance games with each other. Again, it's human nature, as we use it as means to try and avoid confrontations. However, there is a fine line between coping mechanisms, and delaying tactics, and outright hurtful behavior. As noted above, in the "for your own good" category, it can lead to nagging and whining at the other party. This becomes a habit, one that can easily kill a relationship.

Now if the matter has been discussed in a rational fashion, and both parties have agreed to the need for change, then a simple reminder, should be enough. If you are forced into nagging, to try and enforce something agreed upon, you are just setting yourself up for game number two, from a partner that is not holding up their end of the agreement which is, stonewalling.

This is what is called passive aggressive behavior, where the party is actively ignoring not only the problem, but their partner. This is the person who refuses to make eye contact. Who spends excessive amounts of time in hobbies or TV, totally shutting out the other person. Going to bed '"early" constantly, to avoid any free time to discuss matters, is another sign. What can easily happen in such a case, is you may find yourself, with what you have inadvertently asked for ... as you will find yourself alone in truth.


A state worse, in many ways, than doing the relationship active damage, as it is where you have just let the relationship ... die. Making no attempt to keep it alive and have let it slide into total apathy "Shared history, family tradition, religious convictions, and the expectations of others, are enough for some to stick it out, but others will need more. There are those who would rather be loved in hell, than disregarded in heaven." ( see links )
Keeping your relationship alive

A few short ideas, that many agree, work .... and my personal thoughts on the matter.

Relationships need to be renewed from time to time, with the intimacy that we forged in the beginning. Intimacy is not just about sex, it's about closeness, the sharing, the times when you smile that special smile, that is for them alone.

Never go to bed mad:

Is one of the oldest adages in the book, for good reason. If you go to bed mad, you wake up that way and you tend to stay that way. If you care about someone, you are sorry if you hurt their feelings in a fight, so say it. Kiss and make up. You might talk about it more tomorrow, but re-new that bond, before you say goodnight, and you will go a long way towards keeping your relationship intact.

Make decisions together:

One of the fastest ways to make anyone feel left out, is to cut them out of the decision making process. Even something simple, can become a major issue, if only one of you is making the decisions. Especially if only one party is constantly making all of the choices, leaving the other partner out of the picture.

Now, this does not mean that you should call your mate at work, and mutually decide on what to have for dinner every night. But once in a while, asking them even that question, as silly as it might sound, will do wonders. :) Communication, even on the little things, it matters.

Be polite to each other:

As strange as this sounds to many modern day folk, yes I said be polite to each other. All of the oh so important words, of please, thank you and excuse me. Sure we can tease each other and kid around but the bottom line is, you need to be more polite to your mate, than you would a stranger on the street. If you think about it for a moment, you will understand why. The stranger on the street does not live with you, your mate does. Who deserves your courtesy more ?

Don't assume anything:

One of the fastest ways into trouble, is making assumptions. It is hard not to do, as one would think, who do you know better than your mate ? But the facts are, they will surprise you. I don't care if you have been together for 30 years, never assume. Always ask them questions first, before you take serious actions, just to be sure you know their mind on the matter.

Compliment each other:

Everybody has faults and no one knows that better than your mate. However, if that is all you focus on, that's all you will have, one long un-ending problem. So rather than find faults all the time, try and find the good things. After all, it was those good things that drew you to them in the first place, right ? Remember that and keep those good things in mind, that they are smart, creative, funny, a good cook, whatever, and as with the rule above, do not assume that they know how you feel about these things. You have to say it, and it's a good idea to do it often.

Bare is the back, without a brother:

In other words, support each other and back each other up. Even if you disagree, make that a private issue. Whatever they are into, be the one who can say " I got your back" and mean it. Otherwise, what is the point of being in a union in the first place ?

Work together:

You are individuals, with your own interests, but there has to be some common ground. I know they say opposites attract, but not to the point where you have nothing in common. All too often, one party does not want to "intrude" on whatever the other is doing. This is a mistake. Find something that you can do in tandem. It doesn't really matter what it is, as long as when that occasion arises, you do it  together.

Tell them:

Back to, don't assume anything. Tell them you love them, show them you love them. Let it never be a question in their mind. It's not just something you save for your anniversary, A wise person lets their partner know, everyday, that the are loved, and appreciated.

Stay flexible:

No one is set in stone. People change, their interests change, and you need to change with it, as long as that change is positive. Now if your mates current interest is not your cup of tea ( for example, I happen to like snakes, and I have had many as pets and my current spouse is not that fond of them, but I know that if I really wanted one, I could have it and he would back me 100%. I don't know if he would ever hold one, but he would support my interest ) but my point is, positive support, for any non negative change that takes place, is a key factor in making a relationship work.

A partnership takes work:

You put a lot of effort into getting to know your mate. You dated, you did things together, up to and including for some of you, arranging your wedding etc. Do you think that now, because you are a team, you can just let all that work, slide ? Have you ever watched prize fighters ? A saying of theirs is, when you step into the ring, you are not "defending" your title, you are winning it. The same is true of any union, you do not win your mate once and only once, you win them over and over again, if you are wise.

Never mind what other people's partnerships are like:

By this I mean, don't make comparisons. Your relationship is just that, yours and yours alone. Every couple has a one of a kind relationship. I recall, one couple, that called each other dreadful names all the time and their families forced them to "be nice" to each other. They did, and they hated it ... why ? Because for them, all the name calling was the same as sweet nothings, for someone else. So don't judge your own union by anyone else's, make your own.

Never mind the past:

The Gods forbid, that you have had a disaster of a union in the past, and the new partner does anything even remotely like the Ex did. We have all seen it happen, and if we have had more than one relationship, have likely done it ourselves. Don't !

I do not care if your last relationship was a total and utter disaster. Anything your current mate does, that resembles anything the former did, is likely superficial and or, your being a bit touchy on the subject. Which, if you are honest with yourself, you can sort fact, real problems, from your fears of a repeat of the past. What it boils down to is, that if you taint your current relationship with the ghosts of the past, yours or theirs, your relationship will suffer for it. Forget the past, and forge forward with a clean slate.


With thanks to
What Makes Marriages Succeed And Fail (Simon & Schuster, 1994)
By Morton C. Orman, M.D. Copyright 1995-2010 M.C. Orman, MD, FLP

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