Avoid The 5 Biggest Relationship Mistakes

Are You Making These 5 Biggest Relationship Mistakes?

In marriage counseling and couples therapy, I work with couples on a wide spectrum of “issues” both in my Denver office and with couples online. Some are coming into our sessions proactively, ready to build the skills and find the tools needed to create a great marriage, while others are on the brink of divorce. It’s true: couples can fight, disagree, be very different — and still have fantastic relationships. However, there are a few certain kinds of relationship mistakes that can take down a marriage pretty quickly. And these relationship mistakes are worth noting (especially if you’re new to your relationship or just starting out in your marriage journey!). 

Because the thing is: having a great marriage isn’t necessarily about solving problems as much as it is about having a solid foundation of emotional connection. If you are making relationship mistakes that damage that connection… look out.

Truthfully, the strength of your marriage isn’t measured by whether or not you have conflict or even big noisy fights. The health of your relationship isn’t determined by “communication skills,” whether or not you say please and thank you, or whether you’re going on date nights. It doesn’t matter how similar you are, whether you want the same things out of life, have sex often enough, or have an equitable household chore plan worked out.

Actually, the health, strength, and sustainability of your relationship depend on whether or not you are making these five biggest relationship mistakes:

  1. Empathic failure
  2. Not asking for authentic needs to be met in a way that your partner can hear them
  3. Not being responsive
  4. Being self-focused
  5. Not getting help if any of the above are missing

On today’s episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, I’ll walk you through each of these “Big 5” relationship mistakes and give you some real-world examples of how to do things differently. 

If you can shift your behaviors in these five areas, you’ll be well on your way to repairing your love and bringing peace back to your home.

Is your marriage in crisis? Learn more about expert marriage counseling in Denver.

What Relationship Mistakes Have You Made? I come clean about some of my own in today’s episode. How about you? Are there times that you made some of those “biggest relationship mistakes?” (Or, possibly were on the receiving end?) If so, I hope you share your stories with others in the comments below… — Lisa

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Avoid The 5 Biggest Relationship Mistakes

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. You’re listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast.

[Intro Song: Oh Love by Ayla Nereo]

Dr. Lisa: That’s Ayla Nereo with Oh Love. Such a nice song. I’m excited to be back talking with you today. I’ve taken a little bit of a late summer hiatus from my Love, Happiness, and Success podcasting duties but I’m well-rested and enthusiastic. I have some really, really great shows planned for us over the next few weeks. I hope that you enjoy today’s topic which is relationships and how to avoid making some really common and thankfully, pretty avoidable relationship mistakes. But first, let me introduce myself. 

Hi, I’m Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, if you haven’t listened to this show before, it’s Love, Happiness, and Success podcast where we talk about all kinds of different things that are related to feeling happier, being more successful, feeling like you can do better things in your life, and also having better relationships. I started this project a while back because I’m a therapist. I’m trained as a psychologist, also a marriage counselor, and a life coach, and I have a practice in Denver. 

I came to discover roundabout ways that.. A lot of people who could really benefit from doing work with somebody like me getting involved in their own stuff either don’t have access to it or there are a variety of obstacles or reasons why it doesn’t make sense for them. And that is okay. It needs to be the right time. Timing is everything. But I think also, that people have a right to information that can help them feel better, do better, have better relationships. And it’s so important and it’s really kind of become a personal mission for me. It’s just to be putting helpful information out there into the world so that people might stumble across it, pick it up, find it at the right time. 

That maybe it might change something for them. If that happens, that will have made all of my work and learning worthwhile. So you could say it’s kind of a personal mission for me so that’s what I’m doing here. I just wanted to introduce myself a little bit. Also, if you want to learn more about me or what I’m up to, I have a practice in Denver. That’s GrowingSelf.com. But also I have a blog site, and that’s DrLisaBobby.com. There you can find all the articles that I’ve written, links to all the podcasts that I’ve done. 

Also, I have a number of little online tools that I’ve developed for people, if you’d like to check those out, I have one right now. That’s my Happiness Class which teaches you, what I think, is a really amazing technique for improving your mood instantly by teaching you how to manage your thoughts a little bit differently. Because our feelings, on some level, are almost always determined by what we’re thinking about or what our core beliefs are. The meaning that we make of situations determines the way that we feel about them. If you can tinker around with meanings and thoughts, you can really reliably change your feelings. You can find that on my website. It’s totally free. Just go there and sign up and you’ll be able to download it. That’s DrLisaBobby.com or GrowingSelf.com

Also, stay in touch with me. I love hearing from people. You can connect with me on Facebook: Facebook.com/DrLisaBobby, or Twitter: @DrLisaBobby. In particular, if there are things that you would like me to discuss on the show or write about, let me know so that I can make sure that whatever we’re doing or about whatever I’m doing on the show is always most helpful to you. Then lastly, if you like this, it would be so awesome. And just as a personal favor, if you would like to subscribe to it on iTunes, you can do that through my website. But also, if you go to iTunes and write a little review about the show, what that does is that it helps other people be able to find the show more easily. So if you think “This was good stuff and this helped me,” if you write a review about it, another person will be able to find it just because of my limited understanding of how these things work. If a show, a podcast has more reviews on iTunes, then it will come up in the search rankings and more people will be able to stumble across it. So thank you for that. 

Today on the show, I’m really excited because I’m really a marriage counselor first. I did my masters degree and really got into the field of counseling because I wanted to be a marriage counselor. That is my first passion. And then, going on to do the whole PhD thing and the coaching thing, that really came later. My biggest motivation, I think, for going into counseling was because I had been married for a pretty long time. Early into our marriage, my husband and I went through a pretty significant rough patch. And looking back, I’m still not even quite sure what happened but we just went through a couple of years there where we were just not connecting. And it was a really hard time. It was a very painful time. 

We did actually get involved in some really good marriage counseling and it really helped us just reconnect and do a better job of communicating. I’m not sure that we would still be married today, if we hadn’t had that kind of intervention fairly early on. Because of that experience, I thought that is really cool and if I could have a career doing that for people, that would be super. That was really one of the biggest motivation that got me into counseling school. One of them anyway. Today, on the podcast, I would like to share with you some of the key points that I’ve learned over the years, being married for practically 20 years, but also as a marriage counselor. 

Through the process of becoming a marriage counselor and really honing my craft over a pretty long time, a decade at this point, I have experimented with different strategies, and done a lot of research, learned a lot of stuff, and a bunch of training, and had my office — my therapy office really being the classroom — that taught me, as well as my clients, about what kinds of things work and what kinds of things don’t work. What I have discovered over the years is that there are really just a few basic mistakes that people can make in a relationship that can, quite frankly, make it or break it. If you understand what those are and develop strategies for handling those situations differently, you will have a much, much better outcome. So that’s what we’re talking about today. 

Let’s talk about relationship mistakes and how to avoid them. What to do instead that will help you get better results. But first of all, let me help you understand what relationship mistakes are by understanding this key theoretical concept. It’s important. Stay with me. I’m just going to get all nerdy for a second and I’m going to tell you about something called attachment theory. Attachment is really the bond, the emotional bond that connects people. It is absolutely core. It is central to the human experience to bond and be securely attached to another person. We often think about this as relating to babies or young children as attaching to a caregiver. But from the moment we’re born, we’re seeking attachment. So when it comes to babies and children, I think it’s really easy to understand. A baby is really, very dependent on a caregiver, a mother for everything. 

Quite literally, whether or not this baby lives or dies depends on the attachment that they can elicit from their caregiver and that their mother or father feels for them. So for example, if a baby needs something, they will make little noises or try to get their parents’ attention. Let them know like, “I’m hungry. Like a bottle, please.” Although it sounds like [imitates baby crying]. An attuned caregiver will hear this. Their mommy will hear this and say, “Oh, my baby needs a bottle.” They’ll understand what’s going on with the baby. They’ll have empathy. They’ll say, “Oh, that’s understandable. That makes sense.” And then they’ll be responsive. They’ll show up with a bottle, and meet that baby’s needs, and the baby will come back down again. 

A couple of important things have happened in that sequence. First of all, the baby let mommy know what it needed in a way that mommy could hopefully understand. And then, that baby elicited that mom’s, not sympathy, but empathy. Like, “Oh, my baby needs something, and I love them, and I want to take care of them.” That was a gratifying experience for both the mommy and the baby. The mommy was able to soothe and comfort the baby which probably made her feel good. But also, in meeting that baby’s needs, she taught that baby, “You can trust me. I care about you. I love you. You’re worth loving. You have a voice that gets heard and this is safe. I’m a safe person for you. You’re safe, you’re loved, you’re understood.” In doing so, that baby, in a neurobiological sense, experiences safety, experiences comfort. 

It’s so essential for the development of young children to have those kinds of experiences and have that kind of environment. Because, if little kids have safety and security in those primary relationships, they have that stable home base to be able to go off into the world, and explore things, and have adventures because they know that there’s a soft place to fall. There’s that shelter if they need to run back in a hurry and you’ll see that. Like with little toddlers, like one-year-olds that are first learning how to walk. They’ll toddle away and you’ll see them look back over their shoulder to make sure Mommy’s still there and she is. So they keep going a little further. 

When they have that, it’s safe to explore the world as opposed to, very sadly, young children either who don’t and they experience the world as being very fearful, very scary, and then they tend to be very fearful and kind of clingy or even sadder, in some ways, young children who have denied those feelings from a very early age. Like nobody’s coming. “I’m on my own.” That’s a whole other ball of wax. That’s how we think of attachment with little kids. You’re probably thinking, “Okay, this is not the podcast that I signed up for. I want to know about relationship mistakes.” So let me just tell you, attachment is really no less important. 

When it comes to adult relationships, that as adults, we all need that our relationship, usually our primary relationship with a person with whom we feel safe, that we can trust, we know that they care about us, they understand our feelings, and they can be responsive to us when we need usually emotional comfort or that safety in a relationship. So obviously, adult relationships are very different from that, parent-child. But they’re also a lot the same. They’re different in the sense that they are mutual. Two adults are kind of serving as that attachment figure for each other as opposed to it kind of being a one-way relationship with a parent and a child. And then also, of course, there’s a sexual component to it. So that is adult attachment. There’s been a lot of really interesting research showing that attachment, that emotional bond is really what a relationship is. That healthy relationships are characterized by the same kinds of attachment dances that you see with parents and children. 

So for example, with my husband, if I’m saying, “Oh, man, I had a terrible day. This was ugh. Can I talk to you about this for a second?” His ability to understand me and think, “Oh, you know what, Lisa is not doing okay right now. I need to pay attention to her and let her know that I care about her.” His ability to do that and just kind of be there for me when I need somebody to talk to. My ability to let him do that and ask for what I need, that is a subtle but very real kind of bonding moment that adults have that signals to both of them just the quality of that attachment. “I’m here for you, you’re here for me. I care about you and I am emotionally available to you.” Basically, every kind of relationship conflict that people experience happens when there is a disruption in attachment. People can fight about all kinds of things. From taking the trash out, to you’re flirting with a girl, to your house is too messy, whatever it is. 

I know this from thousands of conversations with married couples. At the core of it is always this very tender plea, almost, of “Don’t you care about me?” “Don’t you care about how I’m feeling?” And “How could you do this to me?” Then the converse is “Can I trust you?” “Do you love me?” “Are you there for me?” “Are you there to hold me or comfort me when I need you?” All relationship conflict can get distilled down to those very core elemental attachment needs. When we can understand what’s happening in our relationships from that perspective, everything falls into place. Knowing that both you and your partner really, legitimately, genuinely need that kind of secure, safe, stable attachment with each other and that’s what both of you are wanting and seeking. Understanding that helps you understand what relationship mistakes are. It’s basically anything that disrupts that. 

Also, understanding attachment and the way that people very reliably react when attachment gets disrupted can help you understand your partner in a different way. In particular, understand how they might be seeking to connect with you or protect themselves in a way that might be kind of confusing. For example, when a baby needs something and they cry or scream, it’s very easy to kind of be compassionate. Like, “Oh, well, the baby’s hungry. That’s why it’s crying, to feed them.” But when it’s your partner saying something like, “What the heck is wrong with you? I can’t believe you did that. That was terrible.” We do not feel compassionate towards that. No, we get defensive. And so it’s really hard to understand that what is at the core of that is, “Don’t you love me? Don’t you care about how badly I’m feeling? And I want to tell you how badly I’m feeling so that you can understand.” It’s that kind of bid. That trying to reengage. 

Like “Tell me you love me. Give me what I need to feel safe with you” is at the core of those kinds of criticisms or attacks and vice versa. If we were to see a little baby protecting itself from a scary situation, hiding under a chair, again, really easy to understand. Like, “Are you scared right now?” Versus a guy who goes in the garage, and stays there, and doesn’t come out or is kind of non-committal and doesn’t want to talk about anything. Sort of grunts and stays at work late. It’s very difficult to interpret that in the same kind of soft way. That maybe it’s scary for him. Maybe he feels like he’s inadequate. He doesn’t know how to make you happy. He’s feeling threatened emotionally in this situation somehow. 

Because when we understand those softer attachment needs at the core of relationship conflict, we can start to react to our partners in ways that are much, much, much, not just easier or happier feeling, but much more productive. Because if we can respond to our partners in ways that communicate our care, and concern, and our understanding of those attachment needs and have these little bonding moments, those are the moments that strengthen our relationship. That’s attachment and what it means for you in terms of having a high-quality relationship. 

Relationship Mistakes 101: Empathic Failure

Now, with those principles in mind, I will walk you through the biggest relationship mistakes that you can make. Really the biggest one, if you take nothing else away from this podcast hear this. The biggest relationship mistake you can make is something called an empathic failure. An empathic failure is when your husband, your wife comes to you, sort of hat in hand saying, “Hey, can I talk to you about something?” Or “Gosh, I have this stuff going on and this has been really crazy for me.” Or “You know what? I just had this really amazing experience and something happened today that was so important and special to me. I want to share this with you.” It’s any kind of bid for connection. Either “Share this moment with me,” or “Understand this thing. It’s important to me,” or “I need you right now.” 

Any bid for connection, an empathic failure is a rejection of that. That rejection can take a lot of different forms. It can be “I don’t have time to talk to you right now.” It can be “Oh, that’s stupid. Why’d you do that?” It could be a minimization. “Oh well, that wasn’t that big of a deal” or “You shouldn’t have done that,” or problem-solving. “You know what, this is what you should do better next time.” But it’s really like somebody is coming to you with this tender thing. Like, “Oh, wow. There’s this model train show at the Civic Center. I think it’d be really fun to take the kids and go.” And just “Why? That’s stupid. Why would you even want to do that?” 

So what I’m saying is that these are little moments and they might go past you even unnoticed. But over time, these failures, this experience of just having the door slammed shut in your face over and over again take a huge toll. Because what it teaches people is that “I don’t care about how you’re feeling, or what you’re interested in, or what you need. I’m not available so stop asking.” Or “If you do ask me for something, it is going to be a bad experience. I’m going to criticize you, I’m going to tell you what to do, I’m going to judge you.” These are all examples of empathic failure. It’s really important to be mindful of that and to understand that it’s really important for you to pay attention to what your partner is telling you that they need. Because again, these bids can be subtle. Think about your kid coming home from school with something that they drew or their report card and like, “Yay, I got three A’s” or whatever. 

It’s just those tiny, poignant little moments of wanting to share, and to connect with you, and just feeling so rejected. When you’re like, ”Yeah, whatever. I don’t care.” Not that you would actually say that but it can be communicated in a lot of different ways. For a lot of people, it’s just being too busy or being so involved with the kids that we don’t pay attention to our partners in the same way anymore. We don’t talk and have conversations and really ask “How are you?” And then wait for the answer and be able to kind of have that emotionally warm, not just even friendship, but it is kind of a friendship. That warm friendship at the center of a relationship that is really the rock on which an entire marriage, an entire family is founded. And also, sexuality can be a big piece of that. Don’t underestimate the depth of the empathic failure that can result when one person is feeling rejected sexually, especially habitually because it takes a huge toll. 

Relationship Mistakes 102: Not Communicating Your Needs Properly

Number one, whatever you do, avoid empathic failures. Number two, another huge relationship mistake that I see people making all the time really comes down to their ability to understand what they’re really needing from their partner and being able to communicate that in a way that their partner can hear it. So for example, if I were to get irritated with my husband for not making the bed, but that’s an easy one. Because, quite frankly, he doesn’t care whether or not the bed is made. I’m the only person that cares whether or not the bed is made. He could not give a crap. We don’t make the bed all the time but I kind of like it. It makes it look neat and it’s nice when I go to bed at night. Come into a nice made bed. I like it. I usually get up earlier than he does. So I’ve asked him, “Would you mind, please, making the bed when you get up?” And sometimes he does and sometimes he doesn’t. 

It’s just something that he doesn’t even think about. He has stuff going on too but I might get irritated with him like, “It’s been like two weeks and you haven’t made the bed. Could you please make the bed? I’ve asked you to. This is important to me.” And so I might feel irritable or angry at these moments. It would be really easy for me to just go into kind of yapping. Like, “I’ve asked you so many times to make the bed and you never do. You’re just so lazy and blah blah, blah.” I could go to that angry place or I could kind of slow down and be like, “Okay, what is this really about for you, Lisa? Is it really about whether or not the bed is made?” And the core of it is that he would care about my feelings. He would just do this little thing for me because he cared about me and that it would hurt my feelings that he didn’t care about me. Or that he would kind of make me have to do it. 

That made me feel like we weren’t a team. I could go into a whole lot of different directions. But that second step of being able to just kind of move past that surface-level anger. Like “What does this really about for me?” And then once you understand it, be able to communicate that in a way that he could hear. I would honestly never do this with the bed thing because it’s too trivial to even expend the energy on. At least for me, personally. I’ve done this with other things but to be able to say, “Can I talk to you for a minute about… There’s something that has been on my mind and I want you to know how important this is to me. It’s making me feel really uncared for and it’s making my feelings get hurt. I don’t like this situation. I wanted to let you know how I was feeling and just that I feel really sad about this.” Or whatever it is. 

Because when somebody hears that, if your partner came to you and said, “I’m feeling really sad. This model train show that I want to go to and it seems like you aren’t interested, I feel so sad. I feel so alone. It makes me feel lonely. I wish that I could share these things that I’m so excited about with you.” If you heard that from your partner, what would you do with that? And like with most people, it’s like, “Oh, I didn’t realize that you felt this way about the model train show. I do love you and I do care about this. Of course, I’ll go. It’s three hours out of my Saturday. Yes. I’m there. Sign me up. I’ll even wear a train hat. Whatever you need.” It’s like being able to communicate those needs in that more softer, vulnerable way. Because what a lot of people fall into is communicating their needs in very angry ways. 

There’s a lot of hostility. “You never go anywhere with me because you’re a crappy person. And you never make the bed. And blah blah blah.” Whatever it is, it turns into attacks. It’s still those bids for connection and attachment. Understand that I need you is what it’s saying on the inside but on the outside, it just sounds so hostile. And so what happens is that people then can’t hear that softer needs inside of it. They only hear “I’m mad at you. You’re not good enough” Right? And so then, they start to feel like they need to protect themselves from you. Or another piece of that, if you’re on the withdrawing side, maybe it’s to actually be able to say to your partner “It stresses me out and it makes it hard for me to be around you. I feel like I’m letting you down. I feel like I’m failing you or I feel like I’m always doing something wrong. This is what I need from you.” But to have that authentic conversation is so important because, without that, there’s, first of all, not an opportunity to repair. 

I hear stories sometimes and this is so sad. Where one partner has been unhappy with something going on in their relationship but they assume that it won’t change if they talk about it. “Nothing’s gonna change. I know who this person is. I know how this is going to end. I know what’s going to happen so we don’t even have to talk about it anyway because it’s hopeless, and helpless, and disempowered to do anything.” So they keep it bottled in until eventually, they just leave the relationship because they don’t know how else to fix it. And the way to fix it is by having an emotionally engaged, more vulnerable kind of conversation where you really lay your cards and your feelings out on the table. So to do otherwise is a huge relationship mistake either attacking or just withdrawing and disappearing.

Relationship Mistakes 103: Being Non-Responsive

The third relationship mistake that you can make is being non-responsive. So for example, somebody comes to you with one of the things that I’ve just described. A very earnest, genuine bid for your attention, for your understanding and it is not responding to it in a way that’s meaningful. When I say not responding, it can be that first level of literally not engaging in a productive conversation. Putting all of your energy into getting defensive, or telling them why they’re wrong, or trying to escape the conversation and flee. Those are certainly empathic failures, not being responsive. But also, not being responsive means not really following through. If your partner has said, “I feel like we don’t spend any time together. I feel like you’re working too much. You’re exhausted when you are home. I just feel like there’s not anything left over for me.” 

To be able to have that conversation with them, first of all, but to allow what they’re saying to move you sufficiently so that you actually make changes based on what they’re saying. Show them. Not just tell them, but show them that you care about how they feel. Like modifying your work schedule within reason so that you can come home a little bit earlier. Or figuring out ways to spend more time together on the weekends so that they know that you’ve heard them and that you care about their feelings. Showing them that through your behaviors is huge because a good conversation is good. And that’s definitely… That bonding moment is so important. But if you have that good conversation and somebody feels cared for and understood, but then the things that make them feel hurt and unhappy continue to happen, it’s broken that trust and disrupted attachment yet again. 

So it’s really important that if your partner is asking you for something that is within your ability to give, you show up, and you do that, and understanding that it should also be mutual. That you probably have things that are important to you too. To trust your partner enough, give them the opportunity to be there for you too, that’s what creates this beautiful, secure attachment and adult relationships. It’s that sense of “We have each other’s backs” and “I care enough about you to put you first sometimes and I also know that you care enough about me to help me with what I need.” And that’s a really nice feeling when both people can do that for each other and it shows up in lots of different ways. 

Relationship Mistakes 104: Being Too Self-Focused

At the core of this, and you know that. The fourth relationship mistake. If we were to kind of distill all these relationship mistakes into one, there’s empathic failures, or not communicating your needs directly in a way that people can hear them, or not being responsive. All of these can really sum up to really being pretty self-focused. And I say this as somebody who is often very self-focused. We all are. I think that this is something that we all have to kind of work out. But when I say being self-focused, it’s just being so involved with your own feelings, or your own thoughts, or your own needs. That we lose sight about what might be meaningful, or important, or triggering to our partners. Then, we just exclusively focus on relationships from our point of view and forget how we might be perceived by other people, how we might make other people feel, or what other people need. 

Like the example with the whole bed-making thing. Yeah, it is important to me. It’s a little bit important to me that the bed is made but it’s really, genuinely just not important to my husband at all. And so if I’m going to force my perspective or be so self-focused that I think that my way of doing things is better than yours and you should be more like me, that self-focus really is at the core of a lot of these relationship problems. Everything from an empathic failure. That I might be so focused on what I’m doing today, that I don’t want to make space for going to your model train show, or talking to you about something because I have my own little agenda for the day. That would be one example of an empathic failure. Or I don’t want to feel uncomfortable because of this conversation right now so I’m going to reject you or minimize what you’re saying. Because if I really let it in, I would feel really sad. Again, that’s self-focused peace.

That second relationship mistake of not communicating or not understanding your needs and then communicating them directly can also be pretty self-focused. When I just want to get mad, and stomp around, and slam a cabinet door or something as a way of communicating my hurt, that’s pretty selfish of me. If I am not giving my husband the respect to really figure out, “Okay, what am I feeling right now? Why is this bothering me? What do I want to say?” And then, controlling myself enough to say it in a productive way that he can hear me as opposed to just popping off and saying rude things. That’s easy. Using that selflessness in that way to say, “Okay, this is what I need but how do I also have respect for what my husband needs right now too?”

The third piece of not being responsive again, goes back to that self-focus. Around making what I need or what I’m feeling at any given moment more important than what somebody else is feeling is at the core of responsiveness too. I think that to sum all of those, if you had to remember that one thing… Empathic failures are huge but I think the takeaway and something that I work on personally as a married person, but also something that I teach my clients in marriage counseling, is just how to practice that idea of true love which is being able to care about somebody else’s feelings. Understand things from their side of the table to the same degree that we understand our own feelings and our own needs. Not to say that anybody’s feelings are more important than yours but I think in a healthy relationship, they need to be as important as yours. Again, that’s another big relationship mistake. 

Relationship Mistakes 105: Not Getting Help When You Need It

Lastly, the final relationship mistake. Just to throw this in here, and I think I’m going to do a podcast entirely on the subject at some point. The last relationship mistake that you can make, the fifth one is not getting help if you do really need help. Because when people’s attachments are disrupted, as we’ve been talking about, they start to behave badly. That turns into this negative cycle of reactions. Say something happens and it hurts my feelings, my husband might not even know why my feelings are hurt. Say my feelings get hurt and then I am kind of snarky, and I’m slamming cabinet doors, and he’s like, “What is wrong with Lisa?” He finds that off-putting and so then, he’ll start having a negative reaction to me. He’ll start anticipating bad things from me. And then, I perceive him as acting distant and kind of non-communicative. And then, I’m really upset. So then I’ll start whatever. There’s the cycle that starts to develop where people begin having increasingly negative reactions to each other. 

Those kinds of things can snowball until it turns into a really yucky feeling situation. If you’re in a situation where it feels like there’s always that fight simmering just under the surface and even when you try, it feels like you’re always perceived badly or misunderstood, those are clues that you may need some intervention just to stop that negative cycle. Because if we develop a core narrative in our heads, that “This person doesn’t care about me,” “They are uncaring,” or “They’re distant,” or “There’s something wrong with them,” or whatever, I’m never going to get my needs met by this person. Until we start to have better experiences with them, it’s hard to change that narrative. If you’re stuck in a negative cycle, you don’t get enough positive experiences to be able to change that narrative. That’s when somebody like a marriage counselor can be really, really effective. 

If you want to work with a marriage counselor who attends to the ideas that we’re talking about today, the deeper attachment stuff, the core of the relationship, you’ll want to look for someone who specializes in something called Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, or EFCT. That is a form of couples counseling that has a ton of research behind it. The woman who developed this kind of counseling, her name is Dr. Sue Johnson. She has quite a few self-help books on the subject if you want to learn more about it. There are lots of therapists who are trained in this particular kind of therapy that I’m discussing with you today. This is the stuff that’s going to get at the core level when these kind of relationship mistakes have or have been happening and it really taken root in your relationship, that will solve the problem from the inside out. 

As opposed to going to a therapist maybe who doesn’t have the same kind of background in couples counseling. Because they might tell you to go on a date night and say “please” and “thank you,” and “What was your childhood like?” And those kinds of things, they can be helpful. It’s good to say “please” and “thank you.” It’s good to go on date nights but they’re not going to help you guys get to the core of really rebuilding that attachment, and that connection, and that trust, and that love in a way that this particular kind of couples counseling will do. 

That’s it. Those are five relationship mistakes that you can make and how to avoid them. First, empathic failures. Instead, be attuned and be sensitive to when your partner’s needing something emotionally. Secondly, communication. Avoiding attacking or withdrawing and instead, understanding what you need and communicating it directly. Third, being, what’s the most succinct way to say this, the third step is really just being responsive. Showing your partner that you care about them through your words but also through your actions. And then fourth, the fourth relationship mistake, which encompasses so many others, is really just being self-focused. Focusing entirely on yourself and what you’re thinking, and feeling, and needing instead of what your partner is. And then fifth, not getting help when this stuff is happening. Because you might run out of time. 

And it’s a scary, horrible thing to say but I see it all the time. By the time people do get into marriage counseling, it can be too late. That there’s been so much wounding and disruption of attachment that it can be hard to rebuild. If this stuff is happening in your relationship, go ahead, and get some help, and get it taken care of sooner rather than later while you still have enough strength and positivity in your relationship that there’s something to build on. 

That is my advice to you. And that is the show. That’s today’s Love, Happiness and Success podcast. I hope that you tune in next time. I’m so excited. I actually talked to a liaison from the Duckworth Lab. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Angela Duckworth but she’s done some amazing research on character traits that are most associated with success, achievement, happiness, and all kinds of positive things, better relationships. So I’ll be talking about what those traits are and how to cultivate them in your life so that you can have more success and happiness and better relationships. Tune in next time and I will talk to you then. Bye bye.

[Outro Song: Oh Love by Ayla Nereo]

Episode Highlights

Five Biggest Relationship Mistakes

  • Empathic Failure
    • Empathic failure is the rejection of any bid of connection.
    • Care about what your partner is passionate or excited about.
    • Be present when your partner is going through something.
  • Not Communicating Your Needs Properly
    • First, understand what you need from your partner. The very core of it.
    • Ask for what you need directly and avoid hostility.
    • Do not assume that nothing would change by asking what you need.
  • Being Non-Responsive
    • Engage in productive conversations.
    • Show them that you care for what they feel.
    • Follow through with promises that you make.
  • Being Too Self-Focused
    • Being too self-focused is the combination of the three biggest mistakes that have been mentioned.
    • Do not always prioritize your needs over your partner’s.
    • Always try and see from your partner’s perspective.
  • Not Getting Help When You Need It
    • When people’s attachments are disrupted they start to behave badly. That turns into a negative cycle of reactions.
    • If you have built a core narrative that your partner does not care for you, you would need to have better and positive experiences in order to change that narrative.

Marriage Counseling Questions | Couples Therapy Questions

If you’re considering getting involved in marriage counseling, couples therapy, or relationship coaching you probably have questions! Get your marriage counseling questions answered, right here.


    1. Tasha! Thank you SO much for telling me about the difficulty you were having with the podcast. I had no idea it wasn’t working properly. I’m sorry for your frustration. I’ve reloaded it and it appears to be working now. I hope you enjoy it. Thank you for listening to my podcast! — Lisa

  1. Tasha! Thank you SO much for telling me about the difficulty you were having with the podcast. I had no idea it wasn’t working properly. I’m sorry for your frustration. I’ve reloaded it and it appears to be working now. I hope you enjoy it. Thank you for listening to my podcast! — Lisa

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