Updated 04 July 2013

12 relationship disasters

Why do people tend to repeat their relationship disasters? Here are some of the biggest mistakes people make - again and again.


When it comes to relationships, we all have 20/20 hindsight. We can mostly see where we, or of course mostly the other person, went wrong, and we vow not to choose the same man/woman again or to repeat the same mistakes. So why do we?

“Many people have low self-esteem and do not think they really deserve someone who is together and sorted out. They choose someone who needs them, rather than someone they need. This also diverts their attention from their own issues and problems”, says Cape Town psychologist Ilse Terblanche.

“If someone is a rescuer by nature, there could be a pattern in their relationships. They could choose men or woman with an addiction problem, one after the other, setting themselves up for failure, because the other person may not want to be helped.”

But choosing the wrong kind of person again and again is not the only mistake you can make. There are lots of others.

Decisions that could lead to disaster

Will you be my heart-lung machine? Remember that neurotic obsession is not an attractive thing. No-one wants to feel smothered by a new relationship in which the other person seems to have no interest in anything else, besides the relationship. People need outside interests and friends as well. No healthy relationship can exist without it.

If you loved me, you would stop drinking. You cannot, however much you love someone, get him/her to stop smoking/eating/drinking/drugging. That has to be their decision and cannot hinge on your conditional love. If you can’t live with their habits, look after yourself and get out. You cannot change someone else, only yourself.

And baby makes three. Having a child to cement an already rocky relationship is almost always a mistake. Having a child puts enormous pressure on healthy relationships, and even more so on rickety ones. Very often, this could worsen the problems, rather than solving them.

So who was that you were smiling at? Being overly possessive and jealous will make the other person back off rather than come closer. You cannot box someone in. In the long run, this will make them feel claustrophobic and make them leave you, exactly what your jealous behaviour is setting out to prevent.

Tit for tat. Deciding to pay back your partner in the same currency they have been using, seldom works. If someone lacks the consideration to know that he has to phone you when he is going to be late, chances are he will not be overly concerned when you are late. It often gives people ammunition against you, rather than make them feel what you are going through.

Badmouthing your partner to others. This is never a good idea, as it evokes sympathy for your partner, whatever their shortcomings may be. And it makes you look critical, insensitive and bitchy. And alerts people to the fact that you probably have an inferiority complex – hence the need to cut your partner down. If your relationship should ever end, people will take your partner’s side.

Giving the silent treatment. Withdrawing from someone else and refusing to say what’s wrong is a form of passive aggression. Withdrawing in this manner also reveals a certain emotional immaturity – it’s a bit like the kid who overturns the board when she loses the game. If you have difficulty talking to your partner, write a letter, or go and see a relationship therapist. If your partner won’t go and see someone or won’t respond to your letter, what are you still doing in the relationship?

Having an open relationship. Heavens, isn’t this a contradiction in terms? Either you have a relationship, or you don’t. Who feels like endless petty jealousies and strings of third parties? And let’s face it, while this state of affairs might suit one of the partners, there is always one who suffers in silence, but tolerates this, because they don’t want to end the relationship.

Staying together because of the kids. This is almost always a mistake. Kids are not stupid and are very sensitive to atmospheres and vibes. Kids who grow up in the shadow of a marriage that has gone sour, might very well bear longer-lasting scars than kids who went through their parents’ divorce. At least in the case of the latter, it is usually a short sharp shock and then people can get on with their lives again.

Staying on past the sell-by date. People often carry on with a relationship out of habit, or social pressure, or a feeling of obligation. These three things have often also made people drift into marriages that turn out to be less than successful. If a relationship is over, get out. If the thought of waking up next to that person for the next 40 years fills you with dread, hit the road. You are wasting valuable time and energy.

Using a third party to do your dirty work. This includes getting involved with someone else as a means of ending an existing relationship, or using someone else to break the news to your partner. If something is not working, have the guts to tell someone face-to-face. After all, they did invest a part of their life in being with you.

Not telling your partner that you love him/her. Everyone wants to hear this. Don’t take someone else for granted. It is the quickest way to make them regret having got involved with you. Making someone work hard to earn your conditional affection might keep them on their toes for a while, but everyone gets tired at some point.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated March 2012)


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