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If you want to improve your relationship, do the opposite of these behaviors.

So, about that title: I’m a marriage and family therapist whose goal is to help people improve their relationships. So why am I providing you with five simple steps to assure the destruction of your partnership? Because day after day, I see clients who are sabotaging their relationships. And most of the time, they don’t even know it.

Understand the Bad to Get the Good

In essence, becoming aware of these five steps will teach you how to protect, care for, and improve your relationships. Because if you want to be a force for good in your partnerships, do the exact opposite of these harmful behaviors that I see every day:

Frankenstein Your Partner:

Often, someone in a relationship will secretly (or even worse, not-so-secretly) wish their partner were, for example, more outdoorsy, more fit, more sexual, more intellectual, more spiritual, more affectionate, or more fill in the blank. Instead of (a) admitting I partnered up with the wrong person or (b) learning to appreciate and love my partner for who they are, I should attempt to stitch together the perfect partner—with this one's looks and that one's emotional maturity and so on—until I've assembled a beautiful monster of a relationship problem.

Quash Fantasy Talk: Most people buy into the naive narrative that if your partner shares sexual fantasies that are different from yours (or that may not even include you) then that, inherently, makes him or her a pervert. Not true. We are all sexual beings, and just like fantasizing about robbing a bank doesn't cause crime, encouraging talk about fantasies doesn't cause affairs. Instead, such openness can dramatically increase the depth of intimacy in a relationship, so that we both feel closer in sharing who we are with one another.

Mistake the Identical for the Intimate:

Many people in relationships assume that if their partners don't share the exact same faith, passions, politics, and opinions, they're really not cut out to be a long-term couple. Nothing could be further from the truth. In your alliance with another person, consider the strategy corporations use when they make a merger and try to find complementary (not overlapping) areas of strength, ability, and interest.

Rigidly Enforce the Nuclear Option Without Exception in Order to Scare Them Straight:

Have you ever thought, "If he/she cheats, it's over?" This may seem to work, but what this typically does, instead of inspiring fidelity, is to make them really, really motivated to hide who they are. Acknowledging that we are all highly flawed and capable of great failure will encourage conversation when things feel “off” and affirm that we are loved even when we're imperfect.

Disallow, Discourage, and Sabotage Outside Friendships: It’s fairly common for couples to call one another their own “best friends” in life. And while it’s fantastic to have a partner who is your best friend, it’s also important to encourage friendships outside of your relationship. Being jealous of our spouse having friends is self-defeating, as people who have loving friends are happier, more well-adjusted, and more engaged in other aspects of their life, including romance. None of us can be everything to our mates, and love is never a zero-sum game.

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Live and Let Live

If our goal is to create real intimacy and share our lives safely with one another, we have to create an environment where our partners feel safe simply to be themselves and to share who they really are with us. Or maybe your goal is to ruin the relationship, and if that's the case, just follow the five simple steps above!

By Steven Ing, MFT for Psychology Today

Steven has been a Marriage and Family Therapist for 30 years and is the author of two books on sexuality, We’re All Like This and Get Busy Living.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


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