Relationships are complex beasts. Each one is unique to the two people in their specific couple, the sum total of all the moments they’ve spent together, the life lessons they’ve learned along the way, the secret thoughts that each produces in the other.
But relationships also tend to follow certain patterns.
If they didn’t, most of stand-up comedy as we know it would be immediately obsolete, for starters. And secondly, relationship advicewould be all but impossible.
Luckily for our purposes, that’s not the case. Unluckily, however, the pattern this article is discussing is dynamics guys often don’t realise they’re participating in in their relationships.
Yes, your real blind spots are the things you don’t know that you don’t know. If you know you don’t know something, you can work on it and make headway, like any problem-solving attempt. But if you don’t know you don’t know something, you’re just going to wander around, blissfully ignorant, until it’s too late.
If you’re lucky, the too-late moment will be a tough talk or a long, drawn-out fight and not a full breakup. But just in case, you’d better read on to cover your bases.
It’s 2 a.m. and you’re liking your ex’s selfie from three months ago. You’re shamelessly flirting with a coworker who you haven’t yet told that you’re taken. One of your friends sends you a nude and you respond with a heart-eyes emoji. What’s going on? That’s microcheating! It’s behavior where you repeatedly engage in small acts of envelope-pushing and boundary-breaking that aren’t technically cheating but are clearly done in a kind of cheat-y spirit.
How To Fix It: First and foremost, you should speak honestly with your partner (earlier rather than later) about what they consider OK and what they don’t. A certain degree of flirtation outside the relationship is normal and healthy for most people, but if you’re doing it a lot without your partner’s knowledge or consent, that’s a problem. If you’re willing to confront the reality that your behavior is harmful even if it hasn’t necessarily hurt anyone yet, you should be able to cut it out through a frank conversation and some honest self-evaluation and boundary-setting.
2. Improper Use Of The ‘L’ Word
“I love you” is a weird sentence. It’s just three little words; three syllables, eight letters. But it contains immense power. Considering that, it’s best not to be careful in how we use it, neither to use it frivolously, nor to hide it away and pretend it can’t be said. “I love you” isn’t just a statement of feeling, it’s also a promise. What’s special about romantic love isn’t just its intensity, it’s also its enduring nature and uniqueness. “I love you” means “I’ll be here next month, holding your hair back while you vomit after you get food poisoning.” “I love you” means “You are the one I choose, and your best friend does not entice me one bit.”
How To Fix It: Don’t say “I love you” too early! If you have strong feelings for someone you’re not even dating yet, that’s called infatuation. It can be hard to know the difference, so as a rule of thumb, don’t say it unless you’re in a relationship. If you are dating, circumstances will vary from couple to couple, but a good rule of thumb is to give a relationship a few months before saying it, and then say it fairly regularly thereafter. “I really like you, a lot” is a great placeholder, in the meantime.
3. Not Doing Emotional Labour
You might not know what the phrase “emotional labour” means, but it’s definitely occurring in your relationship, and if you’re dating a woman, it’s likely that she’s doing more of it. Simply put, emotional labour is the work of making sure the people you care about feel happy, safe and cared for through your words and actions, and most guys aren’t taught how to do it growing up, so if you’re not stellar at it, it’s not necessarily your fault.
How To Fix It: First off, read up on the subject of emotional labour a little bit. Depending on your partner’s familiarity with the concept, they might be aware of the term or not, but when one person is putting in less emotional labour, the other person can usually feel it. The good news is, if you don’t have a ton of experience with emotional labour, there’s nowhere to go but up! Start working harder at asking your partner how they’re doing and being thoughtful about their wants and needs and watch what happens.
4. Avoiding Friends & Family
Relationships can feel airtight sometimes — like a chamber that only has room for two people. You’re crazy about them, they’re crazy about you, and all you want to do is [have sex/go on dates/binge-watch TV/build pillow forts/etc.] But the truth is, spending time in groups of people that aren’t just the two of you is healthy and important for the relationship to work out in the long term. Not only that, but meeting your partner’s closest people will give them context for understanding you and your motivations if the two of you ever go through a rough patch.
How To Fix It: Once the relationship’s past the first few weeks and still going well, you should be putting in work not only to meet and get along with your partner’s friends and family, but introducing them to your own. Host a get-together, go on double-dates, do dinner with their parents — approach the relationship you have as something to show off, not something to keep hidden away. That kind of attitude will let your partner know that you care about them as a whole person, not just for how they make you feel one-on-one.
5. Mistaking “Emotional” For “Crazy”
Most guys have either said this or heard this about a woman: “She’s crazy, dude.” It’s a sort of male shorthand from one guy to another that communicates that she’s a hassle, stressful, incapable of being chill, over-emotional. It’s that last one that’s of particular interest here, because most of the time, “She’s crazy, dude” just means this: “She has emotions about stuff that I don’t understand and don’t like.”
How To Fix It: If you catch your partner reacting strongly to something (particularly if it’s something you did) and your instinct is to think, “She’s crazy,” it’s worth investigating whether what she really is is experiencing valid, normal and healthy emotions about something you don’t fully understand. Instead of calling her crazy, ask her what’s up. Men are taught to hide their emotions and not really talk about them, but that’s a terrible approach to healthy relationships. Get real about the issue with her and you might start to understand the issue after all.