3 Things You’re Probably Doing That Could Hurt Your Relationship

Two young adults sit on bench, space between them, looking away from each otherIf you’re in a relationship, you’ve probably experienced at least some amount of emotional pain or conflict. Relationships are hard work! Two people with different backgrounds, different perspectives, and different preferences must constantly negotiate and repair. Connection isn’t always easy—and sometimes, partners themselves contribute to the relational hardship.

Here are three things you’re probably doing that could hurt your relationship:

1. Keeping Score

Scorekeeping is a useful way to determine winners and losers between opposing teams, but in relationships, both partners should be on the same team.

Why It Hurts Relationships

Keeping score puts you in opposition to each other—who is better? Who deserves more credit? Who isn’t pulling their weight? The process of answering these questions trains your brain to focus on differences, on who is doing more or less of some action. Focusing on differences can lead to negative sentiment override, which Dr. John Gottman’s research shows is a state of mind that hurts your relationship.

What to Do Instead

Take the long view. Accept that the division of labor will rarely be exactly 50-50 at any given moment, but commit yourselves to achieving that ratio over time. Focus on how you’re working together as a team toward common goals.


Reexamine how you and your partner divvy up household tasks and choose your strategy thoughtfully. For example, do you tend to follow gender roles? Or does each of you do the tasks you do best, regardless of tradition? Would a different strategy suit your relationship better?

2. Staying Silent

Miscommunication and hurting one another’s feelings are inevitable in relationships, but don’t do further damage by staying silent.

Why It Hurts Relationships

Ultimately, staying silent after an emotional injury hurts your relationship because it takes away your chance to grow together through challenge.

Our culture tells us “don’t make mountains out of molehills” and “don’t sweat the small stuff,” but if you stay silent, your partner may not know that what they said or did hurt your feelings. How will they know not to do it again? Silencing yourself to avoid conflict or protect your partner’s feelings means you will suffer alone. Ultimately, staying silent after an emotional injury hurts your relationship because it takes away your chance to grow together through challenge.

What to Do Instead

Speak from your heart. Use self-reflection to craft a message that follows this prompt: “I feel [a feeling word] … when [the situation or context]. So then I [how you respond or the story you tell yourself about what happened].” Communicate to your partner from the perspective of your own experience without blame or criticism. Encourage your partner to reflect your message non-defensively.


Even a few sessions of couples therapy can be helpful for learning communication skills that deepen mutual understanding and practicing non-defensive listening.

3. Deprioritizing Sex

Between busy lives and the distractions of technology, it’s all too easy for couples to allow other demands on their time to deprioritize sex.

Why It Hurts Relationships

Sexual intimacy is one of the primary ways couples sustain and maintain connection, so once sex becomes less of a priority than emails or kids or television or (insert your avoidance strategy here), emotional distance can grow. And once emotional distance starts growing, couples may find themselves in a downward spiral: the further apart you feel, the greater the distance to overcome and the more space between you to fill with other demands on your time, thus the less sex you have, leading to more emotional distance …

What to Do Instead

Make sex a ritual of connection you look forward to. Rituals are special activities that we prioritize time for and protect in our busy schedules. Just like the big Saturday morning breakfast you looked forward to as a child or celebrating holidays with special traditions, sex can become a ritual that signifies the importance of your love and connection.


Learn all the ways your partner feels loved and make intentional efforts to show them that you care, especially after an argument or period of disconnection. The intimacy you foster through other kinds of loving behaviors may help deepen the intimacy of sex.

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Emily Cook, PhD, LCMFT, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Althea B

    February 7th, 2018 at 12:12 PM

    The communication thing is too real. Things pile up real fast and if you don’t address them they will bring you down!

  • mel

    February 7th, 2018 at 2:50 PM

    Oh man keeping score that is me LOL! probably should stop doing that yes. My bf hates it when

  • Jianna

    February 23rd, 2018 at 10:41 AM

    Me too I do all three :/

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