5 Things I'd Never Do As A Relationship Therapist
Updated: Feb 1
In my line of work, my mission is to help people increase understanding, respect, affection, and intimacy with their partner to ultimately help them be happier together. I’ve often been asked what I would do in a relationship, how I would act, what ideals I would live by. The truth is that we are all so different and each relationship is so nuanced, telling you about what I would do is almost impossible and fairly irrelevant to anyone else.
What I will share though, are things I would never do in any relationship. Ever.
1. Respond to my partner with anything that resembles “Your feelings are wrong”
I hear this one all the time and it drives me absolutely nuts because it is such a relationship misfire! Yes, sometimes your partner has feelings that do not align with how you perceived a situation or reflect your truth. But that doesn’t make the feelings wrong.
Feelings can’t be “right” or “wrong”; they just are what they are! And, difficult feelings need validation and acceptance before any attempt to offer alternative perspectives or clarification will be met with openness. Dismissing feelings as being “wrong” might change the feeling for your partner, but only because you are adding “hurt” or “rejection” to the mix.
2. Ignore any behavior or statement that indicates despair or hopelessness about being alive.
People tend to tiptoe around the topic of suicide. And it makes sense; this is such an uncomfortable topic! Oftentimes, we are afraid if we ask directly if someone is thinking about hurting themselves, we will somehow be planting a seed that could inspire them to do it. However, this is not true. In fact, people report that talking about suicidal thoughts relieves pressure that could otherwise build up and lead to acting on them. Responding to someone’s cry for help – no matter how small – can literally save a life.
3. Dismiss the impact of something I say or do because my intent was good.
“You shouldn’t be mad because I didn’t mean it that way.”
Write this down: you are responsible for BOTH your intent AND your impact.
We never mean to step on someone’s toe, but when we do we acknowledge that it happened and that it hurt! This applies to relational miscues too. Sometimes we accidentally offend, hurt, or cross a boundary with someone we love. When this happens, the feelings they are experiencing don’t care about your intentions – they care about the impact. When we respond to these feelings with a defense of our intentions, we send the message that these feelings are invalid.
Sure, your intentions are good and it’s important that they are recognized. However, this needs to come second – after acknowledging the harm done, intentional or not. There will always be time to clarify your intentions after this unintentional harm has been addressed.
If this feels hard to do, ask yourself: what is at stake here? What would it mean if this harmful impact were acknowledged without clarifying your intentions? In many cases, when working with couples where this is a frequent relationship pattern, this boils down to shame or fear of inadequacy. We don’t want to be seen as a bad partner. “If they could just understand where I was coming from, they wouldn’t be upset!” Spoiler alert: it never works that way.
4. Let an angry reaction stand alone without self-reflection and reapproaching the conversation.
First, and foremost, anger is a completely valid emotion and is never “wrong”. However, anger is an incredibly powerful emotion that carries a lot of intensity and is not always easy to express in a way that maintains a connection between partners.
This intensity can often distort the message we are sending about what felt bad. Moreover, anger can also show up as a mask for other, more vulnerable feelings at the root of your reactions in a relationship.
Taking the time to look inward and understand your anger can help you gain clarity about your own feelings and equip you to successfully ask for what you need to repair the harm done.
5. Threaten to leave my partner when in conflict.
This is relationship poison. The moment leaving the relationship becomes a frequent or constant threat, you have effectively created a barrier to your partner being fully open and receptive to any request you might have that would alleviate the problem. Repair cannot happen without safety. And a relationship where one partner has one foot out the door is not a safe relationship. Threatening to leave when conflict arises creates an environment of defensiveness that makes lasting emotional bonds impossible to grow again.