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By Morton C. Orman, M.D. Copyright © 1995-2010 M.C. Orman, MD, FLP
Here's the real truth about human relationships: MOST OF US HAVE BEEN PROGRAMMED TO FAIL IN OUR RELATIONSHIPS, no matter how much we want to succeed.
To make matters worse, much of what we've learned about relationships, from romance novels, t.v., movies, or talking with friends--is just plain wrong!
The idea that two people meet, fall in love, and live happily ever after is one of the biggest myths ever perpetrated on Western civilization. The real truth is two people meet, fall in love, begin living together, and then do just about everything they can to diminish and destroy their love for each other.
Let's face it. You've got a better chance of surviving cancer today than you do of having a successful long-term relationship. This includes marriage, living with someone, business partnerships, and many other social unions.
Most people go through life without ever understanding the key elements that make their relationships succeed or fail. The purpose of this Report is to shed some light on this very important subject.
In the next few pages, I'll show you how to single-handedly destroy any relationship that matters to you in ten easy steps. Why should you want to know how to do this? Because your natural tendency will be to commit these ten mistakes anyway. So the more you understand them, the better prepared you will be to recognize and hopefully defeat them.
Sure, there are a few lucky souls who naturally succeed at interpersonal relationships. But that tiny group probably doesn't include you or me! If we're going to succeed in this challenging arena, we're going to have to do it the hard way. We're going to have to learn from our mistakes and find out what really works. Then we're going to have to stop doing the things that don't work and start doing more of the things that do.
TEN WAYS TO DESTROY ANY RELATIONSHIP THAT MATTERS TO YOU
1. BE ABUSIVE
It's truly amazing how many people think it's o.k. to abuse other people, especially those they care about most. Husbands and wives frequently abuse each other. Parents and children easily fall into abusive patterns. Employers abuse their employees, and visa versa. Even pet owners sometimes take out their frustrations on their pets.
I'm not just talking about extreme physical or emotional abuse. I'm also including milder forms of abuse, such as daily put-downs, sarcastic remarks, other negative comments, withholding affection, refusing to talk, threatening to leave, etc.
Many people repeatedly engage in these subtle forms of abuse. Married couples especially tend to act as if their marriage license gives them the absolute right to verbally or otherwise abuse each other.
As harmless you might think such negative interactions are, they are much more damaging to our relationships than most people appreciate.
If you want your long-term relationships to succeed, you must learn to resist these common abusive tendencies. You should resist them at all times, even if you feel justified in responding this way.
2. BE DEFENSIVE
In his book What Makes Marriages Succeed And Fail (Simon & Schuster, 1994), family therapist John Gottman, Ph.D. summarizes more than twenty years of clinical research which clearly shows, among other things, that married people who repeatedly become defensive when challenged or criticized by their partner have much higher rates of unhappiness and divorce.
Being defensive is not only destructive--it shuts you off from an extremely valuable source of feedback. In order to succeed in our interpersonal relationships, we've got to be willing to admit when we are wrong. The only problem is we are not usually in good position to recognize when we are wrong.
Our partners, however, are usually in excellent position to recognize when we are wrong. They are also usually more than happy to point this out to us, in the hope that we will make corrections.
If you routinely shut out this valuable source of feedback, by always seeking to defend your actions or point of view, you will damage your relationships by not letting others contribute to you. You will continue to commit the same mistakes, over and over again, until the other person gets tired of this...and you as well.
The secret to dealing with criticism from others is not to reject it or act defensively. The secret is to listen intently to everything the other person is saying about you, and then try to find one or more things you can agree with! Don't automatically try to defend yourself or prove you are right. Instead, work very hard to validate, rather than reject, at least some of what the other person is saying.
Ben Franklin said, "The sting of another's criticism usually comes from the truth in it." If you want to have happy, healthy, long-lasting relationships, look for these "truths" and be willing to admit them.
3. BE CRITICAL
While occasional criticism and constructive feedback is healthy in our relationships, too much of either can be very damaging. If you are constantly complaining or pointing out flaws in your partner's behavior, this can become annoying and unattractive.
Often, people will persist in being critical of their partners because they truly believe they are just trying to help them. However, there are usually deeper, more sinister, motives at work. Many people simply want to fix, change, or control other people. They want to make them over to fit their own image or change their behavior to comply with their own standards. While this is a very common and understandable human tendency, it is another key pattern that is destructive in our relationships.
Another common mistake people make is to store up their critical judgments, instead of voicing them openly. They keep finding fault with people they are related to, yet they don't let the other person know this directly. Then, they either "explode" with criticism over some minor event, or they turn off their affection and the relationship slowly dies.
A woman who recently consulted me for help with marital difficulties told me that her husband had suddenly announced that he wanted a divorce. Even though this couple had been married for twenty years and had raised four children together, the husband wanted out and couldn't be persuaded to change his mind.
When she tearfully asked him why, after all these years, he suddenly felt this way, he responded by saying, "I've never been happy living with you. I felt trapped and miserable right from the start." When he finally got around to telling her his feelings, too much damage had already been done.
4. BE RIGHT MOST OF THE TIME
Perhaps the single biggest mistake you can make if you want to have good relationships with others is to always try to be right in your dealings with others. Why is this so destructive? Because in order for you to be right, the other person must end up being wrong.
Most people dislike having others make them feel wrong. They will resent you for this, and even if you win the argument or get your way, you'll pay a price later on.
It's almost always wiser to let other people be right and have their way as much as possible. Obviously, you may not want to compromise on things that are extremely important to you, but 90% of the time, it will make very little difference, one way or the other.
Here's a quote from Ogden Nash (reprinted from the June 1994 issue of Readers Digest, p.130) that states this point very well:
5. BE SELFISH
In addition to being right, another good way to destroy your relationships is to always be selfish and try to get your own way. Think only about your own wants, needs, and desires. Put your concerns first and consider others' needs much less important.
This is an excellent way to destroy any type of relationship. It is especially useful if you want to destroy your marriage.
6. BE DISHONEST
Another great way to destroy your relationships is to be dishonest. Tell little "white lies" from time to time. Pretend everything is just "fine" when you are really feeling angry or upset. Say you're fully committed to another, when in fact you have some doubts.
Whatever the issue might be, it rarely works to be dishonest in your relationships. Even if your dishonesty is never found out, you will know about it. You will also know that it damages your relationship. When you are dishonest, you know intuitively that your relationship will be less likely to succeed. As a consequence, you won't fully invest yourself, and this also will help it to fail.
7. BE UNFAITHFUL
Forget the vows and promises you made to each other. Go behind your partner's back and do something you know they wouldn't appreciate. Justify your behavior by saying "those promises were made in the past. Things are different now."
I'm not talking only about sexual infidelity. People often engage in all sorts of major and minor transgressions, even though they aren't conducive to healthy, enduring relationships. Unfortunately, many let their relationships deteriorate so far, they convince themselves such behavior is justified.
Make no mistake about it. Violating one of the sacred agreements of your relationship, whether or not that agreement was openly stated or just plain understood, is a sure-fire way to kill a troubled union. If your relationship wasn't dead before you decided to commit such an unfaithful act, it probably will be.
8. BE SUPERIOR
If you want to destroy any type of relationship, be sure to think of yourself as smarter, prettier, cooler, hipper, or more worthwhile than other people. Make it your habit to put other people down in order to feel good about yourself. Always strive to win any competition, and never give anyone an even break.
This an excellent way to get other people to dislike you. It also shows that you aren't really smart at all. In truth, no human being is more special or superior than anyone else. Sure some people develop superior skills or exceptional talents. But they are no more or less lovable, no more or less worthy, than anyone else. If you've somehow convinced yourself that the previous statement isn't true, you'd better reconsider.
9. BE CONTROLLING
Keep very close tabs on your partner at all times. This way, you can prevent him or her from changing, growing, or maybe even deciding to leave you at a later date.
Always try to get other people to think and feel exactly as you do. Try to intimidate them, dominate them, and keep them from behaving in ways you don't approve.
Make them fearful of crossing you or offending you by always responding with hostility and rage. This is an excellent way to bring romantic relationships to an end.
It's also a very good way to end up living alone.
10. BE CERTAIN
Whatever else you do, always remain certain that whatever you think, feel, or believe--about relationships, your partner, life in general, etc.--is true. Never let doubt or contradictory evidence creep in. Never ask for guidance or support from others. And above all else, never admit any shortcomings that might make you appear weak or stupid.
Always appear to know exactly what you are doing, even when you don't have a clue. This will insure you never learn anything new or useful. It will also guarantee that people who love you will get totally frustrated in their efforts to help you succeed and be happy.
PLEASE APPRECIATE ALL TEN STEPS
Each of us commits these ten mistakes from time to time. This is why you should familiarize yourself with all ten and regularly keep them in mind. As simple and obvious as many of these mistakes appear, we often don't recognize them when they are controlling our behavior.
These are not the only ways you can destroy your interpersonal relationships. There are other habits which are equally destructive. If you remember these ten patterns, however, you'll be way ahead of most other people.
NOTE: Additional destructive relationship patterns are discussed in Chapter 10 of my book The 14 Day Stress Cure as well as in other excellent resources listed at the end of this report.
It is important to acknowledge that all of the patterns discussed in this report have positive as well as negative aspects. For example, being right and being in control are often necessary to succeed in our jobs or professions. A doctor, for instance, must try to be right all the time. Doctors must also take control in certain situations and act in ways that reflect their superior knowledge and experience. But if a doctor takes those same patterns home and tries to use them to dominate his or her spouse or kids, serious relationship problems will usually occur.
Also, many patterns that are destructive to our relationships are actually valued and endorsed by our society! Television programs (especially soap operas), movies, advertisements, and other subtle forces encourage us to act in counterproductive ways. Your best friends and family members are also susceptible to these same societal forces, so their "helpful" advice can be questionable as well. So be prepared for lots of bad or misguided information about relationships to come your way. To succeed in your relationships, you'll need to disregard much of this incorrect input and challenge many of the popular notions that don't really do people very much good.
HOW TO SAVE YOUR MARRIAGE
Here are some added tips for marital success excerpted from How To Have A Stress-Free Wedding...And Live Happily Ever After!, a book co-authored by my wife Christina and I in 1994. (Many of these tips also apply to other types of relationships as well.)
Create a purpose for your relationship that can empower both you and your partner throughout a lifetime. This purpose should be bigger than just having your relationship succeed. It should also be bigger than having fun, having a good time, having a family, or reaching any other well-defined goal.
Examples of purposes that can last a lifetime and keep your relationship fresh and exciting are: contributing to the health and well-being of everyone around you; con- tributing to other people's financial success; contributing to ending hunger on the planet; contributing to ending stress in people's lives; solving the problems of crime, abuse, or poverty in the world, etc.
Oprah Winfrey, the successful T.V. talk show host, recently took on a new purpose for her life. She committed herself to doing what she can to end child abuse in the world. Since then, her T.V. show has become even better! In addition, her primary relationship with the man in her life now has a focus much bigger than just the two of them.
Any purpose that turns you on and energizes you will work. Just make sure both you and your partner are excited about it and that you plan to dedicate your relationship to it. This won't make all those little hassles, disappointments, and petty disagreements of married life magically disappear. It will, however, make them seem inconsequential!
NOTE: Each of you can have a different purpose or life direction. Then, the purpose of your relationship can become mutually supporting each other to become successful.
CLARIFY AGREEMENTS, EXPECTATIONS, VALUES, ROLES, ETC.
It's very important for you and your partner to always clarify (that means communicate with each other openly and honestly) important agreements, expectations, values, roles, feelings, attitudes, beliefs, passions, etc. Failing to do this is a major cause of "stress."
Don't assume that you know your partner's thoughts, feelings, or desires. Don't assume he or she understands yours either. Always spell things out so there are no misunderstandings.
YOUR PARTNER ISN'T RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR HAPPINESS
Never expect your partner to bring you happiness. He or she will have enough trouble managing their own life. They won't be able to take responsibility for yours as well.
Besides, the truth about human beings is that we all have the power to make ourselves happy any time we want. We don't need other people to provide this for us. It's actually much easier and more dependable to learn how to create happiness on your own. Then, whatever happiness your partner does contribute to your life, you'll accept this as a bonus. (And if they don't contribute much, you won't feel cheated.)
Trust is an important part of all human relationships. It's especially important in a marriage. Since the promises you make to each other are the foundation of your union, you must each trust the other to faithfully follow through.
While trust is necessary for the success of your relationship, don't be naive or stupid about granting it. Make sure your partner is worthy of your trust, and call them to task for any major or minor violations. Organize your own life and behavior so as to always deserve your partner's faith and trust as well. You must establish and protect mutual trust in your relationship. Without this key ingredient, your relationship will likely fail.
Make your marriage about supporting and nurturing your partner. This often becomes contagious. But even if there is little reciprocation, you can still derive pleasure from serving another person, provided you do so of your own free will.
Christina and I once attended a wedding where the minister opened the ceremony by relating the following story. He talked about a couple who were both in their 90's and who had been happily married for more than 70 years. When he interviewed them to find out the secret to their success, the wife replied "I truly believe we made it this far because I gave in 95% of the time." When the husband was asked, he replied, "I too gave in 95% of the time."
There's real truth in this story. Don't be eager to have your own way if you want to have a long and happy marriage. Make it your goal to give in more than 50% of the time, and take pleasure in letting your partner have his or her way as often as you can.
AGREE WITH YOUR PARTNER'S CRITICISMS AND COMPLAINTS
Too many people get defensive when criticized, especially when complaints are delivered by a loved one. Don't underestimate the value of these opportunities.
While you might think you are innocent, your partner wouldn't be criticizing you unless you have done something, either real or imagined, to deserve it. Whatever the case, don't dismiss your partner's feelings. Find some way to agree with their point of view, for much of the time they will have a legitimate beef.
VALUE EACH OTHER
Perhaps the best advice we can give you about saving your marriage is to always value yourself and your partner. Never focus on the negatives about each other. Always emphasize the positives and force yourself to reflect upon them frequently. (The negatives tend to stand out all by themselves!)
In addition to valuing your own worth and the worth of your partner, learn to value the differences between you. Each of you probably has differing needs for intimacy, for communication, for expressing emotions, for time spent alone, etc. You also probably have different strengths, beliefs, preferences, past histories, and patterns of dealing with success and adversity.
Learn to value these differences rather than criticize each other for having them. Don't assume that your way of doing things, your point of view, or your past experiences are any more "right" or "valid" than your partner's. Each of you is a separate, distinct, and different human being. And each of you has a right to be who you are, and be loved and accepted just that way.
Another part of valuing each other is refusing to blame or criticize each other when things don't go a you wish. All people make mistakes, including your partner. Again, focus on what's "good" and "right" about your partner, rather than anything you might view as "bad" or "wrong."
Also, resist saying anything negative or critical about your partner in public, even to your best friends! You might be strongly tempted to do this, but it only devalues your relationship.
Christina and I always speak highly about each other to our family, friends, and other acquaintances. Even if we're upset or down on each other at the moment, we don't reinforce our negative feelings by communicating them to others.
Often, what happens when you violate this rule is that other people agree with your negative assessments and add more of their own. They encourage you to think even more negatively about your partner, which is the opposite of what you truly need to do.
NOTE: You might think that by "getting things off your chest" by talking with friends you will feel much better. In the short run, this may be true. But in the long run, it will probably hurt your relationship.
SEEK TO PLEASE AND PLEASURE EACH OTHER
Consider your marriage license a license to please and pleasure your partner. After all, you are in the best position to know what they like and provide it for them. You also have exclusive access to their inner thoughts, desires, and secret fantasies. So take full advantage of this special position you occupy. Take pride in pleasing your partner and adding pleasure to his or her life. Whether or not they reciprocate in kind--which will be hard for them to resist--your life will be much richer.
OTHER TIPS FOR MARITAL SUCCESS
SPECIAL ADVICE FOR MEN: HOW TO SUCCEED WITH WOMEN
This advice is for the benefit of any men who might be reading this report. MEN: Take everything you know about succeeding in your relationships with women and throw it away. It probably won't do you any good.
The smartest thing any man can do is to realize that women--just about all women--are much more knowledgeable about how to succeed in relationships than we will ever be. If you really want to succeed in your relationships with women, you'd be very wise to let them take the lead.
Listen very closely whenever they start telling you things you are doing, or not doing, that they consider wrong. Most of the time your ideas WILL BE WRONG, so if you empower your female partner to lead you as if you were blind you will have much greater odds of succeeding in the long run.
SPECIAL ADVICE FOR WOMEN: HOW TO SUCCEED WITH MEN
WOMEN: Here's some special advice just for you about how to succeed in your relationships with men. Read the previous section and then realize that the success of your relationships with men will be LARGELY UP TO YOU!
We men have not been trained to succeed in our interpersonal relationships. In fact, we've been conditioned and programmed to be total and miserable failures.
We need your help, whether we know it or not. You must take the leadership role and make your man realize why this makes sense. You must also take the time and effort to train your man how to do things right. Of course the job will be easier if you pick a man who understands this from the outset, but even if you have not been very selective, you can train almost any man to appreciate and value what you have to bring to the partnership.
Yes, I know this is another unfair and unequal distribution of responsibility. But it's the way relationships work, and if you try to disown the job, or share it equally with your man, your relationship will probably suffer.
In summary, the best way to learn how to succeed in your interpersonal relationships is to be very, very clear that most of us have been programmed to destroy them.
Hopefully, this Report has helped you to begin thinking in this direction. I invite you to explore this subject in greater depth. To assist you with this, Christina and I would like to share the following books with you, which we found very helpful:
Love Is Never Enough--Aaron Beck, M.D., Harper & Row, New York, 1988
Explains how misconceptions, misunderstandings, and faulty communication patterns lead to marital disharmony and stress. Based on the clinical work of one of the leading psychotherapists and marriage counselors alive today.
Marital Myths--Arnold A. Lazarus, Ph.D., Impact Publishers, San Luis Obispo, CA, 1985
Written by another distinguished therapist and marriage counselor, this book discusses 24 marital myths, including "husbands and wives should be best friends," "don't have sex when you're angry," and "Marriage should be a 50-50 partnership."
The Road Less Traveled--M Scott Peck, M.D., Touchstone Books (Simon & Schuster), New York, 1978
One of the most popular self-help books ever written (on the New York Times best-seller list for more than 400 weeks!). Contains an excellent review of common myths about love and romance that cause people to suffer and fail in their interpersonal relationships.
False Love--Stan Katz & Aimee Lieu, Ticknor & Fields, New York, 1988
Another superb book on relationships. Explains what true love really is, how to distinguish it from false love, and how to create it with your partner.
You Just Don't Understand: Women And Men In Conversation--Deborah Tannen, Ph.D., William Morrow & Co., New York, 1990
An important book that shows how women and men fail to appreciate each other's communication styles and needs. Shows how the childhood conditioning of boys and girls leads each to live in different "realities" about life, love, communication, intimacy, etc.
Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus--John Gray, Ph.D., HarperCollins, New York, 1992
Similar theme to Deborah Tannen's book (above), but written in a more entertaining and less academic style.
Why Marriages Succeed And Fail--John Gottman, Ph.D., Simon & Schuster, New York, 1994
An excellent book summarizing more than twenty years of detailed, clinical research involving hundreds of married couples studied over time. Four key destructive relationship patterns are identified that have a greater than 90% predictability for marital disharmony and eventual divorce.
How To Have A Stress Free Wedding... And Live Happily Ever After!--Mort Orman, M.D. & Christina Chambreau, D.V.M., TRO Productions Inc., Baltimore, 1994
A 100+ page manual highlighting key sources of stress, which begin when two people become engaged and extend way beyond their ceremony and honeymoon. Contains several powerful checklists and stress reducing principles not contained in traditional wedding guides or other similar references.
The 14 Day Stress Cure--Mort Orman, M.D., Breakthru Publishing, Houston, 1991
Perhaps the best book about stress you will ever find. Winner of an outstanding book-of-the-year award from the National Association Of Independent Publishers. Reveals 65 hidden causes of stress most people fail to take into consideration. Also provides excellent tools for helping you deal with relationship problems, emotional distress, stress at work, the stress of physical illness, and much more.
How To Have A Stress Free Wedding or The 14 Day Stress Cure
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