5 Relationship Killers and How to Avoid Them

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So, you’ve met the love of your life, been swept off your feet, and now you’re settled into your new life as a couple. But as time wears on, cracks may start to appear in the relationship. So what should you be looking out for, in order not to jeopardize your future together? Avoiding this relationship killer could help.

According to renowned relationship researcher Dr. John Gottman, five specific behaviors are most implicated in causing relationship problems. According to Gottman’s extensive research, if left unchecked they predict relationship failure with over 90% accuracy. In the 37 years that I have worked with couples, I have discovered five major relationship killers :


Most people enter a relationship with a deep fear of rejection, and this fear motivates various forms of controlling behavior. Controlling behavior falls into two major categories – overt control and covert control.

Overt control includes many forms of attack, such as blaming anger, rage, violence, judgment, criticism, and ridicule.

Covert control includes compliance, enabling, withdrawal, defending, explaining, lying, and denying. Often a person at the other end of the attack will respond with some form of covert control to have control over not being attacked.


Many people enter a relationship with a deep fear of being engulfed and controlled – of losing themselves. The moment they experience their partner wanting control over them, they respond with resistance – withdrawal, unconsciousness, numbness, forgetfulness, and procrastination.

When one partner is controlling and the other is resistant – which is really an attempt to have control over not being controlled – the relationship becomes immobilized. Partners in this relationship system feel frustrated, stagnant, and resentful.

Related: How to avoid a toxic relationship


Many people enter a relationship believing that it is their partner’s job to fill their emptiness. Take away their aloneness, and make them feel good about themselves. When people have not learned how to take responsibility for their own feelings and needs and define their own self-worth. They may pull on their partner and others to fill them with the love they need.


Most people who feel empty inside turn to substance and process addictions to fill their emptiness. That takes away the pain of their aloneness and loneliness. Alcohol and drug abuse, food, spending, gambling, busyness, Internet sex and pornography, affairs, work, TV, accumulating things, beautifying, and so on. You can all be used as ways to fill the emptiness and avoid fears of failure, inadequacy, rejection, and engulfment. And they are all ways of shutting out your partner.


Many people are acutely aware of what their partner is doing that is causing relationship problems but completely unaware of what they are doing. For example, you might be very aware of your partner’s resistance or withdrawal but totally unaware of your own judgmental behavior.

You might be very aware of your partner’s anger but completely unaware of your own compliance. You might be very aware of your partner’s addictive behavior but very unaware of your own enabling. As long as your eyes are on your partner instead of on yourself, you will continue to believe that if only your partner changed, everything would be okay.


All relationship killers come from fear – of inadequacy. Fear of failure, rejection, and engulfment. As long as you are coming from any of these fears, you will be behaving in one or more of the above ways.

The way out is to develop a loving adult self who knows how to take full responsibility for your own feelings and needs. You will move beyond controlling, needy and addictive behavior only when you learn how to fill yourself with love. And define your own inner worth.

When you are willing to take your eyes off your partner’s plate and turn your eyes fully on yourself. You can begin to do the inner healing work necessary to heal yourself and your relationship.

The daily practice of these steps will move you out of your addictive and controlling behavior and into the personal responsibility necessary to heal your relationship.

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