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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Office Hours with Dr. Jim > Relationship Gremlins

Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.


Dealing with Relationship Gremlins

What gets in the way of relationships going serious?


A recent study by the Bergman Institute revealed that two-thirds of 20 to 30-year-olds rate intimacy levels with their partners as just “fair/OK.” It’s further disappointing that they also believe they’re no longer as close as they once were in their romantic relationships.

Of course, most couples don't stay “in lust” forever. It’s perfectly normal for couples’ levels of passion to wax and wane. But new research reveals there are a few bad habits that couples often fall into which contributes to them not feelings as close as they once did.  Let’s call these bad habits “gremlins” – nasty sources of interference that sabotage relationships being as fulfilling as possible.

So, what's your intimacy gremlin?

Is your gremlin “the truth”... you've got used to your partner being your emotional cheerleader, but this means you can't bear to hear to have him/her criticize you even when your partner is trying to help. Worse still, your partner won’t feel s/he can confide troubles to you if you're going through a bad patch.

Is your gremlin “fear...”  you tell yourself you're comfortable in a relationship, but it isn't just men who are commitment-phobes. Deep inside you're afraid of intimacy. Perhaps your parents had a nasty divorce or walked-out or perhaps you've been hurt badly before. Perhaps your self esteem is so low that you're convinced deep down that your partner is going to leave you and you're acting in self defense. You need to take the brave step of opening up and letting yourself be vulnerable. This pays huge dividends.

Is your gremlin “poor communication...” you might talk a lot, but do you really listen to each other?  You're the kind of couple who end up fighting over really trivial things because you don't have the communication skills to talk about what's really bothering you, you don't know how to argue so you resolve a problem, and so perhaps you avoid arguments altogether now.  Here, passive-aggressiveness is the norm. You need to learn how to communicate and you'll learn so much more about each other, you might well fall in love all over again.

Is your gremlin “time...”  there's only so much of it you see.  It's not like money, you can't make any more.  So it's particularly important how you choose to spend it. Sure, your work's important, your boss is demanding and you've got friends, family and all kinds of other things to consider.  But you're just not spending enough time with your partner.  You might argue you spend all night with him/her and most weekends, but how much time do you actually spend with that person;talking, listening, sharing, confiding, doing things together that you both love and just thinking of ways to give your relationship a little boost.  Relationships need to be looked after if they're going to grow, and if they don't grow, inevitably, they'll die.

Is your gremlin “anger...”  something is still bothering you, whether it's your boss who treats you like you're a child or your parents intruding into your private life, you've got some rebelling to get out of your system, but you're directing it at your partner.  There's a myth that we get all of these issues sorted out when we're teenagers fighting with our parents, many of us don't, and sometimes when we've moved to the safe environment of a secure relationship, our partners can replace our parents as our emotional punch bags.  The biggest step to resolving this: actually admitting to yourself you're doing it.

So there you have five common gremlins in relationships: Truth, Fear, Poor Communication, Time and Anger. These are not mutually exclusive; a couple often must face and resolve several of these at once or throughout the course of a relationship. So, is there a tactic, technique or rule-of-thumb that can help guard against these gremlins? In some ways, yes! The trick is to be selfless. Put the needs of your partner first. That doesn’t mean neglect yourself, but it does mean that one’s focus can’t be on “what’s in it for me?”   The notion that one must love him/herself before they can love others is not quite accurate. You’ll feel better personally and you’ll experience a more fulfilling relationship of you shift the focus off of yourself and put it on others.


Dr. James Houran's "Office Hours with Dr. Jim" column is published every Monday.

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