Patterns to avoid

my way your wayWant to reduce conflict, pain, and alienation in relationships with the important people in your life? Here are some of the patterns that make connecting difficult. (Some suggestions for resolution below.)

• Needing to be in charge or in control, especially when it depends on disempowering or controlling others, or when it disregards other people’s desire for control and autonomy.

• Needing to be right when it depends on others being wrong, when it requires that you make others wrong, or when it insists that others agree with you or support your views and actions.

• Needing to be needed or feel important when it requires the dependence of others.

• Needing for someone else to exhibit certain behaviors, appearances, values, preferences, or abilities in order to feel good about yourself (or successful as a parent or spouse, for example). Holding others to unfair or unrealistic standards. Perfectionism.

• Expectations, especially when your preferences or desires are not communicated or agreed to beforehand. Having an agenda for how another person should be or behave: “I expected you to be home by now,” “If you really loved me, you would have called,” “I can’t believe you didn’t get me a card.” (Typically, the only person committed to an expectation is the person who has the expectation.)

• Arrogance or self-righteousness. Assuming the other person understands or knows what you want: “Come home at a reasonable hour,” “I was ready to leave two hours ago!” “I shouldn’t have to do that (or deal with that).”

• Assuming that others operate with your priorities and values: “How can you spend so much time at the mall (or watching football)?” “You shouldn’t date someone from that part of town.” “I never would have worn sandals with that outfit.”

• Assuming that someone will think, feel, act, or react in a certain way: “I didn’t tell you because you’d get mad,” “I didn’t want to bother you,” “I was afraid you’d be hurt.” Thinking for another person.

• Tunnel-vision. An inability to see the “big picture.”

• All-or-nothing thinking. (Sometimes called dualism or black-and-white thinking.) A tendency to think in terms of opposite extremes. An inability to see multiple options or other points of view.

• Fear of conflict, rejection, or abandonment. Compromising personal values or standards, making decisions based on someone else’s reaction or possible reaction.

• Denying that a problem exists or making excuses for someone else’s unacceptable behavior rather than confronting that person or asking for more reasonable behavior.

• Making others wrong rather than asking for what you want (before there is a problem or before the problem occurs again).

• Asking someone to defend or explain his behavior rather than asking for what you want: “Why did borrow my sweater without asking me first?” instead of “I want you to ask before you borrow my things.”

• Reactivity. Overreacting. Personalizing behaviors that have nothing to do with you.

• Victim thinking. The perception of having no power to change situations (or thinking) for the better or to do things differently.

• Dependence on others for your own needs. Abdicating personal responsibility. Being afraid or unwilling to let people know what you want.

• Blaming: “If you would shape up there wouldn’t be a problem.”

• Double standards. Expecting or demanding behaviors from others that you do not model or demonstrate yourself.

• Criticizing, shaming, ridicule, judgments, or any form of attack. Focusing on the negative (especially in someone else’s behavior, choices, preferences, or values).

• Assuming that another person is committed to an agreement simply because you have expressed what you want. Not asking for agreement.

• Lack of consideration for another. Focusing on your own needs to exclusion of others’ needs. Failing to respect another person’s boundaries, privacy, or time.

• Disrespecting another person’s need to be heard. Interrupting, changing the subject, hijacking a conversation (making it about yourself). Not listening.

• Focusing on another person’s needs to exclusion of your own. Discounting or dismissing your needs in favor of someone else’s (when doing so will have a negative or harmful effect on you). Self-sacrifice.

• Resistance to being conscious and present in the relationship.

• Resistance to personal change: “I’ve always felt that way,” “This is just the way I am (or do things).”


  • Which of these characteristics create the most conflict or alienation in your life? How?
  • Which of these characteristics used to be more of a challenge for you than they are today?
  • Which of these characteristics still present a challenge for you personally?
  • Which of these characteristics would you most like to change is someone close to you?
  • Assuming that this person does not change, how can you better take care of yourself in the future?
  • Which of these characteristics would you most like to change in yourself? What can you do differently?
  • Other comments, things to watch out for . . .

This material was adapted from The Parent’s Little Book of Lists: Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Parenting, by Jane Bluestein, Ph.D. (25th Anniversary edition, Father Sky Publishing) and is one of the most popular resources from my handout collection!

Clearly these patterns can have an impact on any relationship, whether they appear in our interactions with our partner or spouse, friends, family members, colleagues or employees, or children or students.

If you are experiencing conflict and stress in a relationship, it’s likely that one or more of the patterns above is involved. If the items in this list sound like you, becoming aware of your inclinations is a first step in changing them. Watch out for the tendency to justify or become self-righteous.

Set a goal to change what you can. Use the questions to help you process what is problematic for you. Get help if necessary, as many of these patterns originate early in our lives and can be hard to abandon. (We can become very attached to the scripts we have followed throughout our lives.)

Sometimes it becomes necessary to distance ourselves from others who exhibit these behavior, especially if they are unwilling to change. (This list is meant to help clarify what the problem might be. Please do not send this list to someone with a “This is you” message!! That’s not likely to help, even if you are right.) Practice asking for what you want, setting boundaries, and following through. Control what you can control in your own behaviors and look for small changes over time. It gets easier to avoid these practices over time.

Related resources:

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Friendships
Dealing with Difficult Colleagues
Magic Sentences for Effective Communication
36 Things You can Do to Feel Great
How to Stay Stressed
Perfectionism vs. The Healthy Pursuit of Excellence
Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down: The importance of meaningful feedback
Does Your Confidence Propel or Sabotage You
by Pamala Vincent
15 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy by Luminita Saviuc
Are You a Financial Fit for Each Other by Judy Lawrence

Book: The Perfection Deception
Book: The Parent’s Little Book of Lists: Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Parenting
Book: Magic, Miracles and Synchronicity

Podcast: The Adversity Connection with Dan Deigan
Podcast: An Attitude of Gratitude with Judy Lawrence, M.S.Ed.
Podcast: “Constructive Differencing”: Helping Kids Learn to Disagree and Still Maintain Contact with Dr. Jared Scherz (not just for kids)

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2 thoughts on “Stress-Producing Obstacles in Relationships

  1. That’s quite an extensive list!

    1. I know! Over the years it’s gotten longer, too. I think it explains a lot of unhappiness and frustration people experience in their relationships with others, though.

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