5 of the biggest relationship mistakes and how to fix them

It's easy for couples to hit all sorts of speed bumps in a relationship. What's more challenging is to stay the course. Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The easiest way to rev up your love life is through improved communication, expert Deb Sandella says.

Much of what the 66-year-old has learned from two decades as a family therapist and nearly four decades of marriage is summed up in her newly released book 7 Simple Steps to Health, Love and Success.

She shared some of highlights with Global News, which we compiled into this roundup of “what not to do” in a relationship.

READ MORE: Family therapist shares 8 secrets to a happy and lasting relationship

Mistake #1 : Fail to identify underlying emotions

Sandella believes emotional intelligence (EQ) is integral to the success of any relationship. She defines EQ as understanding your own emotional system and knowing how to utilize it “so that life gets easier without much work.”

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Building up EQ is especially “significant” for men, for whom it doesn’t always come naturally. Research shows women raised by nurturing, emotionally available fathers are reportedly more likely to pursue challenges “in areas that have been thought to be limited to men,” Sandella says.

Interestingly, research has shown couples in which both people have a high emotional IQ are no better off than those with only one partner well-versed in it. Sandella thinks it’s actually “unlikely” both will be blessed with the trait.

EQ can luckily be learned, though.

“If one person is emotionally intelligent…that person will influence the other and it becomes shared, so over the years [the significant other] becomes more emotionally intelligent.”

Sandella developed a quiz couples can take to better understand what might be at the root of certain relationship problems.

“In terms of connecting as a couple,” she said, “these [questions] will do the trick.”

Take time to discuss these (as they may expose potential areas for improvement):

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  1.  How in touch are you with your feelings from moment to moment?
  2.  What’s your favourite feeling?
  3.  What’s your scariest feeling?
  4.  How lovable do you feel?
  5.  How much support do you allow yourself to receive from others?
  6. How do you feel when you share your feelings and feel heard, even when your partner feels differently?

You can take the whole test here.

WATCH: Conversations that can save your relationship

Mistake #2: Act before understanding

“We’re very quick to take action on assumption,” Sandella said.

Couples can “get into trouble very easily,” she added when they don’t take the time to get to the root of a problem.

She recommends the “Dip-See-Do” rule to help with that. The simple three-step method asks people to:

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  • Dip down beneath the surface before they respond and assume something.
  • See what’s there.
  • Do make an educated decision about what needs to happen next.

“Sometimes people who are sad express it as anger — that’s a natural reaction,” Sandella said. “When we dip down, we can find out there’s often a whole lot more [under the surface].”

It’s crucial for each partner to get over the vulnerability that often comes with communicating that underlying emotion. Don’t sweep it under the rug.

“It’s just a matter of time that things build up to such a degree that something explodes,” Sandella warned. “And then it’s hard to track it back to what’s even the real issue.”

Mistake #3: Compromise rather than “negotiate”

READ MORE: How to improve your relationship and when to pull the plug: sexologist

Sandella sees compromise as something that’s often done in a hurry and can leave people with a sense of feeling cheated of what they really wanted.

She prefers to take more time and “negotiate” a “win-win” solution both parties can truly be happy with.

This proved to be especially helpful for her and her equally strong-willed husband.

“We would take the longest time just to decide where to take a vacation because we wanted different things,” she explained. “But we stayed with it until there was something on the table we were both excited about.

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“So it wasn’t like, ‘we’re going to compromise and I’ll just give you what you want. We’re going to keep working on it until we find common ground.'”

WATCH: Tips on how to avoid destructive relationship behaviors 

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Their friends used to mistakenly view the “negotiations” that revealed the couple’s commonalities as constant disagreements.

“They’re all divorced now,” Sandella said. “We’re not.”

Mistake #4: The need to be right

“The definition of communication implies there’s actually an exchange. So it’s not trying to talk the other person into what you think is right.”

If and when things get heated when you try to discuss something you feel strongly about (like say how you raise your children, which is rumoured to be a factor in the Brangelina divorce), Sandella urges couples take a breather and calm down.

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READ MORE: Relationship dealbreakers: how men and women compare

“There’s a danger of getting stuck in a ‘repeat mode,’ where you keep saying the same [thing] over and over and you’re basically stuck in a stalemate.

“At that time you’re stuck in a fight and that’s not really going anywhere.”

Mistake #5: Not taking time for yourselves

It’s natural for the excitement and passion in the beginning of a relationship to fizzle a bit as time passes.

“You just have to have ‘couple time’ to keep that alive,” Sandella said. “I’ve seen people who got in trouble because they didn’t. It became just about the family.”

WATCH: How to have a healthy marriage

She and her husband would make it an annual tradition to take a week-long “honeymoon” without the kids to reconnect.

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It wouldn’t always feel super romantic at the start, but by the time the week was over, she’d feel as infatuated as at the start.

“We just fell in love again.”

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