The Three Biggest Relationship Killers

“There are five T’s in relationships that make all the positive differences in the world. They are: Tenderness – Trust – Touch – Time – Talk.”
Tim Connor, author

Perhaps you remember the story of two women who meet and converse on a street corner. The first one says, “I got a plant for my husband.” The other one replied, “Not a bad trade.”

We laugh. And we think it’s funny. But it really isn’t … because so many relationships are in sad, sad shape … on and off the job.

Some studies indicate that 85% of people say they don’t like their jobs. And the number one reason they cite for such dissatisfaction? A bad relationship with one or more of their supervisors, managers, or coworkers.

And things aren’t much better on the home front. Many relationships are sick, dying, or dead.

So what’s causing all this relationship difficulty? Why aren’t relationships as fulfilling as they should be? There are lots of reasons, but let me give you three of the biggest relationship killers. See if any of these killers are getting in your way.

=> 1. A lack of time.

It takes time to build a good relationship. It takes time to build an effective team. And there is simply no way to get around this fact.

In our work lives, organizations are attempting to get more done, with fewer people, in a shorter amount of time, with less re-energizing downtime … than ever before. As life coach Kate Larsen notes, “The opportunity for connecting with others seems to have diminished — the desire has not.”

In our personal lives, we feel the pressure to spend our time on everything BUT our relationships. All the advertisements, for example, are meant to increase our desire for more stuff … which means we have to spend more time working away from our loved ones… to get the money… that buys the stuff.

Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam says we are becoming increasingly disconnected from family members, friends, neighbors, and society. In “Bowling Alone,” Putnam notes, “Television, two-career families, suburban sprawl, generational changes in values — these and other changes in American society have meant that fewer and fewer of us find that the League of Women Voters, or the United Way, or the Shriners, or the monthly bridge club, or even a Sunday picnic with friends fit the way we have come to live.” Putnam concludes, “Our growing social-capital deficit threatens … our health and happiness.”

I suspect we all know this at some level. That’s why it’s so comforting to buy into one of the big “lies” of the last twenty years. The “lie” says it doesn’t matter how much time you spend on a relationship … just as long as it’s “quality” time.

Oh sure, it’s possible to schedule some “quality” time with the key people in your life. I do every week … with my wife, my kids, my employees, and my customers.

However, the “quantity” of time you spend together is also critical. More often than not, the quality of your teamwork or the strength of your relationship is a function of the time you spend together.

So ask the other people on your team or in your family a simple question. Ask them, “Are we spending enough time together?”

Then look at the second killer of relationships.

=> 2. A lack of validation.

People — and people in relationships — are very much like plants. They need to be fed to stay alive. Plants need water and sunshine. People need validation.

Put another way, people NEED to feel loved and respected, appreciated, accepted, and worthwhile. It’s not an option.

And yet many people in many relationships feel just the opposite. As LaRochefoucauld said long ago, “Marriage is the only war in which you sleep with the enemy.” And Benjamin Franklin advised, “Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards.”

Of course, it’s one thing to FEEL invalidated; it’s another thing to get the other person to understand HOW they invalidate you. When you confront them, they may put it back on you, saying, “You’re just too sensitive.”

Maybe so. But maybe not. Without quoting all the research, let me simply say that the following behaviors are NEVER acceptable … on or off the job … because they invalidate people and destroy relationships.

* Belittling. The other person insults you in public or private. It’s okay if someone disagrees with you, but it’s not okay if the other person belittles you, your opinions, or feelings.

* Ignoring. The other person ignores your thoughts, feelings, opinions, or preferences. He may simply be a bad listener who interrupts you a lot, or he may not care about what matters to you. Not cool and not acceptable.

* Controlling. The other person tries to control the way you live your life. She may overuse phrases like “You should,” telling you what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. In a sense, she’s saying, “You’re incompetent to run your own life.” Not good.

* Guilting. The other person tries to change you through a guilt trip. He may say, “See what you made me do … You never … You always … If you really loved me, you would … and … It’s all your fault.” Yes, sometimes behavior change is needed, but you don’t get people to make positive changes by using negative behaviors on them.

In essence, people thrive and relationships grow where there is validation. And a slow, gruesome death takes place where validation is missing.

Finally, for today’s purposes, a third killer of personal or professional relationships is…

=> 3. A lack of communication.

Some researchers speculate that the average couple spends less than 30 minutes a week … or 26 hours a year … in one-on-one, deep, personal dialogue. Their communication becomes more functional than connective. In other words, most of their talk time is devoted to such things as “What time dinner … Will is you pick up the kids … and … Boy, was traffic ever bad today.” Nothing too exciting about that.

One way you can tell you’ve got a communication problem is to look for responses of indifference. In other words, the other person responds to you with words like “Fine … Okay … Nothing … or … Whatever.” There’s obviously a lot that is being left unsaid.

Smart people and effective teams make time for communication. I suppose that’s why growing marriage partners occasionally read books or take classes on marriage, and that’s why productive teams have a retreat once in a while to do some “team building.” They’ve learned there is no substitute for communication.

And not to be self-serving, but one of the best communication techniques I’ve ever come across is the use of Brave Questions. Listen to Clayton Anderson. He says, “This may seem like a long time ago, but I first heard you speak for Prudential Financial Services back in 1985. You talked about the transforming power of Brave Questions. So it triggered the idea of interviewing my grandparents, asking Brave Questions that would help me understand who my grandparents were.”

“With coffee, cookies and a microphone, I videotaped the interview with both grandparents. I let them review their 60 questions a couple of days ahead of filming. Some answers I knew. Some I did not. But the thrust of the answers was given by the body language, gestures and giggles of these two. Their years together were unshakably hand-in-hand.”

“My grandparents have now passed away. But I burned the videotape to a DVD and gave it away for Christmas. It was a blessing to so many people.”

“And now to come full circle, wouldn’t you know that a friend sent me a copy of your ‘Brave Questions’ book as a gift. My wife and I started using it on a flight to Mexico, and it opened up all kinds of new and exciting avenues in our relationship … as well as a deeper understanding of our history before we met.”

“Thanks for your insight. My best to you.”

When you use the Brave Question technique, choose your time carefully. That means schedule some talk time … because chances are it won’t happen if you don’t schedule it. As I always say, “If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not going to happen.”

And choose your place carefully. Deep, connecting, understanding relationship talk … or team talk … does not happen in just any old setting. You have to turn the TV off or get away from your computer screen that keeps begging for your attention. You have to do something as old-fashioned and low tech as actually have a face-to-face one-on-one.

As author Tim Connor puts it, use the “whites of the eyes” technique. When he or his wife is trying to communicate from another room and it’s difficult to hear what the other is saying, they call out “whites of the eyes.” Translated, they’re saying, “If I can’t see the whites of your eyes, I can’t be held accountable for what you are saying.”

So there you have it. Three of the biggest killers of relationships on and off the job. Just knowing what they are, you’ll be in better shape to avoid those things.

Action:  Sit down with your partner or team members and rank order the 3 relationship killers. Give a “1” to the killer that gives you the most difficulty. Give a “3” to the killer that is the least troublesome. And then agree on two things you will do to handle your #1 killer more effectively.