Finding happiness in life involves a combination of identifying the right people to have in your life and becoming the right person — the best version of yourself. Of course, there is no one right way to be as a human. But what is meant by that is simply doing all of your personal work so you can be certain you’re analyzing interactions with others and selecting who you allow into your life with a clear view. A clear view is one that isn’t tainted by insecurities, trauma, past experiences, fear, triggers, and other complicated elements. I heard a great quote from a therapist (in a TV show, granted) who responded to a client who said she always chooses the wrong romantic partners by saying, “Maybe you chose the wrong people because you were the wrong person yourself.”
Some people are excellent at identifying other great people and not-so-great people but terrible at taking accountability for their own actions. That’s a losing combination that will result in frequently watching people walk away from you and not fully understanding why. And, to be clear, even when you’ve done all of your personal work, there will still be plenty of failed relationships. But when you have done your personal work, you can feel more certain that, when things don’t work out, it was a compatibility issue and not a you thing. For now, if you do continuously have relationships you want in your life slipping through your fingers, it’s worth considering signs that it’s you that needs to change. We spoke to two mental health experts, Illumination Counseling founder and Licensed Therapist Latasha Matthews and Dr. Catherine Jackson, licensed psychologist and author of The Couch Experience: A Guide to Good Therapy to understand how we should go about doing things differently.
You get worked up easily
If “frustrated,” “irritated,” or “worked up” are words that could often describe how you feel – if they are dominating emotions in your days – it may be how you respond to others that’s the real issue. “When the behaviors of others frequently get under your skin, it’s a message that is trying to tell you something, about them but also about you,” Dr. Jackson says. “It’s natural to feel it’s something the other person is doing. However, ask yourself if that behavior is really the problem or what about that behavior is truly bothersome. Perhaps it may be how you respond that creates the turmoil.” Matthews adds to that, “If you have internal things going on, you will begin to argue over little things. You might be very short-tempered and have very little patience.”
You are always the victim
Dr. Jackson states that when a conflict occurs, it is almost always true that both parties were at fault in some way. So if you jump to blaming others and never take a moment to consider the role you played in the issue, it may be time to look within. “If you find yourself always blaming others and nothing is ever your fault, you may need to take a deeper look at those exchanges to notice the part you played in them,” she says. “Most conflicts occur in relationships and interactions with others as a result of actions between both or all parties involved. The onus of it is rarely solely on one party.”
Compromise is a one-way street
Think of all of the times you and another person wanted different things. That could be a romantic partner, a friend, or a family member. How often are you the one to compromise? Are you ever the one? Or do you approach situations with the explicit goal of making the other person meet you far more than halfway? “If you find that your partner is always the one making concessions in your relationship and you stubbornly refuse to make any adjustments yourself, it’s probably your fault that your relationship is suffering,” Matthews says. “It takes two to make a partnership work, so it might be your turn to change.”
You’re an expert at identifying other people’s flaws
Dr. Jackson says if you have a “laundry list” of things you’d like others to change and feel certain that if they simply made those changes the relationship would thrive, it may actually be you who needs to make a transformation.
“We are all who we are and while asking others to change some things [is okay], we cannot expect others to completely change everything about them to fit our wants and needs,” she says. “Accepting people as they are and practicing more gratitude for what they offer and/or bring to the table will greatly reduce the desire to constantly change them and any angst that comes with them not doing so.”
You always get your way
Do your days feel fairly easy? Do you rarely do things you don’t feel like doing? Well, there’s probably somebody who pays for that. When you make things as easy on you as possible in your relationships, it’s often at the expense of the other person.
“If you only ever do things with your significant other that you want to do, it probably means you’re not thinking about the other person enough,” Matthews says. “Start paying more attention to what your partner wants and what you can do to be better. It could drastically improve things.” This can even include simple gestures, like driving to his place sometimes, rather than having him drive to you every time, or spending more holidays with his friends, instead of always accommodating yours.
Why do you want what you want?
If you behave in the way Matthews described, always pushing for having things your way, it might seem simple to figure out why that is. Having things your way is just nice. It’s easy. But it’s about more than that. When you push to have things your way, you’re immediately ignoring the perspective of the other person. “A one-sided relationship in which one person gets most or all of their needs met to the exclusion of the other person’s desires is a relationship that is destined to fail,” Dr. Jackson says. “Examine what about you needs this and where it came from in order to improve it and reduce the occurrence of this theme in your relationships.”
The same problems exist in every relationship
Matthews says that if you see the same type of conflict or same patterns of issues arising in every type of relationship, the onus may be on you. “You have problems with many of your relationships. You find yourself having conflicts with family and friends and co-workers in the same way that you have with your partner,” she shared as examples. Dr. Jackson says you may even see these issues permeate more fleeting relationships. “Similar patterns developed with others you come in contact with may be evident in your exchanges with those you see or work with frequently like people at the grocery store, the coffee shop, service providers you interact with by phone or online, etc.”
Your network is always rotating
If you struggle to hold onto relationships – romantic or platonic – you could be at the root of many of those breakups. Some relationships aren’t meant to last, and it’s healthy to identify those that are no longer serving you. But if your default setting is to only think of how they serve you, and your instinct is to cut things off the moment they become difficult, it may be time to self-reflect.
“Does your circle and partner constantly change? If so, this may be due to you finding fault and having issues with others that result in you pushing them out of your life and replacing them with others, only to keep coming to the same problem again and again,” Dr. Jackson says. “Rather than frequently changing the people in your life, do some soul searching to figure out why you do so.”
A need to control
There should be a healthy amount of freedom in any type of relationship. We should be happy when those we claim to love do things that make them happy. But if our tendency is to see the friends of our friends, or the friends of our partner, as threats, that is a sign of an internal issue – not an external one. Matthews says if “you are jealous of your partner’s friends, family, and social activities…you disapprove of everything and you want to control every aspect of your partner’s life,” you have some things to work through. It might be hard to identify the feeling as jealousy when you’ve disguised it under all the judgment. But you know deep down if and when you act out out of jealousy.
It’s time to improve your emotional IQ
Dr. Jackson says that if one’s emotional IQ is low, this will often result in frequent conflict. One sign of low emotional IQ is ignoring repeated feedback. “If that same message or similar feedback keeps coming up and from different sources, it’s time to take note. Not everyone is wrong. It just may be that your perception of how you impact others is off,” she says. “Overlooking or being insensitive to others’ feelings, a need to always be right, poor coping skills, making everything about you, and difficulties in relationships are some of the signs of low emotional intelligence. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to have low EQ and experience smooth, healthy relationships. You definitely want to do inner work to increase your EQ and thus improve your relationship with others.”