by Mark Travers Ph.D.

Patience, communication, and time-outs are three keys to a healthy relationship.


  • Over time, couples may pick up harmful relationship habits that they need to unlearn.
  • Jumping to conclusions about how much a partner cares tends to backfire.
  • Partners are not mind-readers, and there will be times when they disagree.

Many people come to therapy with complaints like:

  • “Why do I always have to tell my partner what I want in a relationship? Don’t they know already? We’ve been together for more than a decade, for heaven’s sake!”
  • “I used to think my partner and I were compatible. But it seems like nowadays we can’t go a single day without fighting.”
  • “My partner never takes out time for me when I want him to. He always needs time to get back to me later. This makes me wonder if he even loves me.”

If you find yourself spiraling into such thoughts, this article may have some answers for you. Here, I’ll talk about three things you may need to unlearn in your romantic relationships to foster healthy growth.

Unlearning 1: If someone doesn’t honor your request quickly, they don’t care.

In any relationship, it’s normal to expect your partner to respect and honor your requests. But sometimes, when a request isn’t fulfilled quickly, people jump to the conclusion that their partner doesn’t care about them. This is a misconception that needs to be unlearned if you want to improve the health of your relationship.

Try replacing this toxic thought pattern with these instead:

  • Practice patience. Rather than jumping to conclusions about how much someone values you based on how quickly they respond, you should practice patience and learn to give people their space, even close loved ones. According to an article published in the academic journal Frontiers in Psychology, patience, coupled with forgiveness and humility, can help us moderate our reactions to ambiguous situations so we can avoid socially destructive acts. Patience creates an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding between partners that allows both parties to feel safe and secure in the relationship.
  • Set clear expectations. If there are certain expectations or requests that must be fulfilled within a specific time frame, it’s important to make sure these expectations are communicated clearly from the start so there will be no confusion later on. Setting clear expectations lays a foundation of trust between partners by ensuring both sides understand each other’s needs upfront.

Unlearning 2: Others can figure out what you need without you telling them or asking for it.

It’s natural for couples who have been together for a long time to think they know what the other is thinking or feeling at any given moment.

But when you make assumptions about what’s going on in another person’s head without actually asking them, you risk creating more misunderstanding than understanding.

This expectation places an undue burden on the person you are expecting something from and sets both of you up for failure. This habit can lead to feelings of defensiveness, resentment, and, ultimately, bitterness.

Instead, try respectful communication. Research has found that couples with secure attachment styles engage in the most mutually constructive communication. Rather than expecting others in your life to meet your needs without guidance, it is important that you learn how to express yourself clearly and concisely.

Unlearning 3: Compatibility means no disagreements.

We often assume that if two people are meant to be together, they should automatically understand each other on a deep level and should never disagree.

But recent studies show that disagreement need not just be viewed negatively. Rather, it may be a sign of intimacy and sociability that builds relationships.

While it is true that compatibility is important in every relationship, it is also true that disagreement is an essential part of a healthy partnership.

Here’s what you can do to navigate disagreements in a constructive way:

  • Start by expressing your feelings without pointing fingers at your partner or making accusations. This will help you avoid blaming each other during the conversation.
  • Instead of focusing on what you think your partner did wrong, focus on how their actions made you feel so they can better understand where you’re coming from.
  • Take time-outs when needed. It can help clear your head and allow both of you to come back more focused on resolving the issue at hand while not allowing extraneous emotions to cloud your judgment.


Although difficult at times, it is possible for people to unlearn certain behaviors or attitudes that no longer serve them in their relationships. By letting go of expectations like mind-reading, conflict-free relationships, and 100 percent availability of your partner, you can create a healthier relationship dynamic. Unlearning these things will take time and practice, but the benefits are immense.

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