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Three Things That Will Sour Your Relationship

Ask singles what they want in a partner, and you’ll likely hear this: “I want someone who will love me for me. I don’t want to feel like I’ve got to change or ‘measure up’ to be loved.”

Oh sure, singles will also say they are looking for someone who is thoughtful, loyal, honest, and attractive. But deep down, what most people on earth want from their lover, first and foremost, is to be accepted, appreciated, and admired for who they are—without the need for pretense or phoniness.

Even though this kind of unconditional love and acceptance is nearly universally desired, it doesn’t happen very often. Indeed, if you have dated more than a couple partners, chances are you’ve been with someone who wanted to change you, had unrealistic expectations for you, and measured your “value” by how well you performed according to impossible standards. Maybe you can relate to what these two singles said on the topic:

Shawna, 31, urban planner, Seattle: “I dated a guy named Joel for a year, and after three months I noticed he kept trying to change me. He constantly gave me ‘constructive criticism’ for improving my career prospects, losing weight, being less shy, eating better, and organizing my apartment. He even started giving me tips for ‘dressing for success’ and changing my hair style. I finally realized Joel had a mental image of his ideal woman—and I wasn’t it! Maybe he was trying to be helpful, but I just ended up feeling lousy about myself all the time.”

Ryan, 26, computer programmer, Austin, Texas: “Things were great between Claire and I for six months, and we were getting pretty serious. But I started to get worn down by her disparaging comments. It was always, ‘Why did you do it that way?’ and ‘You could have done that better.’ She was quick to point out anything I did wrong, at least what she considered wrong. Nothing I did was good enough. I finally asked myself if I wanted to live with that kind of person the rest of my life, and the answer ultimately was ‘No way!’”

If you’re someone who wants to be loved and accepted for who you are, be on the look-out for the “three C’s” that can make a potentially sweet relationship go sour in a hurry:

Criticism. Most of us are acutely sensitive to the sting of harsh, condemning words, and we feel disapproval when they come our way. Critical remarks send a clear message: “You are incompetent, inadequate, inept.” Is there room in a romantic relationship for feedback and suggestions that lead to positive change? Sure. And they’re always communicated with grace and good-heartedness. Criticism, meanwhile, usually has its root in a strict, stern attitude. We might be able to deflect the occasional criticism, but when such pointed words come frequently, your best strategy is to get out of the way.

Comparisons. Some people evaluate your “worth” by seeing how you stack up against others. But who wants to be compared to a lover’s parent, sibling, friend, or—heaven forbid—former partner? To be evaluated on the basis of someone else’s actions is not only insulting, but it’s also pointless since each of us has our own strengths and weaknesses, assets and liabilities.

Controlling behavior. In every relationship—and especially your closest one—you want the freedom to be fully and authentically yourself. But lots of potential partners, because of their own insecurity or insensitivity, want to control your behavior and thinking. It’s bad enough to be micromanaged by a boss or some other authority figure. You really don’t want to be corrected and directed by a dating partner, someone supposed to honor your uniqueness and individuality.

If you encounter any of these consternating C’s, consider it a big red flag that you are not being fully accepted and appreciated. In which case, it might be best to find a partner who will love you exactly as you are.