Unless you're some kind of saint in human form, you're going to make relationship mistakes. Luckily there's an upside to screwing up, and there are relationship mistakes you actually should be making. Because sometimes, that's the best way to learn. Just like absence makes the heart grow fonder, sometimes feeling upset with each other makes you love each other more. That's because disagreeing, and hurting each other's feelings opens the door to deeper truths that probably needed explored anyway. If there's one thing I've learned as a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate and Planned Parenthood Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator, it's that when you're feelings are hurt or you're angry, you're more in touch with your emotions and more likely to talk about what's bothering you in a deeper way. Unless you're a total conflict avoider, but that's a subject for another article.
Now, saying there's an upside to making mistakes in your relationship isn't meant to minimize how hard it can be and how much it hurts to screw up. It hurts bad, and it's not really easy to see those hard times as lessons or opportunities to make your relationship stronger. But they are. At the very least, you'll get to practice the fine art of sincerely apologizing. At best, you'll walk away from your screw ups with a deeper knowledge of your partner, and yourself, which can only serve you well. Here are some classic examples of common screw-ups you need to be making in order to learn those valuable life lessons.
1. Saying The Wrong Thing
Sometimes saying the wrong thing is better than saying nothing at all. At least you're communicating! If you have a framework of trust established, you have a little wiggle room to communicate without fear of saying something wrong. And when you do say the wrong thing, you can apologize sincerely and move on once your partner has had their say. No one is perfect at communicating, even after a lifetime of practice.
2. Pressing Buttons
I'm not saying you should intentionally say mean things to your partner, but I am saying that sometimes the things we say to our partners help us discover and create our boundaries. Whether in an argument, or when taking a joke too far, pressing our partner's buttons can help us stop and say "woah, OK, too far." It's part of learning how to communicate effectively and learning what our partners are comfortable with. Sometimes pressing buttons happens accidentally, when you think you're saying something appropriate to the situation. Again, it's a learning experience.
3. Having Bad Sex
Sometimes you try something new and it works out for you. Sometimes you swing and you miss. You live you learn. This applies to a lot of things, but especially sex. Trying something new can bring up intense feelings, make things awkward for a moment, or even cause pain. None of these negative side effects of trying something new during sexytimes can't be recovered from, but they can make for the occasional bad time. But, experimentation is how you figure out what you like. Even if it occasionally means figuring out what you don't like.
4. Being Rude To Each Other's Friends
When you have a negative run-in with your partner's friends, it's bad on all sides. Your partner's friends think you're a jerk. Your partner is mad. You're annoyed. You're also regretful, because you don't want your partner to be hurt or angry, even if their friend is a complete ass hat. But here's the silver lining. This is a golden opportunity to learn both boundaries, and how to agree to disagree. Your boundary is that isn't not OK for your partner's friends to do X and your partner's boundary is that it's not OK for you to disrespect the people they care about. And if you just absolutely hate your partner's friend(s) you can use it as an opportunity to both stretch your kindness muscles and show your partner that you're willing to agree to disagree for the sake of their happiness. That's some super mature stuff happening right there.
5. Spending Too Much Money
Everything's going great with you living together and then one day you maybe miscalculate how much money you have in the bank and go out to lunch and buy some awesome shoes, and then crap, you're short on your half of the rent. And your partner has to make up for it out of their spending money. Well, the good news is, you won't be homeless. And also that it's time to sit down and make a budget and explore some better record keeping apps or accountability systems. It's also a good time to plot out what your long-term and short-term savings goals are, so you never find yourself in hot water again. This is the kind of mistake that can make your life a thousand times better, both now and in the future, if you let it.
6. Having Unrealistic Expectations
Having unrealistic expectations is part of the training course for healthy communication. We've all been there, where we thought things would go one way but out partner either didn't get the memo, or had a completely different idea of how things would go. Maybe you thought a romantic Valentine's Day out with all the fanfare would happen, when your partner thought staying in and having some alone time would be awesome. When this kind of tension happens in a relationship, it's a good lesson in the idea that your partner is not a mind reader. If you want something specific, you need to communicate in specifics.
7. Getting Jealous
Jealousy is really unhealthy if it happens all the time, and if it affects how you and your partner live your lives. And if it motivates you to try to control your partner, then it's definitely a problem. But everyone gets jealous for a second. It's often as fleeting as it is uncomfortable. If you get jealous, and if you also act ridiculous in response to that jealousy, which happens, you can use it to make your relationship better. At the deep heart of jealousy is insecurity, which you now have an opportunity to explore and discuss with your partner. You also have an opportunity to discuss trust in your relationship, which ironically, is a great way to help build trust. Just keep in mind that if jealousy is a persistent problem, you probably want to talk to a counselor, because jealousy has a bad habit of turning ugly in a relationship.
Not to sound like the positivity police, but screwing up is a great thing. It may not feel that way at the time, but it's how you learn both who you are and who you want to be. So I say screw up with abandon. Just try to hurt as few people as possible along the way.