We have few places to seek out what the model healthy relationship looks like. This is not taught in school, despite the litany of other inane things that are. If you were lucky to have parents who modeled a healthy relationship to you growing up, congratulations. But even then, no couple is perfect. We may pick up unhealthy habits that end up in our own later in life. Besides a lack of education on what is or is not good etiquette, our media doesn’t exactly portray relationships in a healthy manner either. Instead of round characters and the thorny difficulties that partners face, we get cute problems that are cured in just under an hour, and men and women who objectify and use each other, instead of engaging in complex, loving, supportive relationships. Luckily, psychologists have conducted a lot of research concerning what are and are not healthy habits over the years. It is unfortunate that a lot of couples take part in patterns that actually threaten the health of their love rather than strengthen it. Here are some of the most common relationship practices that are in fact toxic. See if any inhabit your love life, learn to banish them from it, and replace the behavior with something healthy.
Are you “keeping score?” In some places or situations a little healthy competition is good. It keeps things interesting and encourages each person to call up extra energies in order to achieve a certain task. But keeping score is different. Here, one person usually keeps a mental tally of each time the other has made a mistake. Tallies are compared to see who messed up the most over the months or years. Sometimes the scorekeeper thinks they can even the score, or have some wiggle room to say flirt with a cute coworker, because after all the scorecard says they are way behind. The reason this is toxic is everyone makes mistakes in relationships. But this tactic uses bitterness and guilt to control the other person. Usually, a lot of resentment builds until the relationship is no longer viable. If there is a habitual problem one or another person is taking part in, it must be addressed. But otherwise learn to forgive your partner when they make a mistake, and how to seek forgiveness when you have. Bringing up actions or problems from months or years ago will only cause greater friction today.
Passive-aggressive tendencies can hurt a relationship. This is dropping hints through sarcasm, or doing little things to hurt your partner to get revenge for certain slights, whether real or imagined. Instead of communicating clearly with the other person and letting them in, passive-aggression shields the user from their real feelings and sets up an adversarial relationship with their partner. Sooner or later their S.O. is going to be tired of being the bad guy. Instead, wait until the initial anger has passed, sit down with your partner and directly tell them what is on your mind. Lastly, no one should hold the relationship hostage. This is when minor problems are thought to be the end of the world. If you or your partner uses statements like, “I can’t be with someone who…” or “How can I be with you if you keep…” then either this behavior has crossed a line and needs to be discussed in depth, or you or your partner tend to overreact. The better way to interact is to communicate calmly and clearly. Outline the behavior and how it makes you feel. Don’t attack your partner. Just let them know what is going on inside your head and heart. Then give them a chance to respond. Most of the time if you address issues frankly from your standpoint, without shame or blame, you will get a positive response. Remember that emotions are not right or wrong, it is how you act upon them, and particularly within a relationship that makes all the difference.
For more on avoiding negative patterns read, Why Can’t You Read My Mind? Overcoming the 9 Toxic Thought Patterns that Get in the Way of a Loving Relationship by Ph.D. Jeffrey Bernstein Ph.D. and Susan Magee.