Popular culture has created or encouraged a lot of relationship “norms” that shouldn’t exist, but continue on no matter how many episodes of Jerry Springer air. Some of these have become so commonplace that we don’t recognize how damaging they are and continue to use them because we believe it’s the best way to handle the situation. Over time, our habits deteriorate the relationship, and we end up bitter and frustrated.
Below are 10 of the most common counterproductive ways of thinking that sabotage our relationships, and why they’re so toxic:
Why you think it’s fine: We’re often taught from a young age that being overprotective or displaying jealousy is a result of someone “caring too much” for us. They just can’t help themselves. They love us so much that they act irrational sometimes. These displays show that our partner loves us more than anyone and is only trying to protect us.
Why it’s toxic: Someone’s inability to control their irrational thoughts should never be taken as a sign of true love. Your partner can help themselves, no matter how much they insist that it’s an uncontrollable gut reaction to someone doing something as innocent as having a conversation with you. if you’re the one being overprotective, recognize that it’s not out of love, but out of some other problem that you’re neglecting.
Why you think it’s fine: You don’t understand why your partner is so upset, or you don’t get why they can’t see it your way, and it feels like the argument is going nowhere. So you decide to just give it to them, tell them “Okay” or “You’re right” so it can end. You’ve taken the high road here. You think you’re being the bigger man/woman because you’ve “chosen” to concede, thus ending the fight with you supposedly looking like the mature adult.
Why it’s toxic: The reality is that this tactic is over-used, resulting in a lot of arguments which are never actually resolved because the “high road” party was either a) not genuinely listening to and considering the other person’s words or b) unwilling to compromise if it means something unpleasant for them.
You make the excuse that you have been the better person in the situation by letting your partner think they won — only it’s not about winning, and your partner likely knows that you’re just placating them and silently resents you for it. Use some introspection, actually hear what your partner is saying, and talk about it like grown ups.
Why you think it’s fine: You want them to know you treasure them, so you do all you can to show them that you care about their needs a lot more than your own.
Why it’s toxic: The sentiment is lovely, but if you continuously neglect your wants and needs for your partner’s, you’ll end up frustrated or burnt out. It feels good in the moment to sacrifice for them, but it’s hard to maintain that for very long. Your partner will still know you love them if you don’t always put yourself last.
Why you think it’s fine: These things that you hint at seem so obvious to you, your partner should eventually be able to recognize your “signs” and form the logical conclusion if you just keep subtly working at it.
Why it’s toxic: What’s obvious to you isn’t to everyone else, and this kind of thinking suggests you think it should be. You can’t “teach” intuitiveness, especially when your partner may have different experiences which make it hard to connect or recognize some of the things that you feel are self-evident. Your partner will actually appreciate you giving them direct feedback and suggestions rather than having to guess.
Why you think it’s fine: This trope seems as old as time and has appeared in more movies, TV shows, and books than anyone could count. The couple that’s passionately love fights fiercely or frequently because that’s how much they love each other. All that passion just boils over into rage sometimes, it’s a sign that you’re truly in love.
Why it’s toxic: How this idea came to be I will never no, but there should be nothing romantic about routine and/or spiteful disputes. At best you could be ignoring real problems in your relationship because you think this level of fighting is normal, and at worst it could be the prelude to an abusive relationship.
Why you think it’s fine: You don’t like it when people are mad at you, even for a short time, and the thought of those situations scare you, so the most you do is make snide or passive aggressive remarks. Hopefully the other person will see what the problem is and do all the work of confronting and apologizing.
Why it’s toxic: Dragging on an issue way past its expiration date is far more unpleasant in the end than the brief discomfort of confrontation. In fact, that discomfort will probably lessen as you observe the difference in your stress levels by pushing through and confronting problems rather than hoping the other person will. You’ll also seem more open and level-headed, which might encourage your partner to come to you with problems before they escalate.
Why you think it’s fine: Okay, so you messed up, but your partner totally messed up that one time so they have no right to get mad at you. An eye for an eye, right?
Why it’s toxic: Neither of you end up actually working through anything because you’re too busy playing the Who Messed Up Worse game. If you’re bringing up something that happened a while ago, chances are you aren’t actually over it and that conflict was never resolved, either. Lose-lose.
Why you think it’s fine: Ultimatum’s will make your partner really think about the conflict you two are having. It puts their priorities into perspective.
Why it’s toxic: Rather than making the other person think deeply on the value of your relationship, telling someone you can’t or don’t want to be with them if they do XYZ is emotional blackmail and will make them defensive or like they can’t come to you with relationship issues. Learn to address relationship problems without putting the entire relationship on the line.
Why you think it’s fine: You’re not literally trying to buy their love/forgiveness, you’re showing them how much you care about them. It will let them know that everything is back to normal and that even though you were kind of mean before, you’re going to be really nice and take them out to a fancy restaurant to prove that you care.
Why it’s toxic: If your partner is still upset with you, no gift or gesture will truly solve the root of the problem if it’s not related. Buying them that thing they need or surprising them with a weekend beach trip sounds like a good idea, but they don’t need to just be put in a good mood, they need the conflict truly resolved.
Why you think it’s fine: You don’t want to hurt the feelings of the person you love, so you tell little white lies or hold your tongue when your opinion of something they say/wear/do is less than positive. That’s the nice thing to do.
Why it’s toxic: You can still treat your partner well without avoiding all disagreement or criticism. There is a zone between overly nice and total jerk, you know. Most people can recognize the difference between a mean or insensitive comment and one that simply doesn’t agree with them 100 percent.
Featured photo credit: I against I/Raul Lieberwirth via flic.kr
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