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10 Relationship Habits You Don’t Realize Are Toxic

10 Relationship Habits You Don’t Realize Are Toxic

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:

1. Over-protection and jealousy mean they just love you a lot

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.

2. Letting them “win” is taking the higher road

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.

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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.

3. Putting your partner’s needs way above yours

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.

4. Hinting at what you want will eventually teach your partner to be more intuitive

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.

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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.

5. Intense or frequent fights are just a side effect of true love

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.

6. Making offhand comments is nicer than confronting the problem head-on

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.

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7. Keeping score of the other person’s wrongdoings is just self-protection

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.

8. Your relationship is an appropriate bargaining chip

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.

9. Making up with your partner with a gift or special trip to show you care

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.

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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.

10. Biting your tongue is always best so as not to hurt their feelings

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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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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