If you’re anything like most of us, you have specific desires for your love life: trust, honesty, faithfulness, romance, happiness. So when you’re dating someone who you think could be a potential keeper, your attachment style kicks in and leads to certain behaviors. You may do way more than you should to keep the relationship going. Or you might go overboard trying to safeguard your heart. Unfortunately, some of those actions can be toxic.
Ooh, there’s that dreaded word. For most of us, when we think of toxicity in a relationship, we think of the other person. You know, the ex who tried to gaslight you every time they messed up. Or the one who was a self-centered, lying cheater.
Note: If you’re in an abusive relationship, whether as the aggressor or victim, seek help from the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
If you spot romantic red flags, the first thing to do is to take a deep breath.
Sometimes, paradoxically, relationship issues might stem from the person in the mirror. Yep, you.
If your immediate response to that was, “No, not me” “I wouldn’t do that if he…” or “Well, she made me…” that’s a big sign it’s time for some self-reflection. Now, don’t get us wrong, both parties can stir up relationship drama. But blaming your partner for your behavior and not taking responsibility for your own choices and decisions can wreck a relationship.
The problem is some of us don’t realize our actions are problematic. “Unfortunately, many people lack self-awareness, and when you lack self-awareness, you don’t recognize how your behavior can contribute to dysfunction,” says Melody Murray, a licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Parks Psychotherapy Group in Houston, Texas. Additionally, some of us are simply repeating those patterns of behavior that were modeled for us during our upbringing, unaware that they may be causing issues, she says.
The result: Tumultuous relationships filled with constant conflicts, ups and downs, and makeups to breakups. In other words, toxic.
And Murray knows quite a bit about toxicity. As a former producer of Bad Girls Club and The Real World, she’s seen tons of unhealthy behavior. Now, as a therapist, she helps couples break free from those bad habits so they can have a more positive and fulfilling love life.
Is it time for an attitude detox?
If you see yourself in any of these behaviors, correcting them can help make your relationships healthier and happier.
The attitude: “Snark is my superpower.” If you’re making snarky comments, engaging in passive-aggressive behavior, stonewalling or giving your partner the silent treatment, you’re setting your relationship up for failure.
The detox: Healthy communication — being open, honest and respectful — is the key to a successful relationship. Work on your communication style. For instance, if the silent treatment is your usual go-to when you’re upset with your partner, try to respectfully discuss the issue instead.
The attitude: “My partner should already know what I need.” Your birthday is coming up, so your honey should know to make it a big deal, right? Wrong. “Unexpressed expectations are a relationship killer,” says Murray. “When you expect someone to read your mind, you punish them for not doing what they didn’t even know you wanted them to do,” she explains.
The detox: Communicate your wants and needs directly. “Babe, this is a special birthday for me. I would really appreciate it if we could travel somewhere or do a big event.”
The attitude: “It’s my way or the highway.” You like things to go a specific way. You don’t want your partner to hang out with certain people. You choose which activities you do together (and apart). And when things aren’t to your liking, you let it be known through arguments, pouting, complaints or breakup threats. Being overly controlling or having a “Happy wife, happy life” attitude is detrimental to relationships because it's one-sided when both people in the relationship should be happy, says Murray.
The detox: Loosen the reins. Compromise is essential in a healthy relationship. And your partner should have a say in their own life choices. Also, stop with the tantrums. Remember, healthy communication.
The attitude: “I know that other shoe is gonna drop.” For you, trust isn’t happening. You’re constantly questioning your partner, checking their phone, tracking their likes on social media and coming at them with accusations — even if they haven’t given you a reason to distrust them. While it’s normal to have moments of insecurity, excessive jealousy and a lack of trust are relationship killers.
The detox: Work on your insecurities. Murray says jealousy, especially unwarranted, is oftentimes due to a fear of abandonment and a lack of confidence in yourself and the relationship. Therefore, you have to work on your insecurities and build trust with your partner.
The attitude: “Everything sucks.” Of course, we all get bummed out sometimes. But if you’re almost always in a negative mood and looking for reasons to gripe about one thing or another, it’s toxic and pushes people away, says Murray.
The detox: Consider the good. No, you don’t have to do a lot of sugarcoating or pretend negative stuff doesn’t happen, but a change in perspective can help you have a more optimistic outlook, Murray says. First, pinpoint areas of your life where you tend to get negative. Then, check yourself throughout the day. When you notice negativity creeping in, try to shift into a more positive frame of mind.
The attitude: “Sorry” isn’t in my vocabulary.” When you’ve wronged someone, acting like it wasn’t a big deal or never happened makes it difficult for the other person to love and trust in the relationship, says Murray.
The detox: Apologies are powerful. Use them.
The attitude: “Ugh, I need to meet new people.” Look at all your interactions: friendships, family, romantic, work, social situations. Murray says if there’s a history of burnt bridges, explosive confrontations and there’s always a villain in your life, think about the common denominator: You.
The detox: Work on existing relationships. Murray suggests getting honest opinions about your attitude and behaviors and what you should work on from people you trust — no defensiveness allowed. Take what they say into consideration, especially if you hear it from multiple people.
Breaking toxic habits can be difficult, so Murray recommends reaching out to a mental health professional if necessary.