There is no class in high school on how not to be a terrible girlfriend or boyfriend. Sure, we get taught the legal ins and outs of marriage, the biology of sex, and maybe we read a few obscure love stories from the on how not to be an annoying person. Without bright ideas from adults, what we’re left with is trial-and-error, and if you’re like most people, it’s mostly error, with a bit of luck here and there.
Luckily, there has been a lot of psychological investigations published in the past few decades about healthy and happy relationships. Some general principles keep popping up that most people are unaware of (or if they do know them, they do not follow them). Some of these principles go against what is traditionally considered “romantic” in a relationship.
Below are some of the most common tendencies in relationships that many couples think are healthy and normal but are actually toxic and harmful.
- The Relationship Scorecard
What Is It? The “keeping score” aspect is when someone you’re dating continues to blame you for past mistakes. If both people in the relationship do this, it devolves into what we can call “the relationship scorecard,” where the relationship devolves into a battle to see who has screwed up the most, and therefore who is most indebted to the other.
Why It is Toxic: Not only are you diverging the current issue by concentrating on previous wrongs, but you are bringing up guilt and resentment from the past to manipulate your partner into feeling bad.
If this goes on long enough, both partners eventually spend most of their energy trying to prove that they are less guilty than the other, rather than solving what caused the present issue.
What to Do Instead: Deal with issues individually unless they are legitimately connected. If someone habitually cheats, then that is a recurring problem. Also, it is important to understand that by choosing to be with your significant other, you want to be with all of their previous actions and behaviours. If you don’t accept those, then you are not receiving your partner. If something bothered you that much a year ago, you should have dealt with it a year ago.
- Dropping “Hints” And Other Passive-Aggression
What Is It? Instead of saying something out loud, in this case, a partner tries to push the other to figure it out. Instead of saying what is upsetting you, you find petty and insignificant ways to piss your partner off, so that you can then feel justified in complaining to them.
Why It is Toxic: Because it shows that one of you is not comfortable communicating openly and clearly. A person will never feel a need to drop “hints” if they feel like they won’t be judged or criticized for honesty.
What to Do Instead: State your feelings and desires openly. And make it understandable that the other person is not responsible for those feelings, but that you would love to have their support. If they love you, they will almost always be able to offer that support.
- Blaming Your Partner for Your Own Emotions
What Is It?: Let’s say you’re having a crappy day and your partner isn’t exactly being super sympathetic or supportive about it – maybe they have been on the phone all day with some people from work, or they got distracted when you hugged them. You want to lay around at home together and watch a movie tonight, but your partner has plans to go out and see friends.
Why It is Toxic: Blaming our partners for our emotions is selfish and a typical example of the poor maintenance of personal boundaries. When you set a precedent that your partner is responsible for how you always feel (and vice-versa), this can easily lead to a co-dependent relationship. When someone begins to get upset, all personal desires go out the window because it now you must make each other feel better.
What to Do Instead: Take accountability for your own emotions and foresee your partner to be responsible for theirs in turn. There is a subtle yet essential difference between being supportive of your partner and being obligated to your partner. Any sacrifices should be made by choice and not because that is what is expected.
- Displays Of “Loving” Jealousy
What Is It?: Getting pissed off when your partner talks, calls, texts, touches, hang out, or sneezes while close to another person and then you go on to take that frustration out on your partner and try to control their behaviour. This often leads to actions such as looking through their text messages while they’re in the shower or even following them around and showing up unannounced.
Why It is Toxic: It surprises me that some people describe this as some display of affection and that if their partner is not jealous, then that somehow means they do not love them enough. This is not true but crazy. Worst of all, it is demeaning. If my partner cannot trust me to be around other attractive women by myself, then it indicates that she believes that I am either 1) incapable of controlling my impulses. In either case, that is a woman I do not want to be or 2) a liar.
What to Do Instead: Completely trust your partner. It is a fundamental idea; I know because some jealousy is natural. But excessive jealousy and controlling behaviours are signs of your feelings of unworthiness, and you should learn to deal with them and not force them onto those close to you. Without fixing that jealousy, you are only going to push your partner away.
- Buying the Solutions to Relationship Problems
What Is It?: Whenever a major dispute or issue comes up in a relationship, instead of solving it, you cover it up with the excitement and good feelings that come with buying something beautiful or going on a nice trip.
Why It is Toxic: Not only does buying stuff brush the real dilemma under the rug, but it sets an unhealthy pattern within the relationship. Let us imagine that whenever a woman gets angry at her boyfriend/husband, the man “solves” the issue by buying the woman a gift or taking her to a fancy restaurant. Not only does this give the woman unconscious incentive to find more reasons to be upset with the man, but it also provides the man with absolutely no excuse to be accountable for the problems in the relationship.
What to Do Instead: Deal with the problem. Was trust broken? Talk about what it will take to rebuild it. Someone feels ignored or unappreciated? Talk about ways to restore those feelings of appreciation. Communicate