1. Making excuses for bad behavior.
The most toxic thing you can do in your relationship is to excuse poor behavior. Seriously, as a therapist, I see this all the time with couples, and it’s really frustrating! If your significant other is acting in a way that you don’t like, you MUST say something. You don’t have to guilt, shame, or beat a dead horse, but pretending like you don’t notice (or worse, actively making excuses for bad behavior) is gonna bite you hard down the road.
Why? I’m so glad you asked!
Your excuses are not an act of forgiveness. They’re just a condonement of your partner’s poor behavior. And if you condone it, the behavior is likely to continue.
So let’s paint a picture of what your relationship will look like. First, the more denial you are in, the more stories you’ll make up to rationalize the behavior in front of you. This story-telling process plays a KEY role in causing you to doubt yourself and your perceptions. That gives your partner all your power and you end up gaslighting yourself.
Second, you will likely start isolating yourself from friends & family in order to avoid having others point it out to you, because they will see those HUGE red flags and want to tell ya about ‘em. Now you’ve pushed away the people trying to help to protect a person whose behavior isn’t good in the first place.
After enough time goes by without your personal power, you’ll be in a real hole because your partner now has control of the narrative. There’s a crater where your self-confidence used to be, and you’ve become reliant on them because they “do no wrong.” And if you think, “That would never happen to me!” Trust me: I hear this story progression all the time. Don’t do this to yourself!
If you see something, say something. And if it doesn’t change, don’t stay.
2. Withholding your personal worries, fears, and upsets.
The truth is that when we are struggling, we think we need to deal with it on our own. We tell ourselves that we can handle it, or we don’t want to be a burden, etc.
Think about it like this: if we are in a relationship and I’m going through some big emotional upset, and I don’t tell you about it… am I gonna be acting weird or different around you? I sure am. Because even though I haven’t said anything, my upset shines through in my actions. So now all YOU know is I’m being weird, and you don’t understand why. You might start wondering if you did something wrong or if something bad is going to happen. And before you know it, there’s now a whole new second upset in the relationship. Has this ever happened to you?
Here’s the deal: it isn’t “heroic” to withhold your burdens… it’s stupid. The reason you want a partner “in sickness and health and all that jazz” is so you don’t have to pretend to be okay, and you can have a safe space to truly be yourself.
Trust your partner, open up, and share your worries. They don’t have to do anything except say, “I’m sorry, I hear ya, what a pain.” You can still be the one who deals with it, but then you at least have someone who’s on your side. And, since you told them what’s really going on, they won’t make up even more stories about why you’re acting weird.
And I’ll give you bonus points for good communication!
3. Holding grudges.
This is a HORRIBLE habit! Here’s what happens with your grudges: all the little unaddressed things just sit there, growing bigger and bigger until the inevitable fight breaks out and you use weeks of ammunition to explode at your partner. Or vice versa.
Easy solution for this one: deal with the issues when they come up and stop holding on to grudges. The big fights in relationships are hard enough without adding more fuel to the fire. If you deal with the things that bother you early on in the relationship, then you both can create the dream relationship you truly want.
Not to mention, when you’re on the receiving end of an explosion, it feels pretty crappy to have all those things from your past thrown at you – especially when you can’t even do anything about them because they happened so long ago!
Like, what were you waiting for, the worst possible moment to bring this up?
And if you are seriously holding back on all your upset and not saying anything (because you don’t want to or think you can’t talk to your partner about it) then I would say that there are definitely bigger issues at play. Just saying…
4. Not respecting boundaries.
I don’t care if you are in a relationship with the most emotionally stable and trustworthy person in the world, you still need to have boundaries, standards, and expectations for how you want your relationship (and your life) to go.
We aren’t perfect, so at some point, we all will consciously or unconsciously step over a boundary. When that happens, communicating about what happened is super important. Once we know we have broken a boundary, the best thing we can do is to apologize for our mistake and come up with a solution to do better in the future.
If you don’t know where your (or your partner’s) boundaries are, then they will get stepped on. Usually, this is by accident, but unfortunately, I’ve seen couples play a tit-for-tat game where they continuously step on or over each other’s boundaries. Sometimes people do it on purpose to spite or make fun of the other person. I mean, I didn’t think I needed to say it but that’s… that’s just… stupid. Don’t do that.
So be clear with your partner about where your boundaries are (and whether they are firm or flexible) and communicate when they are crossed. And vice versa: clearly, if your partner is uncomfortable, you should respect their boundaries and inquire as to what is going on. Then, who knows, you might learn more about each other.
A Few Last Words
At the end of the day, if you find yourself in a toxic cycle in your relationship, whether it’s one of the ones I listed or something else entirely, you have to say something.
You deserve a better relationship, but no one is just going to give it to you.
Find those who will support you and help you address the issue. I know that it can be scary at first because we don’t want to rock the boat, speak out, or possibly lose the relationship. Just remember this is your boat too. You are allowed to make waves. It’s okay to struggle and have disagreements and fights, but it’s another thing to be in a toxic situation. So don’t let yourself stay there!
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