As most people will tell you, relationships can be hard work. They should not, however, constantly be hard work and nor should they be tremendously difficult. Healthy relationships will have their natural ups and downs, with moments that are difficult and a majority of time where they should be fairly easy flowing and rewarding.
Ideally, our relationship with our significant other will be the least stressful variable in our life. This core relationship is meant to give us the greatest support, not the biggest headache. If this isn’t the case, it may be time to look at what’s going on that’s preventing it from being a source of strength in your life.
Below is the first set of variables that turns relationships from a place of refuge into a source of stress. If you do any of these, work on stopping yourself. If you live with someone who does any of these, learn to set limits when needed, get professional help if the limits don’t work and know when to walk away when necessary. If you are the one doing these behaviors, get help in working through these issues or they will wreak havoc in all of your relationships.
* Verbal abuse. Verbal abuse includes yelling, name-calling, shaming, making fun of others, speaking with contempt and/or undermining them. Verbal abuse is toxic to be around and kills a person’s spirit and the relationship over time. No one likes to be with someone who constantly puts him or her down, belittles him or her or makes fun of him or her. It is often only a matter of time before the one being verbally abused wakes up and starts heading for the door. Work to stop the abuse rather than minimizing or justifying it.
- Physical abuse. Obviously physical abuse is toxic to relationships, however many people end up struggling to leave abusive relationships due to the toll it has taken on their sense of worth. If you’re in an abusive relationship, you need to know that your partner would likely be abusive with any partner with whom they were involved. Get yourself strong enough to leave and don’t waste time trying to fix this relationship. Get out.
- Addictions (alcohol, drug, gaming, gambling, etc.). Addictions become the third party in a relationship, leaving no room for the couple. The only way to take this third entity out of the equation is to seek professional help around the addiction. If you’re the addict, get help from an addictions specialist. If you’re the partner of an addict, get into Al-anon and individual therapy to work on your co-dependency.
- Defensiveness. There are few things more off-putting and frustrating then a partner who is constantly defensive. Eventually people just stop trying to give feedback, make a request or have a difficult conversation. Instead they give up, grow resentful and feel hopeless about change happening. This is not a recipe for success. Stop defending and start listening.
- Dismissiveness. Dismissiveness can show up as ignoring someone’s ideas/requests or wants (e.g. “That’s silly” or “You don’t really want that”), telling someone they’re too sensitive, responding to upset by saying it was no big deal, saying you were just kidding and they need to learn to take a joke, etc. Just because you were kidding doesn’t mean what you said didn’t hurt or that it was funny. Stop dismissing others and instead tune in to how you impact them.
These characteristics are toxic to relationships. These characteristics are detrimental coping strategies learned from a young age and are NOT caused by someone else. If you are with someone who uses one or more of these coping strategies, know that their behavior is not about you. If you use one of these, know that the other person is not what’s causing your behavior. Clean up these toxic behaviors before they knock out your relationships.
Challenge: Choose one of the behaviors above to begin tackling in your life. Learn to set limits if others are doing it and/or rein it in if you’re doing it. For your sake as well as for the sake of your relationship, clean it up.