One of the problems is that a lot of toxic relationship habits are baked into our culture. We worship romantic love—you know, that dizzying and irrational kind that somehow finds breaking china plates on the wall in a fit of tears somewhat endearing. And we scoff at practicality or unconventional sexualities..
What Is It?: The “keeping score” phenomenon 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 I call “the relationship scorecard,” where the relationship devolves into a battle to see who has screwed up the most over the months or years, and therefore who is most indebted to the other.
Why It’s Toxic: The relationship scorecard is a double-whammy of suckage. Not only are you deflecting the current issue by focusing on previous wrongs, but you’re ginning up guilt and bitterness from the past to manipulate your partner into feeling bad in the present.
What Is It?: Instead of saying something outright and out loud, a partner tries to nudge the other in the right direction of figuring it out. Instead of saying what’s actually upsetting you, you find small and petty ways to piss your partner off, so you’ll then feel justified in complaining to them..
Why It’s Toxic: Because it shows that you two are not comfortable communicating openly and clearly. A person has no reason to be passive-aggressive if they feel safe expressing anger or insecurity within a relationship. A person will never feel a need to drop “hints” if they feel like they won’t be judged or criticized for honesty.
What Is It?: When one person has a simple criticism or complaint and blackmails the other person by threatening the commitment of the relationship as a whole. For instance, if someone feels like you’ve been cold to them, instead of saying, “I feel like you’re being cold sometimes,” they will say, “I can’t date someone who is cold to me all of the time.”.
Why It’s Toxic: Holding the relationship hostage amounts to emotional blackmail and creates tons of unnecessary drama. Even the smallest hiccup in the flow of the relationship results in a perceived commitment crisis. It’s crucial for both people in a relationship to know that negative thoughts and feelings can be communicated safely without it threatening the entire future of the relationship. Without that freedom to be honest, a couple will suppress their true thoughts and feelings leading to the creation of an environment of distrust and manipulation.
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’ve been on the phone all day with some people from work, or they got distracted when you hugged them. You want to lie around at home together and just watch a movie tonight, but your partner has plans to go out and see friends.
Why It’s Toxic: Blaming our partners for our emotions is selfish and a classic example of the poor maintenance of personal boundaries. When you set a precedent that your partner is responsible for how you feel at all times (and vice-versa), this can easily lead to a codependent relationship. Everything—even down to reading a book or watching TV—must be negotiated. When someone begins to get upset, all personal desires go out the window because now you have to make each other feel better.
What Is It?: Getting pissed off when your partner talks, touches, calls, texts, hangs out, or sneezes in the general vicinity of another person and then proceeding to take that anger out on your partner and attempt to control their behavior. This often leads to insane behaviors such as hacking into your partner’s email account, looking through their text messages while they’re in the shower, or even following them around town and showing up unannounced.
Why It’s Toxic: It surprises me that some people describe this as some sort of display of affection, figuring, incorrectly, that if their partner isn’t jealous then that somehow means they don’t love them enough.
What Is It?: Whenever a major conflict 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 nice or going on a trip somewhere.
Why It’s Toxic: Not only does buying stuff brush the real problem under the rug (where it will always re-emerge, and even worse the next time), but it sets an unhealthy precedent within the relationship. This is not a gender-specific problem, but I will use the “traditional” gendered situation as an example. Let’s 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 gives the man absolutely no incentive to actually be accountable for the problems in the relationship. What’s the result of all this? A checked-out husband who feels like an ATM, and an incessantly bitter woman who feels unheard.