It is no secret that every relationship has challenges, because as we all know, no one is perfect. High rates of divorce and couples “shacking up”, are common trends in our society. People who love each other may go into a relationship without realizing how much effort it takes to remain harmonious, which often leads to fighting and sometimes even violence. So how does one achieve relationship bliss? By removing toxic behaviors and replacing them with healthier habits, you will be well on your way to becoming a happier and healthier person, which will make you a better partner.
One thing that is important to remember is that the change needs to start with you. Even if you are not the person who is to “blame” for the problem, if your partner isn’t willing to address it, you have to take the lead. This may seem unfair (it is, kind of), but it is the only way to effect change. If you won’t make an effort, why should your partner? Taking the time to remove these toxic behaviors from your life will be helpful in all of your relationships, but especially with your partner.
People who have been together for a while can sometimes take one another for granted. Jeffery Bernstein, Ph. D, discusses a major partnership issue, Why Can’t You Read My Mind?. “#3 The ‘Should’ Bomb: One partner assumes the other will meet one or more of his or her needs—just because he or she should know that you need.” Why didn’t you _____________? is a common question for people who have this toxic tendency. Life is unpredictable. If you need something ask for it. Don’t expect your partner to cater to your every expectation, especially if you didn’t say that you need it. Sharing is caring.
You may remember the book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and it’s all small stuff? Well, it’s true, you shouldn’t! Even if your partner is bothering you with something silly, like a spoon left in the sink after you just ran the dishwasher. Sure, it’s annoying, but is it worth getting angry and starting a fight over?
Showing compassion instead of automatic irritation (especially over little things) can help to build your relationships with other people. There is something to that old colloquialism, ‘It’s easier to catch flies with honey than with vinegar.” Think about it. Choose your battles wisely.
If the problem is more severe, then it is important for the partner with the problem to approach the other partner to talk about ways to manage the situation. Shutting down and saying everything is “fine” is no way to solve a problem. If your partner doesn’t know you’re upset about something, then he will not have an opportunity to fix it.
It is important that you remain calm and use “I” statements so as to disarm your partner. You don’t want to start a fight, you want to fix a problem. By using a careful manner when dealing with big issues, you will be more likely to find a solution together. Finally, if the problem is completely unmanageable, it may be time to seek couples counseling.
Can’t Get No Satisfaction
You know that it’s important to let the little things go, especially when it comes to someone you care about. But what happens when the little things are not so little? Infidelity and lying are two of the biggest offenses but what about smaller stuff that still warrants discussion? All too often one person has a disproportionate amount of the housework and childcare obligations. This is okay, as long as it is agreed upon. However, sometimes it is not discussed ahead of time. Before you moved in together, did you talk about whose job it will be to take out the trash on Trash Day? Probably not.
As life changes, so do our responsibilities and we need to be dynamic and involved in the decisions we make. In other words, you need to run your life don’t let your life run you. If you believe that the housework balance needs to be reassessed, do something about it. Don’t just sit back and complain. Make the changes in your life you need to be happy. If your partner loves and cares about you, he will be supportive in helping you achieve this.
Just remember, it is not your partner’s responsibility to do it all or be everything for you. Healthy relationships need space and independence. You are well within your rights to speak up and ask for attention if you’re feeling lonely, but don’t expect your partner to listen to you talk incessantly about your knitting class or a poem you wrote (unless she’s into that stuff). That’s what friends are for. Or blogs. The point is, if you are feeling neglected, perhaps it is time to explore other options to keep you busy. Your partner is not obliged to fill your every need desire.
Another thing that can be toxic in relationships is withholding sex or not being “in the mood”…ever. Maslow’s theory of the Hierarchy of Needs states that sex is on the bottom tier of physiological needs, which is considered a deficit need. Meaning, without it, a person’s body is out of balance and will seek to fill that need.
If you are not willing to give yourself to your partner, you may want to investigate why this is. If your partner is not interested in being sexually intimate, try to talk to her. Find out what is bothering her and what you can do to help. Show interest and love, because this will increase your bond. If you are critical and judgmental, or act out in infidelity, you will only drive her away further and the cycle will continue.
Lack of R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Have you ever felt like someone didn’t have any regard for something you had worked really hard on? It seems to be a million times worse when that disregarding person is your partner. Loveisrespect.org says, “Mutual respect is essential in maintaining healthy relationships.”
Along with respect, comes trust. The two are connected, but not indelibly. You can respect a person and not trust him, and you can trust a person but not respect him. However, if you want to have a strong relationship, you need to have both. Respect your partner by remaining faithful, and you will be rewarded with mutual respect and trust. Lose trust, and you will likely lose respect from your partner as well.
Partners also need to be respectfully sensitive to family, health, and career matters. Mocking your partner about his/her health is inappropriate and mean; while making hurtful comments about your partner’s family is completely unacceptable. Negative remarks meant to tear down your partner’s career choice can be harmful as well. After all, many people have worked hard to get to where they are. No one wants to be told that their contribution to society is worthless. Showing positive support to your partner’s beliefs and causes will support your interpersonal connection. Respect is a two-way street. It needs to be given and reciprocated.
Can’t Buy Me Love
When one person has higher earning potential than another, it can create friction. The partner who earns more feels like he is having to contribute more to the relationship financially. Alternatively, the partner who is earning less probably desires to earn more and may resent her partner, often subtly, and may lash out in passive aggressive ways to express frustration. In return, the partner with the higher income may be confused or annoyed because he believes his partner should be grateful for the financial support. It is a degrading cycle for all parties involved.
Partners who are working together for a common goal should not be comparing notes about bank accounts, unless it is to check if a goal has been met or bills need to be paid. People in a loving relationship should want to build something together, not separately. This isn’t to say that individual bank accounts or money is a bad thing. It can be a good thing, so long as the couple is working together for a common purpose.
For people who try to manage their money together, it can still be a challenge. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, when couples talk about finances, they should be mindful that money holds an emotional connection for everyone, and some decisions are made as a result of “emotional baggage.” By acknowledging this first, you can try to gain some insight into your partner’s thought processes when it comes to money, so that conversations can be held in a more matter-of-fact manner.
Extreme acts of dominance when talking about money, however, is a different story. “Economic abuse occurs when one partner takes control of the other’s financial life to gain power in the relationship.” If you have heard your partner say, “I pay the bills so you have to do what I say,” you may be in an economically abusive relationship. If this is the case, the best way to manage the problem is to become financially literate, says Anne Kates Smith, Personal Finance Author for Kiplinger. The better informed you are about your finances, the more power you have to make decisions about what to do next.
It’s (Not) Gonna Work Out Fine
Sadly, domestic violence is all too common these days and can often be overlooked by outsiders who aren’t aware of the situation. Partner abuse can come in many forms, but all have a lasting affect which can be traumatic for survivors. Harvard Medical School states, “Intimate partner abuse can have profound effects on a woman’s health, both physical and mental.” This is also true for male victims of partner violence.
Forms of abuse include controlling behavior, emotional abuse (e.g. manipulating and berating behaviors), and physical threats. If you are a victim of partner abuse, please seek assistance through local shelters and community organizations and create a safety plan. To learn more about coping with domestic violence, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) is an excellent resource.
Sometimes, people who have been in difficult situations do not know anything other than the abuse they’ve been exposed to, and they will repeat the behavior in their romantic escapades. Lack of family support can increase the chance that a person will be exposed to an unhealthy relationship. If you have been chronically involved in bad relationships, it may be time to reassess where you are meeting these toxic partners and consider looking for alternative sources.
Give Peace a Chance
Always starting fights and creating drama is not healthy for anyone. If your needs aren’t being met, look within yourself to find the solution. You can start with simple mindfulness practices, like the ones taught by Thich Nhat Hanh, in Peace Is Every Step. This is good for you and your partner. Try to your partner involved if you can. “In a family, if there is one person who practices mindfulness, the entire family will be more mindful.”
It’s not as important to reach a Zen meditative state as it is to be flexible and in a good mood (sometimes). In a dream world, we would all have enough time to practice meditation on a formal level (no kids interrupting, dog barking, etc.), so we could achieve transcendence and enlightenment. Alas, some of us are less advanced; we still struggle with negative feelings and can forget to be mindful.
Yet we can relax, because this is forgivable. As Toni Bernhard says in How to Wake Up, “…every moment is a fresh start. In the previous moment, we may have blamed ourselves for something, but in this moment, we can change that response to one of kindness and compassion to ourselves…Every moment holds the possibility of awakening to a feeling of peace and well-being.”
So be good to yourself and good to your partner. And if your partner isn’t being good to you, find a way to fix it or get the heck out of there, because you deserve it.