According to Dr. John Gottman’s reputable research, keeping a five to one ratio of negative to positive is one of the single biggest indicators of long lasting relationships.
Therefore, I usually help couples focus on expanding the positive rather than trying to eliminate the negative. Successful couples can have a certain measure of conflict, unresolved issues, or negative interactions, and still thrive.
But there are certain dynamics that can creep into even relatively healthy relationships that are toxic. These dynamics are sure to erode the relationship and significantly lower the chances of survival.
Dr. Phil, love him or hate him, writes a chapter in his book Relationship Rescue on what he calls “bad spirit.” He is spot on in asserting that in order to fix our relationships, we have to start with ourselves.
Take a look at these traps below, and be honest with yourself! Do you engage in any of these? If so, do what you can to find new ways of expressing yourself (see these 6 ways to express yourself with integrity for help on this).
Toxic Relationships: 8 Damaging Dynamics
Keeping Score. This can be subtle or overt. Do you do things for your partner to get leverage or the upper hand? For example, you may give only to get what’s “owed” to you later. Or, you may be keen to let your partner what an imposition it was for you to support them in some way (I have been totally guilty of this!) Let me be clear: It’s ok to expect fairness. But a “keeping score” mentality makes you obsessively concerned that your partner never gets a “freebie.” If this is you, the first thing is to notice it. Then try to start thinking from the “usness” place. What helps your partner helps you by putting emotional currency in your joint accountGet on the same team.
Finding Fault. This is not to be confused with complaining, which can be appropriate if intended to improve the relationship. Finding fault is defined as focusing more on flaws than on finding value. You may say things using the words “always” or “never,” for example: “You always do this!” You are not prone to let an infraction slide, and are fixated on getting your partner to admit their wrongdoing. If your partner does eight out of ten things right, you focus on the two things they did wrong. Be willing to give this up and pick your battles. Recognize the damaging impact finger-pointing has on your relationship, and ask yourself what are you really trying to get? To move past fault-finding, write a list of the things you like about your partner, more importantly, focus on enhancing your own self worth.
Needing things to be your way. This comes from putting your ego above the relationship. Sometimes this behavior can hard to see in yourself, because you may feel vulnerable in the relationship. But it looks like this: You interrupt your partner during conversations so that you can get in what you want to say; you you sulk if your partner doesn’t agree with you; you resist things they initiate; and you guilt trip them if they don’t go along with your ideas. The first solution is to look at why you need to be in control. Also, make a commitment to see their contributions and way of doing things as just as valid as your own.
Verbal aggression. When you get triggered, do you personally attack your partner? If this is you, you have a hard time walking away from the argument, and will bring up unrelated topics as ammunition. You have a harsh tone and may use sarcasm, and name calling, and “you statements.” (ie “You make me sick”). The most effective way to stop this pattern is to first cool off through taking a “time out” for at least 30 minutes. Then when you are ready to talk, use “I statements.” (See more on this here.)
Passive aggression. While quieter and harder to spot, passive-aggressive behavior is JUST as aggressive as straightforward aggression. This is an underhanded way of obstructing what you don’t want without appearing accountable. This is accomplished by doing the opposite of what you say you are doing, forgetting to do what you agreed to, or otherwise resisting your partner without actually speak up. You may agree with a suggestion at first, but then show how it will fail rather than helping it succeed. Or, you will pretend like you are confused when your partner explains something they desire. This form of sabotage is incredibly frustrating to your partner. The only solution is to be honest with yourself, and then commit to being direct about your needs, concerns, and disagreements with your partner.
Holding grudges. If you are holding old grudges, you may be so angry that you explode disproportionately over small difficulties. You may have a pessimistic view of life in general. You keep in mind all your partner’s transgressions and bring them up frequently, and try to control your partner through shame. Perhaps you feel you shouldn’t forgive them, because they haven’t done enough to show proper penance. This only hurts you. Remember, you are the one who makes the choices. Refuse to bond through resentment and fear. Forgiveness does not release your partner’s accountability–it releases you to be in the present.
Unresolved Neediness. Everyone has needs. That’s fine. But I’m talking about insecurities that require so much reassurance that you become a black hole. Your partner may feel like it is never enough. You sabotage your partner because they can’t succeed in giving you what only you can give yourself. This quality can manifest itself in excessive apologies or gratitude for small things, and fear of try new things out of fear of looking stupid. Or you may demand constant attention or make your partner feel they are walking on eggshells. This is a painful dynamic. Consider getting therapy for yourself, and stop seeking reassurance of any kind! You don’t need it!
Giving up. You’ve given up if you do most of the following: Stay in your comfort zone; stop investing in the relationship; refuse to talk about things and say “I don’t know” when your partner asks you to reflect; maintain that “nothing works;” and refuse to process new information such as updates your partner has made. You’ve given up if you are just going through the motions and feel lonely. If this is you, stop justifying passivity, make a conscious effort to open yourself to growth. This requires courage.
Remember: In order to get the 5:1 ratio in your relationship, increasing the positive is paramount. But eliminating toxic dynamics from your relationship automatically expands the good aspects of your relationship.
Unlearning bad habits frees up love, goodwill, and humor that is meant to be spent on good times with your partner.
This may take a lot of effort and an honest, non-judgmental look at ourselves. But it’s worth it.
I am always interested to hear your thoughts. Let me know how things go in the comments below!