Every relationship has its ups and downs. It’s quite normal for two people to have differences of opinions and to experience some conflict from time to time. Even for me and I’m a Relationship Therapist.
Dr John Gottman renowned relationship expert once said: “Regrettable incidents are inevitable in all relationships, even if you have the best, happiest, most joyful relationship in the world. Shit still happens, so conflict still happens.”
Honestly, I couldn’t have said it better myself. But when does it go from a normal amount of differences to outright toxic, extremely unhealthy ways of relating?
Here are a couple of big red signposts that your relationship may be headed for trouble town:
It’s a battle to ‘win’ every argument
People in healthy relationships will always look for a resolution over being right. When you find yourself in a dispute with your partner, the goal for both of you should always be first and foremost to find a resolution that you’re both happy with and then to quickly repair any hurts you may have knowingly or unwittingly caused.
If one or both of you keep striving to win the argument, or refuse to engage in the conversation at all, it’ll be a lot harder to reach a positive outcome quickly.
Try not to be too defensive or overly critical of your partner. If things are getting heated between you, stop for a moment and really listen to what they’re saying.
Remember: we don’t always have to agree with everything they’re saying, we just have to show that we’re listening and that we understand and respect their opinion.
There’s always a ‘but…’
When we’re in a loving, healthy relationship, we’re more inclined to see our partner’s good qualities and focus on the positives in the relationship. We’re quick to express our gratitude, and tell our partner, and anyone else who’ll listen, how much we admire them.
It’s when we start focusing more on the negatives, rather than the positive aspects of our partner or the relationship, that things can start to sour.
Beware of the dreaded ‘BUT’
‘I love you, but you don’t do anything around here!’
‘You’ve got all the time in the world for others, but you never have time for me!’
‘I tell you to put the damn toilet seat down every day, but you still keep doing it!’
People in healthy relationships tend to focus more on the good in their relationships (and in life), rather than on their partner’s personal shortcomings or what they think the other person is doing ‘wrong’.
A good way to avoid a build up of negativity in your relationship is to follow the 5:1 rule. For every negative comment or interaction, follow up with five positive comments or interactions. Give it a go – it works wonders with the whole family!
You’re often left wondering…
One of the greatest signs of a healthy relationship is when both partners feel a deep sense of trust. They know they can count on one another and that, no matter what happens, their actions will always match their words.
A toxic relationship is one that is full of doubt, suspicion and second-guessing what the other person is doing or saying. If past conflict or ruptures are not properly resolved or repaired, issues fester and trust goes out the window because we’re always on guard, waiting for the next time our partner lets us down.
Of course, this way of relating is neither healthy nor sustainable, and very quickly breeds contempt in a relationship. If you find there is an underlying and ongoing lack of trust within the relationship, you may need to seek help from a trained professional.
If trust is seriously lacking in your relationship it can be hard to come back from, but over time, it is possible to build the trust back up. A good place to start is by always being the person you say you are and always do what you say you’re going to do.
You find yourself squinting a lot
Does talking about even the smallest things with your partner leave you head shaking, frowning and in a constant state of exasperated dismay? Contempt towards your partner is one of the biggest red flags of a toxic relationship. It conveys disrespect with a tinge of disgust.
Using sarcasm and hostile humour, treating or speaking to your partner with an air of superiority, eye rolling or being constantly cynical of what your partner is telling you, are all forms of contempt.
Healthy, loving relationships can only exist when both partners value generosity, kindness, and respect over being ‘right’.
The need to be ‘right’, focusing on the negatives, lack of trust and a feeling of contempt towards your partner, are all big toxic markers that need to be addressed, and quickly!
The good news is that if you notice any of these things occurring in your relationship, it can be fixed. It’s simply a warning sign that your relationship might need a little tune up.
In the same way you can’t expect a new car to keep running without proper care and maintenance, so it is with relationships. They take work – some more than others. But love will always find a way when both partners are prepared to make the effort.