The best relationships are the best not because they have always been the happiest, but because they have stayed strong through the mightiest of storms.
Over the years, through our coaching practice and premium course, Marc and I have worked with thousands of individuals and couples looking to fix their failing relationships, and we’ve learned a lot about what it takes to make this happen.
Whether you’re working to fix your marriage, a dating relationship, or a friendship, there are lots of little things you can do to keep your relationship on track. And since we’ve recently covered many of these healthy relationship strategies here and here, today I want to take a quick look at the flipside – the most common toxic behaviors that tear relationships apart.
To start, I can honestly say that Marc and I can listen to a couple talk for 30 minutes and determine, with close to 90% accuracy, whether they’re relationship will last in the long run (without major changes being made). The reason we can do this is simple: Most failing/failed relationships suffer from the same four basic behavioral issues…
- Condemnation of a person’s character – Complaints are fine. Disagreements are fine too. These are natural, focused reactions to a person’s decisions or behavior. But when complaints and disagreements snowball into global attacks on the person, and not on their decisions or behavior, this spells trouble. For example: “They didn’t call me when they said they would because they forgot, but because they’re a horrible, wretched human being.”
- Hateful gestures – Frequent name-calling, threats, eye-rolling, belittling, mockery, hostile teasing, etc… In whatever form, gestures like these are poisonous to a relationship because they convey hate. And it’s virtually impossible to resolve a relationship problem when the other person is constantly getting the message that you hate them.
- Denying responsibility – When you deny responsibility in every relationship dispute, all you’re really doing is blaming your partner. You’re saying, in effect, “The problem is never me, it’s always you.” This denial of responsibility just escalates the argument, because there’s a complete breakdown of communication. (Read Emotional Blackmail.)
- The silent treatment – Tuning out, ignoring, disengaging, refusing to acknowledge, etc… All variations of the silent treatment don’t just remove the other person from the argument you’re having with them, it ends up removing them, emotionally, from the relationship you have with them.
The key thing to remember is…
Differences of opinion (even major ones) don’t destroy relationships – it’s how a couple deals with their inevitable differences that counts.
Couples waste years trying to change each other’s mind, but this can’t always be done, because many of their disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences of opinion, personality, or values. By fighting over these deep seeded differences, all they succeed in doing is wasting their time and running their relationship into the ground.
So how do people in healthy relationships deal with issues that can’t be resolved?
They accept one another as is. These couples understand that problems are an inevitable part of any long-term relationship, in the same way chronic physical difficulties are inevitable as we grow older and wiser. These problems are like a weak knee or a bad back – we may not want these problems, but we’re able to cope with them, to avoid situations that irritate them, and to develop strategies that help us deal with them. Psychologist Dan Wile said it best in his book After the Honeymoon: “When choosing a long-term partner, you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next 10, 20 or 50 years.”
Bottom line: Acceptance of one another is of vital importance to every couple.
What else makes a relationship flourish in the long run?
Again, Marc and I have written a lot about this already. But I want to give you a slightly different perspective by eliminating the details and narrowing it down to four key fundamentals:
- Truly knowing each other is vital. – Healthy couples are intimately familiar with each other’s evolving stories. These couples make plenty of emotional room for their relationship, which means they sincerely listen to each other, they remember the major events each other have been through, and they keep up-to-date as the facts and feelings of their partner’s reality changes. The key thing to remember is that nothing you can give is more appreciated than your sincere, focused attention – your full presence. Being with your partner, listening without a clock and without anticipation of the next event is the ultimate compliment. It is indeed the most valued gesture you can make to them, and it arms you with the information you need to truly know them and support them in the long run.
- Relationship issues must be worked out with each other, not others. – This may seem obvious, but these days it’s worth mentioning: NEVER post negatively about a loved one on social media. Fourteen-year-old school kids post negatively about their boyfriends, girlfriends and friends on social media. It’s a catty way to get attention and vent, when the emotionally healthy response is to talk your grievances over with them directly when the time is right. Don’t fall into the trap of getting others on your side, because healthy relationships only have one side. Furthermore, relationships don’t always make sense, especially from the outside. So don’t let outsiders run your relationship for you. If you’re having a relationship issue with your partner, work it out with THEM and no one else. (Marc and I discuss this in detail in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- Using positive language in arguments saves lots of grief. – Relationships flourish when both people are able to share their innermost feelings and thoughts in a positive way. One effective method of doing this during an argument is to do your best to avoid using the word “you” and try to use the word “I” instead. This makes it much easier to express feelings and much harder to inadvertently attack the other person. So… Instead of saying, “You are wrong,” try saying, “I don’t understand.” Instead of telling them, “You always…” try saying “I often feel…” It’s a subtle shift that can make a dig difference.
- A mutual willingness to make sacrifices must be present. – Intimate bonds are tied with true love, and true love involves attention, awareness, discipline, effort, and being able to care about someone and sacrifice for them, continuously, in countless petty little unsexy ways, every day. You put your arms around them and love them regardless, even when they’re not very lovable. And of course they do the same for you. If you want to know what a healthy relationship is, it’s one where two people wake up every morning and say, “This is worth it. You all are worth it. I am happy you are in my life.” It’s about sacrifice. It’s about knowing that some days you will have to do things you dislike to make the one you love smile, and feeling perfectly delighted to do so.
The best relationships are not just about the good times you share, they’re also about the obstacles you go through together, and the fact that you still say “I love you” in the end. And loving someone isn’t just about saying it every day, it’s showing it every day through your actions and behaviors.
What would you add to the list? What toxic relationship behaviors and circumstances do you try to avoid? How do you cope? Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts with the community.
Photo by: Fabio Astone