17 Dating & Relationship Habits You Didn't Realize Were Toxic
Toxic relationships: At first blush, hell no to that, right? But the tricky thing about toxicity is that it can be sneaky, and pervasive, and there's even a chance that you might be exhibiting certain toxic dating habits and not realize it. Crazy, huh? Except — not crazy, because calling someone crazy is most definitely a toxic thing to do. Also not crazy because so many of us fall into unhealthy dating and relationship patterns without knowing it, and sometimes a good wake-up call is just what the doctor ordered. (And let's be real: Harmful relationships are way too prevalent in this day and age, having made their way into the mainstream in a major way — shoutout to Britney Spears' song.)
In this case, the doctor is not necessarily a person in a white lab coat, but rather love experts who weighed in on toxic interpersonal habits you or your partner might be falling into, which, to be frank, are mostly rather subtle. You or anyone you know might be guilty of any number of them. Alarming, perhaps; but the cool thing is that just recognizing such behaviors is the first step to eliminating them and letting them go. Here are such habits, straight from the mouths of experts.
1. Being Too Nice
"When you are bending too much to make the other person happy, you are often giving up your own opinions," zen psychotherapist Michele Paiva tells Bustle. "When this happens more and more, you begin to get resentful and feel unheard. The partner has no clue, and they assume when you assert yourself months or years later that you 'suddenly changed.'"
Doing this passive-aggressive behavior, this people-pleasing, this "overly nice" routine is "actually akin to bait and switch, and it's unfair to both partners," Paiva says. "You can be nice without enmeshing. Keep your identity and compromise. As a zen psychotherapist, I often say, "Be dharma, not a doormat." Love this.
2. Being Negative
"For a lot of people, a negative mindset comes second nature to them," relationship coach and psychic medium Cindi Sansone-Braff, author of Why Good People Can't Leave Bad Relationships , tells Bustle. "Negativity is a contagious emotion and before long, you start catching this negative mindset. After a while, the two of you become like two wet blankets that no one wants to be around, and you wonder what happened to you." At first glance, no one would want to date someone like that. But unfortunately, this type of person is everywhere — and it could even be you, or your partner.
"Either partner can really put a cloud over their relationship by being negative or projecting negativity in the relationship,"Rob Alex, who created Sexy Challenges and Mission Date Night with his wife, tells Bustle. "There is an amazing truth that I have lived by my entire life, and that is, 'People that are happy are surrounded by happiness.'" This doesn't mean you need to be a total Pollyanna all the time; just don't fall too deeply into negativity.
3. Being Uncommunicative
"Not engaging in active communication" is super toxic, life coach Kali Rogers tells Bustle. "So many times, we don't actively communicate in relationships," she says. "Men and women both do this. One will make a comment about the weather, their day at work, what's on TV — and the other won't respond." Maybe you're looking at your phone. Maybe you're zoning out. Maybe you just don't really have anything to say.
"[When you do this], a potential conversation and communication opportunity is stifled," Rogers says. "This is how couples become content instead of active in their dialogue." And we all know that just being content leads to complacency — never a good place to be. So when you're with your partner, be present. If you can't be actively present, let them know and spend time time doing you.
4. Being Too Giving
Like being too nice, there is such a thing as being too generous. Relationship coach Chris Armstrong terms it "the uneven pedestal": "It can feel very nice to be cared for, taken care of and even spoiled," he tells Bustle. "However, this can be what I call a slow burn that, if overdone and uneven, will kill a relationships down the line." Before you protest, here's how he sees it: "I have seen friends that went from loving being pampered to not being able to stand one more compliment or gift from their partner."
And this can lead to a breakup too. "I just had a client share with me that she broke up with her boyfriend after six months without any thought of doing so even a week before," Armstrong says. "She simply woke up one day and realized that he was doing way too much for her, and when she thought about how that could affect their relationship if it continued, she called it quits. I asked her what she envisioned that scared her so and she responded, 'I saw him giving so much that eventually I could not compete. I am nice and giving, but this was incredibly uneven and it made me uncomfortable.'" If you're doing too much for your partner, or vice versa, it's time for a serious heart to heart.
5. Being Condescending
Another dangerous toxic trap? "Introducing your partner in a way that makes them sound inferior," Danielle Sepulveres, sex educator and author of Losing It: The Semi-Scandalous Story of an Ex-Virgin , tells Bustle. "Even if it's not intentional, it comes across as declaring that your significant other is not as successful, which can result in wondering how they truly view you if they seem to label you as aspiring or not that capable."
To demonstrate, Sepulveres says, you might say something like, "She's trying to be a writer," instead of, "My girlfriend writes for a living." Yes, the two are similar; but there's a subtle difference, Sepulveres says. Be mindful of how you introduce your partner when you're out and about.
6. Taking People For Granted
Though none of us mean to take our partners for granted, it is way too easy to do accidentally. If you're not asking about your partner's day, doing nice things for them on the regs and otherwise being kind, news flash: You're taking your partner for granted. This can creep in via other small ways, too: Maybe you expect your partner to rub your feet every night without having to ask. Maybe you expect them to do other things for you all the time, but you don't reciprocate. These types of things can feel huge as they pile up: "When you do not appreciate that special person in your life or the little things they do for you, they will slowly stop showing affection or perform little things," relationship coach Melinda Carver tells Bustle. Keep an eye on this in your partnership.
7. Being Clingy
"Clinginess, or being overly needy, is one of the great relationship killers nobody really pays attention to until it’s too late," dating expert Noah Van Hochman tells Bustle. "This could entail calling person numerous times a day for no other reason other than to ask where they are. Not being able to make simple decisions without first asking your partner is another sign of being too needy. People need to have some space, and by taking away that space you are creating a toxic environment that generally pushes people away."
Though clinging to your partner might feel comforting, it actually does the very thing you're afraid of, pushing your partner away. Take a breath, give them some room to breathe as well.
8. Interrupting All The Time
"One of the most annoying habits is when you are in a relationship with someone and you feel like you can’t get a word in edgewise," Samantha Daniels, professional matchmaker and founder of the Dating Lounge dating app, tells Bustle. "This can be a deal-breaker for a relationship because it makes the person who is being interrupted feel like what they are saying doesn’t matter, is wrong or unimportant."
It is very difficult to be with an interrupter and to continue to feel good about oneself. The only way to solve this problem is to be direct and let your partner know how it makes you feel when he or she always talks over you and interrupts you. If they can’t curtail their behavior, it might be time to find another partner.
9. Jumping To Conclusions
"People jump to conclusions way too quickly," Carlyle Jansen, author of Sex Yourself: The Woman’s Guide to Mastering Masturbation and Achieving Powerful Orgasms , tells Bustle. "They extrapolate what the other says early on in a relationship, and assess the whole relationship based on small bits of information." The worst part, Jansen says: The whole goal, in this toxic scenario, is figuring out if this person is 'The One,' rather than just dating and enjoying the ride.
In other words, you're being way too analytical and in your head, and way too removed from the present moment. Instead of asking, "Do I want to hang out with this person again?" you might be "jumping to" the future, Jansen adds. Pump the brakes and stay in the current moment.
10. Trying To Be A Mind-Reader
The most toxic subtle behavior of them all, according to psychologist Nikki Martinez? "Deciding that, because of history, you know what they are thinking, or how they will react to something," she tells Bustle. This is incredibly harmful, because there is actually no way of knowing what your partner is thinking in any given situation.
When Martinez asks each person in a couple what they guess their partner might be thinking in a session, both parties are usually off-base. "If they do not learn healthy communication, and to ask each other questions without preconceived notions, this can have significant detrimental outcome for the relationship and may eventually end it," she says. Next time you assume that your partner is going to say or do XYZ before you even ask them about it, think twice — and ask.
11. Not Prioritizing Your Partner
It's way too easy to forget to put your partner at the top of your list. "So many things get in the way of spending time with each other," Kia Grant, Lovapp's relationship correspondant, tells Bustle. "No one realizes it until it's actually done." Top offenders, she says? Work and children.
So you have to take preventative measures. "People have to work not to let this happen, because it's damaging and the effects start to show," she says. Instead of letting this happen and then trying to scramble and backtrack, keep your love a priority throughout your relationship. "A quote I love: 'Treat each other like you are always trying to win them, and you will never lose,'" Grant says. The sweetest.
12. Tuning Your Partner Out
"Not listening," Dr. Ramani Durvasula, author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With A Narcissist , tells Bustle, "It is often the core of lack of empathy, and it is a relationship killer. In a distracted world, many people get away with this for a long time, but it is not acceptable — not at the beginning of a relationship, not ever."
Yes, we are all busy, and sometimes we don't have time to sit down with our partners and hear about their day. But a key component of a healthy relationship is making that time, no matter what.
13. Making Assumptions
Similar to trying to read your partner's mind, assuming without asking is a total toxic behavior, Shamyra Howard-Blackburn, sex and relationship therapist and owner of Conquest Counseling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, tells Bustle. "That's something many people do, whether dating or in a long-term relationship. It often happens when we anticipate our partner's feelings, or thoughts based on our own expectations. If we expect our partner will have an unpleasant reaction to a situation, or we think our partner isn't interested, we avoid approaching the situation." Never a good plan.
"How many times have you heard, 'Why didn't you just ask me?'" Howard-Blackburn says. "Or how many times have you said, 'I didn't think you would…' This inadvertent behavior is not negative, because we think we're protecting our partner's feelings; however, it is a disruption in communication. Next time you're feeling indifferent, ask your partner what you desire to know. Continuing to assume without asking can harm the relationship." And it can lead to a split if it continues for too long.
14. Being Critical
"When we are critical, it comes across as attacking, and our partner will automatically go into defensive mode to protect themselves," relationship counselor Crystal Bradshaw tells Bustle. This is never good — but we are all judgmental and hard on our partners sometimes, and this definitely goes into the category of "do not do."
"Remember, when you are critical, what you are saying is not being received by the other party," she says. "If you want what you say to be heard, you have to frame it in a noncritical, non-attacking way. I tell my clients that within every complaint there is a need, a want, a longing. Find out what that need is. You may have to read between the lines and listen for what is not being said, or you may need to directly ask your partner questions to help them articulate their need." Sage advice.
15. Being Sarcastic
"Sarcasm can be toxic in a relationship, and couples don’t realize this because most people are proud of their sarcastic sense of humor," relationship coach and therapist Anita Chlipala tells Bustle. "[You may think] you're being really funny, but sarcasm is a form of contempt, and contempt is one of the most toxic relationship behaviors. When it’s present in a marriage, it leads to high rates of divorce." Yup, that's pretty darn toxic.
"Couples should discuss the impact of one or both partner’s sarcastic comments," she says. "If it hurts, mocks or insults your partner, it needs to be eliminated." A little restraint of text and tongue goes a long way.
16. Being Scornful
Just like sarcasm, scorn is really awful for a relationship. "When either partner becomes bored or annoyed with the other and frequently reacts negatively to things the other person says or does, it erodes the good feelings and love in the relationship, and leads to fighting, lack of sexual connection and intimacy, and eventual breakup," Tina B. Tessina, aka Dr. Romance, psychotherapist and author of Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences , tells Bustle.
Scorn can be sneaky, along with sarcasm, in part because mocking your partner can be veiled under the guise of a joke. But if this is happening to you, and you’re frustrated in the relationship, it's time to take action. "You need to speak up directly and in a kind manner to fix the problem before it becomes unsolvable," she says. And if you're the scornful one, by all means take measure to stop before it is too late.
17. Too Much Too Soon
It can be amazing when you dive into a new relationship, and everything feels magical and sparkly, but too much too soon is actually a red flag — and can be super toxic, relationship counselor Michelle Farris tells Bustle. When you start something new, your new partner can be super attentive, she says. Maybe they want to spend all of their time with you, or shower you with affection, but it's important to be cautious. "When someone initiates a serious relationship too fast, it may be a sign of abuse," Farris says. "Watch out. This is a pattern of power and control that goes unrecognized during the honeymoon phase; when you’re caught up in the romance, you miss the signs."
This really is a subtle thing, because so many people love that honeymoon stage and crave that kind of affection. But beware, and pay attention to certain signs, Farris says. "If you are concerned that your relationship could be taking a wrong turn, look for these early signs of abuse," she says. Do they try to dictate how you spend your time, especially when you are apart? Do they create reasons to pull you away from family and friends? What about your single lady vibe? Does your new partner have trouble with your independence, or try to convince you to adopt their beliefs on most things? These are all major signs of abuse, Farris says.
"Always be mindful when dating," Farris says. "It takes time to get to know someone, but signs of abuse will show up in the courtship. Pay attention to the warning signs. If something feels off, trust it... Know that the longer you stay in the relationship, the harder it is to get out. You never have to stay in an abusive situation."
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship and needs help, you can call The National Domestic Violence Hotline. It is open 24 hours a day.
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