Is My Relationship Toxic? 9 Habits Experts Say Become Unhealthy Over Time
Toxicity can creep its way into your relationship in the form of major problems, like lying or cheating. But smaller stuff can take a toll, too. In fact, many times, it's the seemingly insignificant relationship habits that turn toxic and impact how you feel as a couple — often without you even realizing they're happening.
Making sarcastic comments, letting arguments fester, and even spending too much time together can all have a negative impact and lead to toxicity over time. You can, however, learn to spot these habits as they arise, and make a few changes. "To prevent toxicity from infiltrating your relationship, it’s helpful to check in with yourself as well as with your partner," Jaclyn Witmer Lopez, a licensed psychologist, tells Bustle. "Work on improving co-awareness."
If one of these habits doesn't feel right, there's a good chance it's not doing your relationship any favors. And that'll be your cue to talk about it. Communication is a way to take a step back, check in with each other, and find a solution for how to do things differently. With that in mind, read on below for a few habits that can become toxic, according to experts, as well as what to do about them.
1. Spending All Your Time Together
While you'll want to have lots of quality time together as a couple, spending all your waking hours side by side can have a negative impact on your relationship. And it could even result in a toxic situation, if you aren't careful.
"For a lot of people, time to be with one's thoughts and decompress, after a long day of work, for example, is a priority," Jamie LeClaire, a sexologist and sex and relationship educator, tells Bustle. "Without it, it's easy to become irritable or overwhelmed, possibly leading to miscommunications or arguments."
As a way to strike a better balance, make it a priority to let each other know when you need a little space. As LeClaire says, "Honor the time you need for yourself," and you may find that you enjoy each other's company even more.
2. Not Making Eye Contact
Nothing could seem less significant than making or not making eye contact. And yet, when you think about it, going days without acknowledging each other in this way can create a sense that you're distant and disconnected.
"You can experiment with this and see how often you actually talk to your partner while looking directly at them," Lauren Cook, MMFT, a clinician practicing emotionally-focused therapy, tells Bustle.
Do you, for example, make eye contact while eating breakfast together? Or do you look at your phones? If the latter is true, you might want to use this time to be present, instead. "These moments of eye contact are essential in a relationship," Cook says, "and being intentional about this time matters."
3. Skipping Date Night
While you may not want to be together 24/7, that doesn't mean you should skip out on dates. Reconnecting in this way, by doing something special and spending time together, can go a long way in maintaining your relationship.
"Just as you would exercise at the gym for your physical health each week," Cook says, "it’s recommended that you set aside time for your relational health as well."
Without these moments, your relationship might turn stale, you could lose your passion for each other, feel disconnected, and potentially even grow apart. But with the simple act of going on a date — even if it's just a simple movie night — you'll be able to stay close.
4. Falling Into A Rut
Feel free to establish a solid routine and a predictable schedule for your everyday lives, but be sure to shake things up on occasion, too, especially since monotony can lead to boredom, which can in turn lead to frustration, and possibly even the end of the relationship.
"It’s helpful to continue trying new experiences and challenging one another to grow," Cook says. "This might mean trying a new restaurant together or visiting a foreign country. Keep the relationship exciting rather than stagnating with the same old same old."
5. Making Sarcastic Jokes
Sarcastic jokes and comments, when done correctly, can be a funny way to communicate with each other in a light-hearted way. But it's also so easy for this habit to go downhill.
It could even cross over into contempt, which means you're "communicating, both verbally and non-verbally, with angry disdain towards the other person," Christine Scott-Hudson MA MFT ATR, a marriage and family therapist and owner of Create Your Life Studio, tells Bustle. It's even been shown that contempt is a leading predictor of divorce.
That's why, the next time you feel the need to make a sarcastic comment, pause and see if the moment seems right — or if it would just be adding gas to the fire, Scott-Hudson says. There's likely another way to communicate that wouldn't be so toxic.
6. Criticizing Each Other
It's easy to toss criticism around without realizing how toxic it can really be. But it can help to "catch those hurtful words," dating and relationship coach Rosalind Sedacca, CLC, tells Bustle, before they escape. And instead, talk with each other about what's going on when you have a moment, in private, to air your grievances.
Then try to offer each other constructive criticism, Sedacca says, if it seems necessary. And find ways to talk about whatever's making you feel annoyed, so that you can both be on the same page.
7. Letting Little Arguments Fester
If a little argument blows over and you both feel fine, there's certainly no need to bring it up again or talk about it. But if you sense that something's off, or you still feel annoyed, don't let it go.
"Don’t let arguments or even the smallest disagreements fester," Jaclyn Witmer Lopez, a licensed psychologist, tells Bustle. "It’s important to address frustrations, irritations, and conflicts as soon as possible and even if that means taking a short time out or break, make it a priority to return to it."
This might mean having a heart-to-heart and discussing how you feel, and then coming up with ways — such as creating boundaries — to keep it from happening again. "This reinforces healthy and open communication and it’s critical for the health of your relationship," Witmer Lopez says.
Without even realizing it, you might be projecting your own feelings onto your partner, or they might be projecting them onto you. "This comes up in the form of blaming or putting things onto your partner that might actually be a reflection of what you’re dealing with internally, but may be having a hard time admitting to yourself and articulating out loud," Witmer Lopez says.
If that's the case, it might feel as if there's a lot of tension in your relationship. "Remember that anger is a secondary emotion, meaning we are often quick to react with anger but there are feelings underneath that (primary emotions), which are often the more vulnerable, harder to talk about ones," Witmer Lopez.
By bringing them to the surface — possibly in therapy, or by being more open with your partner — you can help keep them from taking a toxic toll on your relationship.
9. Keeping Score Of Chores
It's an easy trap to fall into, but you definitely don't want to be "keeping score" in your relationship, in terms of who did what chore. "As with all toxic relationship habits, when you notice this is happening, ask yourself why you might be doing this now and then adjust your behavior accordingly," Witmer Lopez says. Does the relationship feel unbalanced? Is there a lack of appreciation?
If this is a problem, talk about it ASAP. "Keeping a daily score of who does what isn’t going to resolve these feelings," she says, "but open communication about what you need and feel, and considering couples therapy, might."
These habits might not always seem like a big deal, but they can have consequences. If you feel tension or a hint of toxicity forming as a result of them, start by making small adjustments in these areas — in order to keep your connection strong.