All failed relationships hurt, but letting go of a toxic relationship is actually a gain, not a loss.
As youngsters we learn about sex education in grade school, the legality of marriage in our late teens, and perhaps some social psychology in college. But when it comes down to actually handling the intricacies of real-world relationships, we’re given very little formal guidance… or worse, we’re given advice columns in online beauty magazines.
Yes, relationships are trial-and-error from the get-go. And if you’re like most of us, you’ve experienced plenty of error along the way.
A big part of the problem is that many toxic relationship behaviors are baked right into our culture. We worship the idea of carefree romantic love – you know, where two people ride off into the sunset happily ever after before they even truly know each other. And we are raised to objectify our relationships and guard them like personal property. Thus, our friends and lovers are often treated as assets rather than human beings of free will with whom to share true love and emotional support.
Fortunately, there’s been a lot of scientific research into healthy and happy relationships over the past few decades that have allowed people in the know to build their mental strength against toxic relationships and toxic relationship behaviors. And that’s exactly what I want to share with you today – ten common types of toxic relationships mentally strong people learn to avoid:
1. Relationships run by one person.
A relationship is toxic when one person is running it. Period.
When you feel out of control or a little lost it can be tempting to look for someone willing to take charge of your life for you, just to alleviate the pressure. But before you do consider this: If you put a collar around your own neck and hand the leash to someone else, you’ll have no say about where they lead you in life.
We should never feel powerless or trapped in a relationship. In fact, if either person feels powerless or trapped, the relationship doesn’t really exist. Because that’s what relationships are all about: freedom.
Yes, healthy relationships are built on a solid foundation of free will and teamwork. And since relationships are one of the greatest vehicles of personal growth and happiness, the most important trip you will ever take in life is meeting someone else halfway. You will achieve far more by working with them, rather than working against them or trying to control them. It really is a full circle. The strength of a relationship depends on the individual strength of its two members, and the strength of each member in the long run depends on the quality of the relationship.
2. Relationships that are supposed to “complete” you.
Our culture, which is predicated on fantasies of romantic love, often suggests that once you meet “The One,” you will be lifted out of your misery or boredom and elevated into a state of perpetual wholeness and bliss.
So, it’s easy to believe that it’s your partner’s job to make you feel joyful and whole. But the truth is, while a healthy relationship can certainly bring joy, it’s not your partner’s job to fill in your empty voids. That’s your job and yours alone, and until you accept full responsibility for your emptiness, pain, or boredom, problems will inevitably ensue in the relationship.
The longing for completion that you feel inside comes from being out of touch with who you are. Nobody else in this world can make you happy. It’s something you have to do on your own. And you have to create your own happiness first before you can share it with someone else.
3. Relationships that rely on codependency.
When your actions and thoughts revolve around another person to the complete disregard of your own needs, that’s codependency, and it’s toxic. When you set a precedent that someone else is responsible for how you feel at all times (and vice versa), then you both will develop codependent tendencies. Suddenly, neither one of you is allowed to plan something without getting approval. All activities – even the mundane things such as watching a TV program – must be negotiated and compromised. When someone begins to get upset, all personal needs go out the window because it’s now your responsibility to make one another feel better.
The biggest problem of developing these codependent tendencies is that they breed resentment. Sure, if Angel gets mad at me once because she’s had a crappy day and is aggravated and needs attention, that’s understandable. But if it becomes an expectation that my life revolves around her emotional well-being 24/7, then I’m eventually going to become very bitter towards her feelings and desires.
As Jim Rohn once said, “The greatest gift you can give somebody is your own personal development. I used to say, ‘If you will take care of me, I will take care of you. “Now I say, I will take care of me for you, if you will take care of you for me.’”
In other words, take responsibility for your own emotions and expect your partner and friends to be responsible for theirs. There’s a subtle yet important difference between being supportive and being obligated at all times. Any sacrifices for others should be made as a self-directed choice and not seen as an obligation. (Read Codependent No More.)
4. Relationships based on idealistic expectations.
You don’t love and appreciate someone because they’re perfect, you love and appreciate them in spite of the fact that they are not. “Perfection” is a deadly fantasy – something none of us will ever be. So beware of your tendency to “fix” someone when they’re NOT broken. They are perfectly imperfect, just the way they should be.
Truthfully, the less you expect from someone you care about, the happier your relationship with them will be. No one in your life will act exactly as you hope or expect them to, ever. They are not YOU – they will not love, give, understand or respond like you do.
The biggest disappointments in life and in relationships are the result of misplaced expectations. Tempering unrealistic expectations of how something or someone “should be” will greatly reduce unnecessary frustration and suffering.
Bottom line: Any relationship that’s real will not be perfect, but if you’re willing to work at it and open up, it could be everything you’ve ever dreamed of.
5. Relationships where past blame is used to justify present righteousness.
When someone you’re in a relationship with continues to blame you for your past mistakes, your relationship is toxic. If both people in the relationship do this it becomes a hopeless battle to see who has screwed up the most over the years, and therefore who owes the other one more of an apology.
When you use someone else’s past wrongdoings in order to try and justify your own present righteousness, it’s a lose-lose situation. Not only are you dodging the current (valid) issue itself, but you’re digging up guilt and bitterness from the past to manipulate the other person into feeling wrong in the present.
If this goes on long enough, both people in the relationship eventually spend most of their energy trying to prove that they’re less guilty than the other rather than solving the present problem. They spend all of their time trying to be less wrong for each other instead of being more right for each other.
You must recognize that by choosing to be in a relationship with someone, you are choosing to be with all of their prior mistakes. If you don’t accept those mistakes, then ultimately, you do not accept them. If something bothered you that much in the past, you should have dealt with it then. It’s time to let bygones be bygones. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
6. Relationships built on daily lies.
Trust is the foundation of a healthy relationship, and when trust is broken it takes time and willingness on the part of both people to repair it and heal. All too often, I’ll hear a coaching client say something like, “I didn’t tell him but I didn’t lie about it, either.” This statement is a contradiction, as omissions are lies too. If you’re covering up your tracks in any way, it’s only a matter of time before the truth is revealed and trust in the relationship is broken.
Remember, an honest adversary is always better than a friend or lover who lies. Pay less attention to what people say, and more attention to what they do. Their actions will show you the truth in the long run.
If you catch someone you care about lying to you, speak up. Some people will lie to you repeatedly in a vicious effort to get you to repeat their lies over and over until they effectively become true. Don’t partake in their nonsense. Don’t let their lies be your reality. Don’t be afraid to stand up for the truth – YOUR truth. Forgiveness and reconciliation can’t begin until this truth is told.
7. Relationships that lack forgiveness and the willingness to rebuild trust.
Failing to understand that broken trust CAN be repaired leads to a grim future.
When trust is broken, which happens in nearly every long-term relationship at some point, it’s essential to understand that it can be repaired, provided both people are willing to do the hard work of self-growth.
In fact, it’s at this time, when it feels like the solid bedrock of your relationship has crumbled into dust, that you’re being given an opportunity to shed the patterns and dynamics with each other that haven’t been serving you. It’s painful work and a painful time, and the impulse will be to leave, especially if you believe that broken trust cannot be repaired. But if you understand that trust levels rise and fall over the course of a lifetime you’ll be more likely to find the strength to hang in, hang on, and grow together.
8. Relationships in which passive aggression trumps communication.
Passive aggressive behavior takes many forms but can generally be described as a non-verbal aggression that manifests in negative behavior. Instead of openly expressing how they feel, someone makes subtle, annoying gestures directed at you. Instead of saying what’s actually upsetting you, you find small and petty ways to take jabs at someone until they pay attention and get upset.
This is obviously a toxic relationship situation. It shows that you two are not comfortable communicating openly and clearly with one another. A person has no reason to be passive-aggressive if they feel safe expressing any worries or insecurities within the relationship. A person will never feel a need to hide behind passive aggression if they feel like they won’t be judged or criticized for what they are thinking.
In healthy relationships, feelings and desires are shared openly. Make it clear that the other person is not necessarily responsible or obligated to your ideas and opinions, but that you’d love to have their support. If they care about you, they will likely give it, or at least compromise in some way.
9. Relationships governed by emotional blackmail.
Emotional blackmail is when someone applies an emotional penalty against you when you don’t do exactly what they want. The key condition here is that you change your behavior, against your will, as a result of the emotional blackmail. In other words, absent the emotional blackmail you would do differently, but you fear the penalty so you give in. This is extremely toxic behavior.
The solution, as with passive aggression, is simply better communication. There should never be a penalty, just an honest conversation. It’s crucial for both people in a relationship to know that negative thoughts and feelings can be communicated safely to one another without there being penalties and harsh repercussions. Otherwise people will suppress their true thoughts and feelings which leads to an environment of distrust and manipulation.
Perhaps there’s something that really bothers you about your friend or lover. Why aren’t you saying something? Are you afraid they’ll get upset? Maybe they will and maybe they won’t. Either way you need to deal with it upfront, constructively, and avoid burying it until it worsens, festers and explodes out of you.
Remember, it’s fine to get upset at someone you care about or to not like something about them. That’s called being an imperfect human being. Understand that committing to a person and always liking a person’s choices is not the same thing. One can be committed to someone and not like everything about them. On the contrary, two people who are capable of communicating sincere criticism towards one another without judgment or emotional blackmail will strengthen their commitment to one another in the long run. (Read Emotional Blackmail.)
10. Relationships that are always put on the back burner.
Failing to carve out quality time for important relationships is one of the most toxic relationship mistakes of them all, and yet it often goes unnoticed… at least for a while… until everything starts falling apart.
The truth is, relationships are like any other living entity: they require dedicated time in order to survive and thrive. It’s easy to allow life to take over, especially when you have young children, work, and a body that needs nourishing food and exercise. But your relationship with someone is a body as well, and if it’s not watered with quality time every week, it will start to wither. Make time every week to focus only on those you care about, and time every day to pour even just a few minutes of quality interaction into your closest relationships.
Nothing you can give is more appreciated than your sincere, focused attention – your full presence. Being with someone, 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 another human being.
The floor is yours…
What would you add to the list? What toxic relationship circumstances and behaviors do you try to avoid? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
This article was co-written by Marc and Angel and Mark Manson, and inspired by Mark’s insightful work which can be found here.