Any romantic relationship where partners display toxic behaviors, such as lying, manipulating, distrusting or dominating, is considered to be a toxic relationship.
Marriage researchers have found 4 toxic behaviors that almost always end up being signs leading to divorce or break-up (or a very unhappy relationship) when present in your relationship.
Renowned American psychologist Dr. John M. Gottman is a well known and respected marriage researcher who identified these toxic behaviors and is able to predict the outcome of a relationship with over 90% accuracy just by observing a couple for 30 minutes while having an argument. If these toxic behaviors (which he calls The 4 Horsemen of The Apocalypse) are present, Gottman predicts the odds are not in your favor.
Let’s first start by defining…
What Are Toxic Behaviors?
Toxic behaviors are any behavior that leads to a breakdown in relationship communication. When toxic behaviors are present, it makes it close to impossible to resolve any sort of argument because the toxic behavior escalates the argument to the point where it is no longer a productive conversation.
Many people report feeling trapped in a bad marriage when toxic behaviors are present in their relationship. They report fighting about the same things over and over again with no resolution. You can imagine that if your arguments always escalate to the point where they are unable to be resolved, then it can take a major toll on your relationship over time.
OK, now that we have defined toxic behavior in relationships, let’s talk about the behaviors more specifically, and, of course, how to change toxic behaviors.
If you or your partner are displaying any or all of these behaviors, it’s important that you make a commitment to first become more aware of the behavior and second to change the toxic behavior as soon as possible.
In order from least to most harmful to the relationship, here they are…
1. Criticism: Name Calling and Insults In Relationships
Now before you freak out thinking “So I can’t even communicate when I’m unhappy?” let me reassure you it’s ok to tell your partner about things you would like them to change in a respectful and productive manner. However, criticism is a different (and harmful) habit. Criticism is attacking your partner’s personality or character, usually with the intent of making them feel wrong.
Criticism would be saying something like “You are so rude! I was trying to be nice and you completely brushed off my attempt to help you make dinner.” A better way to say that would be “I feel hurt that you brushed off my attempt to help you make dinner. I was just trying to be helpful and the way you spoke to me came across as really rude.” Stay away from name-calling and overgeneralizations such as “you always…” “you never…” “you are…” “you’re the type of person who…” “Why are you so…”
Criticism tends to be more of a toxic female behavior than male behavior but that doesn’t make men exempt by any means. Make sure to rephrase those critiques on your partner’s character to be kinder, gentler, and more about the behavior than the person’s character.
Try following this formula – “I feel X when Y happens and I would prefer Z.” This is the formula for a softened startup and sounds very different from a harsh startup which is sure to make your partner feel defensive. Let me illuminate with another example of this toxic behavior.
You come home after a long day of work, walk into the kitchen, and see that the dishes are piled up in the sink. You specifically remember doing the dishes before you left this morning and you are immediately stressed out seeing the mess.