9 ‘Toxic’ Relationship Habits That Are Really Healthy

May 28, 2019

You’re actually doing the wrong things, right.

Remember in the early days of Facebook, when your relationship status options were “single,” “in a relationship,” or “it’s complicated”?

I always wondered, what relationship isn’t complicated? Anyone who thinks relationships are supposed to be easy has clearly never been in one for very long. I know some people who think relationships shouldn’t be hard: they’re all single.

The thing is, no two relationships are alike, and no one really knows what goes on in anyone else’s relationship. Social media is a lie: the couple who looks so happy on Instagram might well be posting those cute photos out of desperation, trying to convince themselves that they’re happy, when they’re actually lonely and angry.

Even with a wealth of relationship advice out there, people still struggle to make their relationships work. Could it be that advice is not one-size-fits-all? Is it possible that what many people believe to be toxic behavior can actually be healthy in certain circumstances? Sarcasm aside, here are nine supposedly-unhealthy habits that could actually save your relationship…

1. Going to bed angry

Conventional wisdom says couples should always kiss and make up before turning in for the night. I believed this for a long time, never questioning whether or not it was a good idea to stay up half the night hashing things out with my partner, both of us miserable with exhaustion. It’s hard to glare at someone in stony silence when you can barely keep your eyes open; I know from experience. So why do it? Get some sleep and resolve things when you’re rested. Having a difficult conversation when you’re tired is never a good idea.

2. Flirting with other people

Have you ever started talking to someone at a party, only to have them start aggressively peppering the conversation with “my boyfriend” this and “my wife” that? Yes, okay, we get it – you’re spoken for. Are you not allowed to talk to other people anymore? But some people get very nervous when they’re in a relationship; they don’t seem to understand the difference between flirting and actually hitting on someone. Flirting is fun and healthy, and doesn’t have to stop just because you’re in a relationship. Watching your partner flirt with someone else can even make you appreciate him more; it’s a reminder of how sexy, smart, cute, and funny he is – and how lucky you are to be the one taking him home.

3. Spending time apart

Sometimes absence really does make the heart grow fonder. If things are a little rocky between you and your partner, taking a break really can be the best thing to do. (Just don’t be like Ross and sleep with the girl from the copy store.) Being part of a couple shouldn’t mean losing yourself; it’s okay to have separate interests, hang out with different friends, and even take separate vacations now and then. In fact, it’s healthy. When you come back together, you’ll be able to appreciate each other even more.

4. Not working out your problems

Relationship guru Dr. John Gottman, author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, has studied romantic behavior for over 40 years, and can predict whether or not a marriage will succeed with 90 percent accuracy, just from watching couples interact. He estimates that about 70 percent of a couple’s conflicts can’t ever be solved – he calls them “perpetual problems” – and says fixating on them will only damage your relationship. There will always be things you don’t like about your partner, and vice versa. You’re different people, and you don’t have to agree on everything. Accept this, learn to live with it, and keep loving each other. Sometimes trying to resolve a conflict hurts more than it helps – so choose your battles, and let the rest go.

5. Fighting in front of your kids

People often lament that babies don’t come with instruction manuals, but there are certain things everyone seems to know anyway. Besides the obvious – feed them, cuddle them, make sure they get enough sleep – you’re never, ever supposed to fight in front of them. But experts say never seeing their parents throw down deprives children of learning essential lessons about communication and forgiveness. Marriage and family therapist Melody Li says that when parents fight behind closed doors, “their children miss opportunities to learn healthy conflict resolution.” She says it’s important to show kids “it’s normal and healthy to disagree,” and that parents have an opportunity to model “negotiation, compromise, and sharing needs and feelings” when they argue.

6. Hurting each other’s feelings

Sometimes it’s wise to spare your partner’s feelings and be kind, even if you have to fib a little bit to do it; for example, when he asks whether he looks like he’s gained weight. Honesty is the best policy – except when it’s not. There are times in a relationship when you’re going to have to tell your partner something they don’t want to hear. Something that’s going to hurt them, or make them angry, or possibly even devastate them. Most of the time, covering up the truth only makes things worse down the road. Walking on eggshells and keeping things from your partner may protect their feelings in the short term, but in the end, it may hurt them even more.

7. Having sex when you don’t feel like it

Let me be very clear – I’m not advocating non-consensual sex, or even having sex as a “service” to your partner. But sometimes, in a long-term relationship, you’ve got to schedule sex to make it happen at all. This might mean having sex when you’re wiped out from dealing with the kids, or when you’re three episodes behind on your favorite show and would rather curl up on the sofa than tear off your SO’s clothes. Unromantic as it sounds, if you want to keep your relationship hot, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

8. Walking away from fights

If you’ve ever been in the middle of a fight with your partner and suddenly felt like you couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think straight, or were going to cry, you were probably experiencing what Dr. John Gottman calls “flooding.” That’s when your nervous system gets totally overwhelmed, and the only things you can feel are panic, fear, anger, and hurt. When you’re in this state, there’s no point trying to resolve a fight or even have a conversation. So while running out on a fight might seem like toxic behavior, it’s often actually a good idea. Gottman recommends taking a time-out – at least 20 minutes long – and letting your system reset before trying to come back together and talk things through.

9. Not putting each other first

In a relationship, your partner should be your first priority, right? Putting their needs ahead of yours and being selfless are often heralded as the highest ideal of love. But this can lead to resentment, as well as veering into codependent territory. Rather than putting your partner first, or putting yourself first, think of putting the relationship first. It might help to think of your relationship as a separate entity from you or your partner; as a living, breathing thing that you’ve created together. Taking good care of your relationship might mean prioritizing your needs over your partner’s sometimes.

Image via pexels; GIFs via hbo, youtube, tumblr, giphy, fox

Comment: What do you do to keep your relationship strong, that other people might think is unhealthy?

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