Every long-term relationship is a commitment that will be tested in the most vulnerable areas of the human spirit – a commitment that will force you to make some incredibly difficult choices. It’s a commitment that demands you deal with your lust, your envy, your greed, your pride, your past, your patience, your craving to control, your temper, and countless other temptations begging to be wedged between you and another.
Unfortunately, not everyone who’s in a long-term relationship accepts this level of commitment. So they cut corners. And their relationship pays the ultimate price – it gradually grows toxic.
Over the past decade, Marc and I have coached hundreds of course students who were suffering from various toxic relationship situations. Our extensive coaching in this area has given us keen insight into the corners people commonly cut in their relationships – the things they refuse to do – that ultimately creates toxicity. Below I have done my best to distill this insight into 20 simple bullet points.
This is a quick look at some of the most prevalent things people in toxic relationships refuse to do, and some good ideas on how to do things differently in your relationships:
- They refuse to make time. – Mistreatment based on lack of attention damages relationships far more often than intentional abuse. There’s nothing more vital to the bond you share with someone than simply being present with them.
- They refuse to uphold the truth. – Trust is the foundation of a relationship, and when trust is broken it takes time and a willingness on the part of both people involved to repair it and heal. All too often I’ll hear a course student say something like, “I didn’t tell her but I didn’t lie about it, either.” This statement is a contradiction, as omissions are lies. 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. Speak the truth, no matter what the consequences. Being honest is the only way to be at peace with yourself and those you care about.
- They refuse to stop condemning and attacking. – Complaints are fine. Disagreements are fine too. These are natural, focused reactions to a person’s decisions or behavior. But when complaints and disagreements snowball into global attacks on the person, and not on their decisions or behavior, this spells trouble. For example: “They didn’t call me when they said they would because they forgot, but because they’re a horrible, wretched human being.”
- They refuse to take responsibility. – When you deny responsibility in every relationship dispute, all you’re really doing is blaming the other person. You’re saying, in effect, “The problem is never me, it’s always you.” This denial of responsibility just escalates the argument, because there’s a complete breakdown of communication.
- They refuse to tame their assumptions. – Assumptions are the termites of healthy relationships. Period.
- They refuse to abolish their hateful gestures. – Frequent name-calling, threats, eye-rolling, belittling, mockery, hostile teasing, etc… In whatever form, gestures like these are poisonous to a relationship because they convey hate. And it’s virtually impossible to resolve a relationship problem when the other person is constantly getting the message that you hate them. (Read Safe People.)
- They refuse to stop giving the silent treatment. – The silent treat is the beginning of the end. Tuning out, ignoring, disengaging, refusing to acknowledge, etc… All variations of the silent treatment don’t just remove the other person from the argument you’re having with them, it ends up removing them, emotionally, from the relationship you have with them.
- They refuse to keep their egos in check. – It’s perfectly OK to practice self-care as an individual, but whenever you say “I” and “my” too often, you lose the capacity to understand and respect the “we” and “our.” It’s about maintaining a healthy balance between the extremes.
- They refuse to communicate effectively. – It’s hard work to communicate effectively and that’s why healthy relationships between people are often hard to find. 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. Also, be sure to communicate more than just problems – communicate the good things too. Share what you love about your friend or lover. Share what’s going on in your mind and heart. Share your deepest thoughts, needs, wishes, hopes and dreams. (Marc and I build mindful communication rituals with our students in the “Love and Relationships” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
- They refuse to apologize. – Making up after an argument is central to every healthy relationship. A simple, honest “I’m sorry” is usually the most important step. We all make mistakes, but our willingness to admit it doesn’t always come naturally. So remember, it doesn’t really matter who’s right – it’s what’s right that matters. If your relationship is important to you, an apology is always right.
- They refuse to let go of the unchangeable past. – Sometimes health and happiness in a relationship amounts to making peace with something that can’t be fixed. Sometimes you let it go, and sometimes you hold it broken. It amounts to forgiveness in any case.
- They refuse to grow beyond their vision of what others “should be.” – You don’t love and appreciate someone because they’re perfect, you do so in spite of the fact that they are not. “Perfection” is a tragic fantasy – something none of us will ever be. So beware of your tendency to “fix” someone when they’re NOT broken. Truthfully, the less you expect from someone, 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 exactly like you do.
- They refuse to accept that others can be weak sometimes too. – Sometimes people let us down because they can’t hold us up. “I can’t carry you” doesn’t mean, “I don’t love you.” It may simply mean, “I’m struggling too.”
- They refuse to excuse people for their humanness. – Even the happiest relationships on Earth are still comprised of two human beings. And all human beings are imperfect. At times, the confident lose confidence, the patient misplace their patience, the generous act selfish, and the knowledgeable second guess what they know. It happens to the best of us. We make mistakes, we lose our tempers, and we get caught off guard. We stumble, we slip, and we spin out of control sometimes. But that’s the worst of it; we all have our moments. Most of the time we’re remarkable.
- They refuse to be there when times get tough. – Be there through the good, bad, happy, and sad times. Be willing to provide a listening ear, a hug, and emotional support when you’re needed. In a healthy relationship, both people can trust that they can count on each other, and are willing to be available not only when it’s convenient, but when they need each other the most.
- They refuse to find balance in the “give love, receive love” equation. – Sometimes the desire to love someone exceeds the desire to be loved by someone, and that’s precisely why we sometimes end up loving a person who doesn’t deserve our love. Give all you can, but just remember that you can’t always be agreeable – that’s how people take advantage of you. There’s a point where you have to set clear boundaries.
- They refuse to embrace the person they are. – How would your life be different if you approached all your relationships with complete authenticity? Let today be the day you dedicate yourself to nurturing and building your relationships on the solid foundation of who YOU truly are.
- They refuse to practice self-care as individuals. – Relationships don’t create joy, they reflect it. Joy comes from within. Relationships are simply mirrors of the combined joy that two people have as individuals. What you see in the mirror is what you see in your relationships. Your disappointments in your partner often reflect your disappointments in yourself. Your acceptance of your partner often reflects your acceptance of yourself. Thus, the first step to having a healthy relationship with someone else is to have a healthy relationship with yourself.
- They refuse to let go of perpetually unhealthy relationships. – All details aside, there are certain people who aren’t meant to fit into your life in the long-term no matter how much you want them to. They pass through your life in a shorter time frame than you had initially hoped to teach you useful things you never would have learned otherwise. (Marc and I discuss this in more detail in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- They refuse to find the positive lessons in relationships that have ended. – Although not all relationships are meant to be, there are no failed relationships, because every person in your life has a lesson to teach. And the lessons you learn make YOU that much stronger. So many people think relationships have to work to be worthwhile, because that’s what everyone tells you to want – that’s the Hollywood love story. Of course, it’s nice when relationships stay healthy and last, but that doesn’t mean your failed relationships aren’t equally as important. Some people you engage with will be like a mirror – people who show you things that are holding you back, people who show you the ways that don’t work, people who bring your insecurities and misjudgments to your own attention so you can change your life.