Elizabeth Neal Psychology
Relationship and Individual Therapy
No relationship is perfect and none ever avoid conflict entirely. Yet we know from research into relationship therapy what the deal breakers are and what needs to be avoided for both partners to feel respected. Check off this list of 10 toxic habits in relationships and start implementing better solutions for a more harmonious, enjoyable connection!
The use of ‘never’ and ‘always’ has a detrimental effect. When one partner hears this, instead of taking it onboard, they divert their attention to reflecting on the accuracy of the statement. They’ll often say “but I did that just last Tuesday, it’s not never”
Solution: To keep the attention of your partner, “never use ‘never’ and always avoid ‘always”. Use ‘often’ instead.
Playing the blame game gets couples nowhere. Blame happens when couples are fixated on the other person’s behaviour as the sole cause of the problem, or the reason for their own regrettable behaviour. The accusation “But you…” never sends the message across. In fact, the listening partner only hears an attack and is likely to become defensive rather than take on board what’s being said.
Solution: Focus on your own reaction to your partner’s behaviour and recognize what might trigger you and why. Say, “I feel as though I’m/we’re not important to you when…”
3) Harsh startups
Strong emotions underlie harsh start-ups. Particularly fear and anger. However, when an issue is raised in an abrupt or harsh way, it comes across as an attack and is highly likely to elicit a physiological defensive response.
Solution: Wait until you’re calm and collected and talk about your own emotions rather than launching an attack on your partner.
Defensiveness is a self-protecting mechanism and the result is closed mindedness to the issue at hand. It’s a major contributor to unresolved issues. (Read my article "Understanding Defensiveness" for more on this topc).
Solution: Develop awareness about your defensiveness and de-personalize the problem. Take responsibility for your contribution and empathize with your partner
Contempt ends relationships. It presents with a superiority complex, viewing your partner as beneath you rather than equal. Verbal and non-verbal gestures express disgust towards the other person.
Solution: Remember the aspects of your partner that you do respect and admire. Own your own stuff and recognize your triggers, they usually relate to core beliefs and value systems.
I see this all the time in couples therapy sessions. One person attempts to relay to me their pain and anger about their partner’s language or behaviour by mimicking and exaggerating their perception of it. Instead of hearing the message, the other partner only feels hurt and shamed for aspects of their personality. It creates emotional distancing.
Solution: Describe how you feel and what goes on for you in those instances, rather than relaying this through a biased impersonation of your partner. Express your strong emotions and call them for what they are.
7) Ignoring bids for connection
We know from research that when bids for connection are not met and responded to, no matter how seemingly idle they are, the other person is less likely to offer connection again in the future. These tiny moments, if not dealt with respectfully, will harbor resentment throughout the relationship.
Solution: Turn towards your partner’s bids for connection. Respond when they say something so the message they hear is “yes, what you have to say is important to me”.
8) Unprocessed resentment
When strong feelings aren’t discussed for what they are at the time, resentment builds. A collection of resentment places couples in ‘negative sentiment override’. This is where couples are so primed for conflict that even neutral comments are perceived and reacted to as attack.
Solution: Start talking about why you’re hurt. Talk about your own emotions and avoid blame. Open respectful communication.
Gridlock is when couples are fighting in the same way yet again, about something so trivial. These are the perpetual issues that come up regularly. Gridlock is where couples end up frustrated or hurting each other over and over again.
Solution: When it comes to in-laws, side with each other. With household chores, create a sense of fairness and teamwork. When you’re stressed, turn towards each other rather than away. Be a team and build the underlying friendship you have with your partner.
10) Not making the relationship a priority
When one partner allows external interests to dominate over time together in the relationship, I hear alarm bells. The global message being sent is “I’m/we’re not important enough or interesting enough for you”.
Solution: Dig deep and truly feel out why being present with your family/partner can be so uncomfortable. Deal with your demons. You never know, better communication and a more fulfilling relationship might redirect those fundamental needs.
If you’d like to implement these strategies yet are struggling to do it on your own, please get in touch. I love working with couples because the method I use, which has 40 years of research behind it is simple, effective and entirely accessible, as long as both partners are willing.
By Elizabeth Neal, April 2016