In my years of offering psychotherapy to married and dating couples, I’ve identified four tendencies that often add toxicity to an otherwise perfectly fine relationship. I believe every psychotherapist will have different observations but these have been commonly recurring tendencies that I have encountered when helping couples through difficult times in their marriage. If you’re married or in a relationship – or if you’re interested in one day pursing a healthy relationship – watch out for these tendencies as they can manifest subtly and can wreak havoc.
Tendency #1: Not Understanding WHO your Partner is
This may seem painfully obvious but I can’t stress the importance of working to truly understand who your partner is. ‘Understanding someone’ goes beyond picking up on the first 5 adjectives that describe them. Make a study of them – what’s their love language? Are they introverted or extroverted? Are they a thinker or a feeler? If you make a habit out of ‘studying’ your partner in this way you’ll notice a couple valuable things happen. Firstly, you’ll learn to actually enjoy the process of observing someone on this level – it’s engaging for the mind and rewarding to gain that kind of proximity to another person. And secondly, you’ll start picking up on dozens of character traits you may not have realized are there – good ones and maybe some that are harder for you to understand but at the end of the day you’ll have a clear ‘inventory’ of exactly who your partner and what your challenges may be ahead of time.
Tendency #2: Not Establishing Clear Boundaries and Transparency
There is an important balance that should be struck between setting boundaries and offering your partner full-transparency. Despite popular opinion transparency and boundaries are not oxymoronic and they do not have to juxtapose one another. Often, I see couples confuse these two components of their relationship. Where one party establishes boundaries they can be misinterpreted by the other partner as harboring secrets and lies. Similarly, where one partner may want to enforce transparency, the other partner can be left feeling claustrophobic and annoyed. I recommend couples take time to itemize which areas of their lives they are comfortable being fully transparent about and which areas they’re comfortable having some boundaries. Some common compromises that leave both parties happy include things like:
- Leave work in the office (boundary)
- Give your partner access to your schedule so they can plan around it (transparency)
Tendency #3: Communication vs. Chatter
There is an important difference between proactive communication and chitter-chatter – a distinction that often goes unobserved by couples. In this day and age people are ‘talking’ with one another almost incessantly. It can be a challenge to differentiate between conversations that have substance and quality and those that occur simply to fill space and time. It is not uncommon for couples to feel like that ‘talk about everything together’ or that they ‘share everything with one another’ and yet when asked about the last time they discussed values, goals, frustrations etc. (the very things that can cause long term upset) they come up short. This doesn’t mean conversations need to be contrived or pre-planned – the goal isn’t to make conversation between couples laborious. Instead, try to be more intentional about the conversations you’re having with your partner and try to be proactive in bringing up those deeper topics that sometimes don’t make it to your text message conversations about coordinating dinner or daycare.
Tendency #4: Neglecting to Manage Time and Money
Time and money are the two most commonly mismanaged finite resources in most relationships. No one has unlimited time nor do they have unlimited money and yet despite this many couples fail to give these two massive components of their relationship any attention or pre-planning. This is likely because time and money are both touchy-subjects. In this day and age it may feel like people are comfortable sharing just about anything publically but the fact of the matter is that when it comes to time and money people rarely share the truth of these matters with even their closes confidants – their partners.
Anticipating the sensitivity of these topics can help when trying to reach a compromise with your partner. Understand that everyone has different numbers when it comes to both time and money. Whether you’re looking at each other’s schedules for the week or your respective monthly budgets – each party in a relationship will have different numbers and therefore different expectations. The best way to overcome this challenge is to see it coming and plan accordingly. It’s not helpful or healthy to try to force opinions about time or money on another person. Instead, take an itinerary of each other’s schedules and budgets and then find a realistic compromise that meets everyone’s needs.
If you need help working through these or any other toxic tendencies, psychotherapy can be a great help. A listening ear and a guiding voice can help you come to realizations faster and more confidently than trying to work through everything on your own.
For additional information, please feel free to email our office at Amanda.Itzkoff@gmail.com. To schedule an appointment, call our offices at 917-609-4990.
Dr. Amanda Itzkoff