Hollywood has normalized toxic relationships. Movies have glorified toxic and controlling behaviors by making them seem desirable. We’ve all seen scenes where the couple’s knock-down-drag-out fight turns into passionate kissing.
In reality, healthy relationships aren’t so polarized. Here are a few behaviors that might seem romantic that are actually toxic.
Believing they need to meet all your needs
If you only feel “whole” with them and “incomplete” without them isn’t healthy. Worrying about what your partner is thinking, feeling, and doing when you’re not there can turn toxic. If you can’t go to events without your partner, this can be a sign of codependency and controlling behavior.
It’s important to have your own hobbies and interests, maintain your own friendships, and keep in contact with family without your partner being involved 24/7. Focus on how the relationship enriches you both rather than allowing it to become all-consuming.
Thinking your “soulmate” is the only one
There are 8 billion people on the planet. Movies and fairytales want you to believe that there’s only one person out there for you. This can be harmful when you actually start dating. You might be consciously or unconsciously measuring your partner against some impossible standard.
In reality, commitment to someone is a choice you make rather than a star-crossed destiny. But being critical of a partner’s flaws that are irreconcilable is also key to finding a good partner. It’s important to find balance between “settling” and having standards that align with your values. When you reframe the idea of a healthy, fulfilling relationship as a decision you consciously make rather than looking for the perfect person, you’re more likely to find success in love.
Fighting equals passion
This is shown in rom-coms and television shows all too often, modeling a toxic relationship pattern to impressionable people. Beware of focusing too much on “make up sex”—this becomes worrying behavior if it’s one of the few ways you can be intimate.
It’s unsustainable to keep yo-yo-ing conflict with passion. This actually shows a lack of communication, immaturity, and possibly emotional abuse. Learn to approach conflict in a healthy way by actively listening to your partner’s emotions, trying to solve the problem, and cooling off during heated arguments instead of escalating.
Expecting them to read your mind
Dropping hints about what you want from them—such as gifts, intimacy, or emotional validation—is a sign of dysfunctional communication. For example, telling your partner how much you love your friend’s engagement ring while secretly expecting them to get you something similar is unrealistic.
This leads to arguments when they don’t magically know what you want and need. It shows a lack of communication when you can’t openly voice your desires. Never assume your partner can infer what you want, need, and value. Instead, say directly what you feel is lacking in your relationship.
Keeping score of their mistakes
Conflicts should be addressed in the moment. When you keep a mental tally of everything they’ve ever done wrong, you’re more likely to bring them up in the heat of an argument. This creates an unrealistic standard where your partner can never atone and grow from their problems in the past.
You may also be using this to justify your own bad behavior. “Getting back” at your partner for something they’ve done wrong is toxic and cruel. If you keep your issues separate, you’re more likely to keep your arguments healthy.
Change your expectations
It’s hard to break free of the social programming we’ve been shown since children. But the standards set by pop culture aren’t realistic or healthy. If you’ve found you and your partner falling into these toxic traps, it might be time to see a therapist.