There are so many challenges to navigate when trying to maintain a healthy relationship. Resolving conflicts is one of the biggest bumps in the road, and it’s not one that you can ever avoid for long. Your happiness as a couple will depend on developing the right habits. But make sure that you’re not too hasty in diagnosing your relationship as toxic.
Relationships can go through rough patches that, while they aren’t any fun, are actually a common stage of the relationship cycle. Some behaviors that are often labeled toxic are actually perfectly normal, or even healthy. There’s a significant difference between the controlling behavior that happens in a toxic relationship and the messy things that happen to human beings trying to share their lives. These are 15 perfectly normal behaviors that are so frequently mistaken for toxic.
1. Running away in the middle of a fight
If you’re arguing and your partner leaves in a huff, they were likely overwhelmed and needed to step back. Don’t overreact to this just because it’s becoming common to slap the label of “toxic” on any behavior that suggests a lack of control. Remember that we’re human beings, not conflict resolution robots. As long as your partner does try to communicate with you later, try to be understanding.
2. Complaining about the little things
It’s not pleasant for your partner to nag at you about things like errands or household chores. Many people consider complaining to be a sign of having a controlling nature, but this is a harsh assessment if there are not other supporting factors aside from the complaining. Different people have different needs, and the things your partner is complaining about are important to them for some reason. Pay attention and try to identify where you can better meet those needs and where the two of you will have to find a compromise.
3. Not trying to resolve every single conflict
Being a couple doesn’t mean you have to agree on every aspect of life. Some of the conflicts in your relationship will be due to fundamental differences in who you are as people. Trying to resolve these conflicts can do much more harm than good because you will be fixating on a problem without a real solution. If you love this person, try to live and let live. Those who worship at the altar of conflict resolution won’t like it, but you’ll be happier.
4. Not having your back in public conflicts
There’s a school of thought that thinks your partner should always stick up for you if you have a conflict with someone else. Whether this means wading in on a family dispute that’s playing out on Facebook or speaking up when you’re out together at a dinner party, there are many reasons why this requirement is unfair. Not agreeing with you, or not having the personality type to do battle on your behalf, is not a toxic lack of support. You’re a couple, but you’re also two individuals who are responsible for their own actions.
5. Not accepting your partner for who they are and trying to change them
One of the most unfortunate myths about relationships is that criticizing your partner is always toxic. Of course, an excessively critical partner is indeed a major red flag. But there’s an argument to be made for healthy criticism that is constructive and helpful. Criticism that comes from a place of love or concern happens when your partner can see you’re doing something that will have negative consequences. Helpful criticism would include pointing out that you’re drinking too much or mismanaging your finances. Expressing these feelings is what someone who loves you would do.
6. Not responding to texts right away
Our cell phones have integrated into our lives so much that they are like an extension of ourselves. It’s excellent to feel connected to our loved ones, but we should not expect our partners to be available to us at all times. Not sending an instant response does not mean you’re ignoring your sweetie or withholding attention. It’s a normal part of life to focus on whatever you’re doing and then respond when you’re willing and able to do so. People who consider this behavior toxic are promoting a very needy and controlling attitude.
7. Talking to other people about your relationship problems
It’s indeed very manipulative to turn the people in your lives against your partner by making them look like a villain. But reaching out to your support system when you’re having an issue with your partner doesn’t have to be toxic behavior. In the case of sincere venting to a trusted person, then that’s perfectly normal, and can even help you get a healthy perspective on the situation.
8. Giving the silent treatment
Many people consider the silent treatment an emotionally manipulative behavior. It can indeed be a way for a toxic person to hurt and punish their partner as retaliation. What’s important to remember is that people have very different ways of dealing with conflict. If your partner doesn’t know how to engage further, giving you the silent treatment is how they indicate they need space. While this can be frustrating if you’re the type of person that wants to continue hashing things out, it’s neither immature nor manipulative. The silent treatment only becomes a problem if you cannot respect that need for space, keep trying to engage, and then it leads to more conflict.
9. Being honest even if it will hurt your partner’s feelings
For a relationship to have the real intimacy that comes honesty, the moment will inevitably come when you hurt the other person’s feelings. Your thoughts or emotions might make the other person unhappy, but they still have to be expressed so that your partner understands you. Rather than being toxic behavior, it’s part of a mature relationship where two people really do know one another.
10. Going to bed angry
The perplexingly common piece of advice is that you should try to resolve any argument before going to bed. But this advice is simply not feasible since whatever is causing so much tension will not disappear just because it’s bedtime. Should you try exhausting yourselves by continuing to hash things out late into the night? You’re much better off getting some sleep and continuing the difficult conversation once it makes sense to pick things back up. Things will likely go better once you’ve both had a chance to rest and calm down.
11. Arguing in front of the kids
There’s a beautiful intention behind the advice to never fight in front of your children since we have a strong instinct to protect their innocence. But showing conflict can be healthy, as long as parents are not yelling or disrespecting each other. By not fighting in front of the children, they won’t learn that disagreements are normal and that you can resolve conflicts with good communication. Arguing, like anything else, is an opportunity to present your children with a good model for them to follow later on.
12. Being attracted to someone else
The cultural expectation that we should never feel any attraction for someone other than our partner is neither healthy nor realistic. Feeling attraction is a biological phenomenon, and we don’t have much choice on the matter. As long as you’re not choosing to act on this passing feeling, by hitting on that person or blatantly flirting with them, this is not toxic behavior. Noticing another person does not have to be a threat to the real intimacy and love within your relationship. Meanwhile, having to repress your emotions can be a barrier to the closeness between a couple.
13. Being jealous when someone else expresses interest in your partner
Jealousy is a perfectly natural, healthy reaction to seeing someone else pursue your sweetie, especially when it happens right in front of you. It’s not a sign of being in a toxic relationship unless the jealousy turns into an angry outburst or controlling behavior. By itself, the jealousy is a form of gratitude that your partner is choosing to be with you and not someone else.
14. Yelling during a fight
There can be no doubt that yelling at your partner is not acceptable. But it’s certainly still within the normal range of human behavior during a heated argument. Is this a pattern or just a bad moment? Think carefully about this question to try to understand your partner. If you can say with certainty that it was just a bad moment, then know that they were only expressing how they felt in that moment. It’s not ideal, but it’s normal and simply part of being a human being.
15. Choosing to have sex even if you don’t’ feel like it
The first thing we have to establish about this is that sex must always, always be consensual. But it’s not true that you’re in a toxic relationship because you find yourself having sex even if you initially didn’t feel like it. Having a more practical approach to sex is a realistic part of life for many couples. The day’s energy was poured into your job, your children, cleaning the house, etc. While you’d love to call it a night, you choose to push past the tiredness and connect with your partner. Having sex for the sake of the relationship is not toxic and is a sign you really care for your sweetie.