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Are unhealthy relationship habits hard-wired into our culture?

We grow up in broken families with parents that certainly display these toxic habits, and then unknowingly repeat them.

We’ve been taught to romanticize love, thinking that only “romantic” love has any value, never understanding that true love allows for the creation of all other loves – romantic, familial, loving friendship, etc.

We are programmed to objectify others, so that this experience of true love is unavailable to us – we’re too busy seeing our partner as an asset or a loss – to view them as a beautifully flawed human being, capable of reflecting our own self-love back to us.

We have been taught to engage in codependence instead of interdependence, and then act surprised when our need to be needed doesn’t translate into the experience of real love.

What’s at the bottom of all these behaviors? How can we recognize these patterns in order to change them? Is there any hope for experiencing a fulfilling romantic relationship?

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Self-help literature doesn’t help much. Men and women aren’t from different planets. But they do speak a different language. Though we can’t over-generalize gender roles, we can look at how they’ve been eroded, along with the family unit to further complicate our experience of love.

If you think this is all unrelated to love, you’d be mistaken. The very fabric of our society is fomented with toxic habits that eat away at our ability to relate to others – from distant neighbors in other nations to the lover sleeping in bed right next to us.

Fortunately, there’s been a lot of psychological research into healthy and happy relationships the past few decades and there are some general principles that keep popping up consistently that most people are unaware of or don’t follow, possibly because they’ve never been taught the basics of creating a loving relationship – and certainly it hasn’t been exemplified in their parents or their leaders.

Surprisingly, some of these principles go against what is traditionally considered “romantic” or normal in a relationship. So, think about what you read below, and see if you weren’t taught to be toxic.

The good news is that you can unteach these habits to yourself, too. Though there are a boatload of toxic habits, below are five common ones to start to unravel.

1. Toxic Habit: The False Idea that Another Person Can Bring You Happiness

The toxic advice that “you deserve to be happy” by finding the perfect person is extremely damaging. Aside from overt sexual, physical or mental abuse, we don’t need to run away and find a “better” partner to experience happiness. Our happiness is only withheld from us because we aren’t loving ourselves, and this is then echoed in our partner’s behavior. You can, in fact, work only on loving yourself more, and be utterly shocked at the change in your partner. They don’t even have to know you’re doing it.

The belief that we are not a complete or whole person without a partner – or worse, the “right” partner – is also damaging. This keeps us stuck in the notion that we must have another person in our lives to experience any joy or growth. This is also a massive amount of unspoken pressure on another person. Do you really want the responsibility of creating someone else’s happiness – of carrying a burden which can likely never be unloaded?

We are attracted to others on a deeper level because we know they will force us to grow. A relationship’s entire purpose is not to foster happiness, but growth. If we see the purpose of the relationship as a creator of happiness, we’re already doomed. That responsibility to create happiness lies with us – not another person.

2. Toxic Habit: We Keep Score

Do you still blame your partner for past mistakes? Do you catalogue every good or bad thing they do for you or fail to do for you? If both people are keeping a “relationship scorecard,” then you will not grow, and your relationship with wither on the vine.

If someone habitually cheats or lies, that is an obvious recurring issue, however, if you are still upset about a rude comment your lover made at a party in 2012, then you’re keeping score.

When you love someone – you love all of their prior actions and behaviors. This doesn’t mean you should continue accepting abuse or stay in a truly dysfunctional relationship, but keeping a scorecard only hurts you. It shows that you aren’t practicing acceptance of someone else, which likely means there is something about you, deep within, that you don’t accept.

Our quirks and idiosyncrasies should lead us to deeper love, not drive us further from it. These traits can make us unique or charming, but not if we are holding a grudge.

Our relationships are not bank accounts. We’re talking about people, not things. As Aly Walansky explains “The bank account concept makes you feel like you have a stack of IOUs piled up on your shoulder. You always feel indebted. Either that, or you always feel owed, maybe even used. Still, one party may be doing the majority of the financial deposits, while the other is doing the majority of the emotional deposits, and each one feels as though the scales are tipped in their generous favor (or not).”

Shift your focus instead on what you can do to lighten someone’s load, or – not bring them happiness – but help create an environment which fosters it.

If you are start off from a giving mindset but move into an accounting mind-set, you are ruining the core ideal of altruism. You’ll soon start testing someone, thinking, “If I pay for this or I do this thing, I expect them to do that to repay me.” You’ll secretly believe they “owe” you something and feel stressed out when they don’t comply to your secret desire. This is exhausting, stressful, and it slowly inserts a wedge between a couple, eventually breaking them apart.

3. Toxic Habit: We Don’t Communicate Directly

Most of us expect our romantic partners to read our minds. Instead of telling someone what we desire or what we feel, we use passive-aggressive communication techniques to try to get what we want. When we are hurt, we don’t tell someone what is bothering us, but offer the silent treatment or some other juvenile, petty game so that we can feel justified in staying mad at the person we say we love.

Instead, try speaking openly, and honestly. Tell someone what you want, and when you are hurt. They might surprise you by acting differently because you’ve told them what’s really going on in your mind and heart.

Instead of dropping hints, try communicating overtly. This is a form of emotional blackmail. It will result in damaging the flow of your relationship and erode trust. Even when negative or hurtful issues come up, it’s always best to talk about them head on. If you need time to cool off first, tell your partner you want to talk again as soon as you are able, but tell them why you are upset.

4. Toxic Habit: Blaming Others for How We Feel

Everybody has a bad day. If your partner isn’t feeling supportive when you come home from a treacherous day at work or you’re facing a big challenge, don’t blame them for how you feel. They may have had a crazy day too!

Blaming others for how we feel, no matter what is going on in our lives is a subtle form of selfishness and egoic Tomfoolery. When we set a precedent that our partner is responsible for how we feel at all times (and vice-versa), you will inevitably develop codependent tendencies.

Instead, try taking responsibility for your own emotions and expect your partner to be responsible for theirs. Now, that’s a novel approach!

5. Using Sex or Gifts to Cover Over Deep Relationship Issues

While sex and retail therapy might temporarily lift the weight of a heavy relationship issue, these should never be used to ignore the issue altogether. It’s a way of kicking the can down the road, and the problem ill only fester and grow larger.

Going on a romantic trip or having “angry sex” might conjure excitement in the moment, but you can connect more deeply, (and still enjoy that amazing vacation or mind-blowing sex) if you get to the bottom of the larger issues plaguing your relationship. There’s nothing wrong with doing nice things for a significant other after a fight to show solidarity and to reaffirm commitment. But one should never use gifts or fancy things to replace dealing with the underlying emotional issues.

Try replacing these toxic habits with open communication and self-responsibility, and watch your relationship flourish.

Image: Media Whale/Shutterstock.