Despite truly wanting to have happy and harmonious committed relationships or marriages, many people inadvertently stress
and even destroy theirs by injecting them with steady doses of interpersonal poison.
Unlike blatant acts of abuse, deceit, or infidelity, the major problem with these destructive behaviors is that they are so insidious and subtle that by the time their ill effects are noticed, the damage has already been done. Similar to a drop of water, that by itself is of little consequence, but over time can erode solid rock or corrode thick iron, the steady drip, drip, drip of these toxic habits can destroy even a once-strong relationship.
- Complaining. If you want to subject your relationship to a form of water torture, frequent complaining will do the trick. Even when the complaints aren’t directed at your partner, they still can do damage because just hearing a steady barrage of negative comments wears people down. The obvious antidote for the poison of complaining is to keep quiet or say positive things. Instead of “The theater was too cold,” or “The service was so slow,” or “Damn, another traffic jam,” try to make a positive comment or say nothing at all.
- Criticizing. Another common, corrosive habit many people have is frequently criticizing their partner. Worse than being a constant complainer, being a constant critic is a surefire way to stress an intimate bond to the breaking point. Rather than saying critical things, try to develop a routine of expressing compliments which tend to neutralize the toxic effects of criticism. Approval is the elixir that helps cure the relationship ills of criticism.
- Contradicting. It’s amazing how often partners contradict each other, even when the difference is irrelevant or adds no value to the conversation. Is it really important to interject that you left the party at 10:30 instead of 11:00? Or that the show you saw was on 47th Street and not on 8thAvenue? Unless you are correcting a crucial mistake, do not contradict your partner in public. If you must offer a different account, try to do it privately. Hence, whenever possible, support and agree publicly; disagree or correct privately and thus cure your relationship of the woes of needless contradiction.
- Controlling. Simply put, besides acts of overt abuse, dishonesty, and infidelity, being controlling is one of the most damaging things a person can do to his or her intimate relationship. Even if we mean well, when we tell our partners what to do and what not to do, we are not relating like equals on a level playing field of balanced power and mutual respect, but actually disempowering our partner and mainlining a potent venom into the very heart of the union. The cure is simple: Work on being more accepting.
- The final toxic tendency I’d mention is saying “No” instead of “Yes.” If your partner makes a request or asks you to do something for him or her, the sensible reply is something like “yes,” “sure,” or “okay.” If you're asked to agree to an unreasonable favor, you can always renegotiate. But if your typical response to a request is to say “No,” or even “maybe,” at least within your relationship, try to become a “yes man” or “yes woman” and reap the rewards of a healthier, more loving relationship.
- Poison: Complaining
- Antidote: Make positive statements
- Poison: Criticizing
- Antidote: Express approval
- Poison: Contradicting
- Antidote: Support publically, disagree privately
- Poison: Controlling
- Antidote: Acceptance
- Poison: Saying “No”
- Antidote: Saying “Yes” as much as possible
Remember: Think well, act well, feel well be well!
Copyright Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D.