Despite truly wanting to have happy and harmonious marriages, (or other committed, intimate relationships) 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 relationship habits can destroy even a strong connection.
1. Complain: 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 hearing a steady barrage of negative comments wears people down. So, the obvious antidote for the poison of complaining is to keep quiet or say positive things. So, instead of saying “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.
2. Criticize: Another common, corrosive habit that many people have is to frequently criticize their partner. Even worse than being a constant complainer, being a constant critic is a sure fire way to stress an intimate bond to the breaking point. So, rather than saying critical things, try to develop a routine of expressing compliments which tend to neutralize the toxic effects of criticism. Thus, approval is the elixir that helps to cure the relationship ills of criticism.
3. Contradict: It’s amazing how often partners contradict each other even when the difference is irrelevant or adds no value to the conversation. In most instances, 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 8th avenue? Basically, 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 publically; disagree or correct privately and thus cure your marriage of the woes of needless contradiction.
4. Control: Simply said, 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.
5. The final toxic tendency I’d like to mention in this post is saying “No” instead of “Yes.” If your partner makes a request or asks you to do something for him or her, the only sensible reply is (something like) “yes,” or “sure,” or “okay.” If it turns out you’ve agreed to an unreasonable favor, you can always renegotiate. So, if your typical response to a request is to say “no,” or even “maybe,” at least within your marriage, try to become a “yesman” or “yeswoman” and reap the rewards of a healthier, more loving relationship.
Complaining Make positive statements
Criticizing Express approval
Contradicting Support publically, disagree privately
Saying “No” Say “Yes” as much as possible
Remember: Think well, act well, feel well be well!
Copyright by Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D.