Most people think that poor communication is the reason why so many relationships end, but it's actually the way we learn to think about our partners and our problems that kills trust, erodes intimacy, and cripples communication. Being aware of the relationship-crippling impact of toxic thoughts and how they destroy relationships is crucial for any relationship to survive and thrive!
Clients in my counseling practice have frequently shared with me how couples therapists encouraged them to build strong relationship skills. Usually this is done by the couple practicing reflective listening by "mirroring" what each partner is saying. While building these types of listening skills is crucial for healthy relationships, attention must also be given to the toxic thoughts that silently lurk in the minds of each partner. If relationship partners only learn how hear each other, without acknowledging their own, inner toxic thoughts, then tragically, the root of the problem is ignored.
Below are the nine toxic thought patterns, as featured in my book, Why Can't You Read My Mind? that exist in virtually every relationship. Don't let these distorted, negative, exaggerated thoughts can poison your love and end your union.
How many of these do you or your partner struggle with?
The All-or-Nothing Trap: You see your partner as either always doing the wrong thing, or never doing the right thing. ("He always has to be right!")
Catastrophic Conclusions: One partner exaggerates negative actions and events concerning the other partner. ("She bounced that check and now we are definitely heading to the poor house!")
The “Should” Bomb: One partner assumes the other will meet one or more of his or her needs—just because he or she should know that need. ("You should know how much I hate my job, even though I tell everyone what a great opportunity it is.")
Label Slinging: You unfairly, and negatively, label your partner and lose sight of his or her positive qualities. ("You are so lazy!")
The Blame Game: You unfairly, and irrationally, blame your partner for relationship issues, or bigger issues. ("My life only sucks because of you!")
Emotional Short Circuits: Emotional short circuits occur when one partner becomes convinced that his or her partner’s emotions can’t be “handled. ("No one can possibly ever reason with her!")
Overactive Imagination: In this case, you reach negative conclusions about your partner that are not based in reality. ("She's so preoccupied lately; she must be having an affair.")
Head Game Gamble: You try to outsmart your partner by erroneously assuming he or she has certain motives. ("He's only being nice to me because he wants to play golf this weekend.")
Disillusionment Doom: This occurs when partners focus on idealized expectations of their partner that are rooted in the past. ("All he does now is worry about his job; he is just like all the other guys who never cared one bit about my needs.")
While there may certainly be kernels of truth underlying some of these types of toxic thoughts, it is the extent to which we distort, exaggerate, and overly focus on them that can suck the joy out of loving relationships. But being able to look for, and then dwell on, your partner's positive qualities and behaviors is the key to overcoming these toxic thoughts about him or her.
Happy, satisfied couples that do not get bogged down in toxic thoughts have a better, more realistic, and healthy way of thinking about each other. It is this way of thinking that enables such couples to improve communication, solve problems, and enhance romance. This true foundation for a happy relationship, this elusive secret to your success, can only be found, or built, in one place—your own mind.
Keep in mind, however, that you did not get into your relationship to be treated poorly, ignored, or abandoned. Being abused or denigrated, subjected to reckless spending, deprived of a sex life, or forced to put up with problematic, immature behavior is not what I'm asking of you. If this is occurring in your relationship, your partner needs to make major changes. Individual and couple's counseling may be needed. And if your partner will not cooperate with counseling, you need to face the fact that he or she will probably never change, and then decide to try living with him or her the best you can, or move on to a new and hopefully more satisfying relationship. I am all for trying to save relationships, but in the face of repeated hurts and insensitivity, it may be best to move on
Teaser image: Goodluz/Shutterstock
Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein is a psychologist with over 24 years of experience specializing in child, adolescent, couples, and family therapy. He holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the State University of New York at Albany and completed his post-doctoral internship at the University of Pennsylvania Counseling Center. He has appeared on the Today Show, Court TV as an expert advisor, CBS Eyewitness News Philadelphia, 10! Philadelphia—NBC, and public radio. Dr. Bernstein has authored four books, including the highly popular 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child (Perseus Books, 2006), 10 Days to a Less Distracted Child (Perseus, 2007), Why Can't You Read My Mind?, and Liking the Child You Love, Perseus, 2009).