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3 Big Ways You May Be Sabotaging Your Relationship

Silent negative thoughts may create problematic pain and conflict.

Key points

  • Toxic thoughts inevitably seep in to all relationships.
  • Such thoughts can drain a relationship of joy and intimacy, if you let them.
  • Giving a partner the benefit of the doubt by employing empathy will help keep a relationship healthy and strong.

Love is quickly growing with your new romantic partner. You feel like you're in a fantasy world fueled by elated emotions. It seems like your partner can do no wrong. Many people call this exciting phase infatuation.

There has been growing interest in the neurobiology of love, and particularly about the neurochemical boosts that drive this stage of seemingly boundless joy. Indeed, evidence suggests possible roles for oxytocin, vasopressin, dopamine, serotonin, testosterone, cortisol, morphinergic system, and nerve growth factor in love and attachment.

When riding the wave of euphoric emotions of emerging romantic love, we almost expect that our partners will endlessly make us happy. Inevitably, however, we begin to see that our partners are not perfect. They actually fall short of meeting our every need. Go figure.

When Toxic Thoughts Start Popping Up

As time moves on, we fall prey to toxic thoughts about our partners. I describe in detail the 9 common toxic thought patterns in my book, Why Can't You Read My Mind?, but briefly, they are:

  1. The All or Nothing Trap. You see your partner as either negatively always (or never) doing things.
  2. Catastrophic Conclusions. One partner exaggerates negative actions and events concerning the other.
  3. The “Should” Bomb. One partner assumes the other will meet one or more of their needs—just because they should know what they need.
  4. Label Slinging. You unfairly negatively label your partner and lose sight of their positive qualities.
  5. The Blame Game. You unfairly and irrationally blame your partner for relationship issues.
  6. Emotional Short Circuits. This occurs when one partner convinces themself that their partner’s emotions can’t be “handled.“
  7. Overactive Imagination. You reach negative conclusions about your partner that are not based in reality.
  8. Head Game Gamble. You try to outsmart your partner by erroneously assuming s/he has certain motives.
  9. Disillusionment Doom. This occurs when partners focus on idealized expectations of each other that are rooted in their past.

3 Relationship-Busting Patterns Driven by Toxic Thoughts

Based on my work coaching relationship partners to manage their toxic thoughts, I have observed three ways these negative, distorted thought patterns wreak havoc on intimate relationships:

1. You focus more on problems and challenges than what is going well. If you go out today and buy a certain make and model of a car that is blue, what kind of cars will you more likely notice on the roads for the next few days? That's right: You will be particularly aware of cars that look like yours. This is the process of selective attention. So, when you focus on what you don't like about your partner, you will find yourself on the "Relationship Misery Expressway."

To help, try this: What if we learn to identify and challenge our own toxic thoughts? We can then more readily tune in to the good stuff in our partners. Doing this further strengthens our ability to see their desirable traits and behaviors. That helps you keep your love healthy, strong, and vibrant.

So, you have a choice to make: Focus on what a lazy, forgetful, unreliable partner you have, or see them as a well-intended, caring, and devoted partner who occasionally gets preoccupied and overlooks requests when they are distracted. Which would you choose to spend a lifetime with, since the choice is all yours? Perception is reality when it comes to the glass being half empty or half full.

2. You strive to be rigidly right. Even though it may seem justified or feel better in the moment, pushing your observations or opinions on your partner will damage trust and create ripples of resentment. Further, rigidly imposing your views will teach them to respond by stonewalling, living in denial, and arguing rather than owning their mishaps.

To help, try this: Where possible, try to give your partner the benefit of the doubt, especially if they are upset and are questioning themselves. The more you make heartfelt, caring deposits in their emotional bank account, the more you'll build up their appreciation and positive connection to you.

(One important caveat: Clearly, this is not to suggest that you enable any deliberately hurtful behaviors from your partner or allow them to go unchallenged. Rather, the point is to let go of the small stuff yet be assertive on the bigger stuff that may be a deal breaker.)

3. You take things too personally. Romantic relationships are a fertile breeding ground for our vulnerabilities. We share so much of our personal selves with our partners that when they say or do things that leave us feeling hurt or disappointed, we take it very personally.

To help, try this: Empathy is the emotional glue that holds relationships together. When you take things personally and get your feelings hurt too easily, it closes off communication, makes problem-solving nearly impossible, and leaves you both at risk. Instead, be open to hearing what your partner wants and needs. Use empathy to guide you to common ground instead of staying in a place of personal hurt.


Towards a Comprehensive Theory of Love: The Quadruple Theory, Tobore, O, (2020), Front. Psychol., 19 May 2020 Sec. Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology

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