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When People Say They Don't Want Drama, What Do They Mean?

Here are 20 ways they may be adding drama to relationships.

Key points

  • Drama in a relationship is typically defined as unnecessary conflict or unnecessary ups and downs.
  • Someone who announces "I don't want drama" may have experienced lots of drama in past relationships.
  • People may consciously or unconsciously bring instability and drama into their relationships.
Iuliia Burmistrova/Getty
Drama in a relationship is typically defined as unnecessary conflict or unnecessary ups and downs (with an emphasis on the downs).
Source: Iuliia Burmistrova/Getty

Search the dating app profiles out there, and you'll find something quite dramatic. Plenty o' people are saying things like, "I don't do drama", "I don't want drama", "I hate drama", or, simply, "No drama." The statements probably aren't about not wanting to act in a play or musical. Rather, they're emphasizing not wanting drama in a relationship.

Drama in a relationship is typically defined as unnecessary conflict or unnecessary ups and downs. It's not the type of conflict that helps solve problems and strengthens the relationship. Instead, unnecessary conflict consists of disputes over things that don't seem to matter. Or conflicts that reach intensities disproportionately higher than what is merited by the situations.

It may seem that no one would want unnecessary conflict in their relationships. It's not as if many dating profiles say, "Looking for someone to fight with while taking long walks on the beach." Then why do some people feel the need to specifically state their aversion to such drama? After all, how many people assert before and during a relationship, "No yaks falling on me, please."

When people say, "I don't want drama," there's a decent chance that they have experienced a fair amount of drama in past relationships. The obvious next question is why? What could be the common denominator in their past relationships? Could it perhaps, maybe, possibly be, oh, them?

Consciously or unconsciously, they may be doing some of the following 20 things that can bring instability and drama into their relationships:

  1. Being too loose with their language: If they say something like, "Sometimes words just come out of my mouth. Don't take them that seriously," how might they react if you were to do the same thing?
  2. Using very dramatic terms. This includes absolute words such as "always", "never", and "last" when people are rarely "always" or "never" something.
  3. Over-reading you or overgeneralizing from an observation. When they see you do something (e.g., being less talkative), do they quickly label you as such-and such (e.g., lacking conversation skills) as if it were a personality trait rather than context-based?
  4. Overreacting to and catastrophizing things: Do they constantly look for signs of deeper problems or disasters down the road and treat every relationship hiccup like an iceberg in front of the Titanic?
  5. Being overly critical and making personal attacks: Yeah, no one says, "I love being criticized" or "Yes, please use me as a punching bag." Sure, some criticism can help you improve. But too much criticism eventually will prompt you to push back, assuming you have self-esteem and a backbone. And wait for the following classic response from hypercritical people when you do push back: "You're too sensitive." Yes, folks, more criticism.
  6. Changing plans on a whim and failing to keep one's word: When people fail to fulfill their promises or commitments, they can prove to be full of you-know-what, which can then quickly fill the relationship with drama.
  7. Making threats: Making threats, such as threatening to leave a trip, an important event, or the relationship in general, can be like pulling wooden pieces out of the relationship Jenga tower. Each threat, whether it becomes reality, can further erode trust and turn the relationship into a Leaning Tower of Drama.
  8. Being emotionally labile and inconsistent. Dealing with people who are inconsistent in their responses and behaviors can make life like a box of chocolates many of which contain WTF filling.
  9. Lacking resilience and freaking out when times get tough. Every relationship will go through tough times. So when the going gets tough, does the drama get going?
  10. Not communicating and not being transparent enough: Do they say, "You should have realized such and such," without ever having warned you about it? Being a mind-reader, psychic, or Magic 8 ball shouldn't be a prerequisite for a relationship.
  11. Refusing to define the relationship or make commitments: Keeping you in relationship limbo (e.g., somewhere between friend and significant other) can be like not clarifying whether you have a job yet expecting you to keep working.
  12. Refusing to take your side: "I really like how my friend or partner always stays neutral when I am in a dispute with someone else" is probably something you wouldn't typically say. Plus, wait until you try to be neutral when they want you to side with them.
  13. Failing to respect your boundaries: This can range from their refusing to accept your "no" as an answer to repeatedly questioning a boundary you have established to even shaming you about that boundary such as saying, "Other people do such-and-such, why don't you?"
  14. Being hypervigilant and overly suspicious: When they keep doing things like closely monitoring or questioning you out of fear that you will leave them, guess what you may be more likely to do.
  15. Craving too much excitement: Are they consciously or unconsciously injecting turmoil into relationships because stability can seem boring?
  16. Turning the relationship into a competition: Are they always keeping score and tracking who has the upper hand or is "winning" the relationship when you should be more like teammates helping each other?
  17. Trying to control or manipulate you: Those keeping score may in fact be trying to manipulate or control you. And guess what might result when you show a backbone and push back against such attempts.
  18. Showing no remorse and failing to apologize after hurting you: Apologies if it isn't clear why showing no remorse would add more drama to the relationship.
  19. Being self-centered and not showing true empathy: Do they keep pushing for their needs when you are down and struggling with a bigger, more urgent problem?
  20. Always playing the victim. Blaming others and failing to accept responsibility: Some people will keep complaining about what was done to them without acknowledging how they themselves may have contributed to the situation.

When people repeatedly moan about others bringing drama, they may not recognize and acknowledge their part in the plot. The only way to break such a cycle of drama is for the main character to change. Otherwise, you may find yourself next on the main stage of instability or eventually exiting stage left.

More from Bruce Y. Lee M.D., M.B.A.
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