8 common relationship behaviors that are actually quite toxic, according to psychology

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Every relationship has its highs and lows, but sometimes what we perceive as normal behavior can be far more damaging than we realize.

You might look at your relationship and struggle to identify the signs of toxicity, or be unsure if what you’re experiencing is a healthy dynamic or not.

How do you know if what you’re dealing with are just the typical quirks and challenges of a relationship, or if they’re signs of something more toxic?

Fortunately, psychology gives us a lot of insights. Here are 8 common behaviors that may appear innocent but are actually quite toxic, according to psychology. 

If these ring true, it might be time to reassess your relationship for the sake of your emotional wellbeing.

Let’s get started. 

1) Constant criticism and belittlement

Every relationship will have its moments of disagreement and frustration. But when it transforms into a persistent pattern of criticism and belittlement, it can be incredibly toxic.

You might shrug off the occasional snide comment or negative remark from your partner, assuming it’s just a bad day. Or perhaps you tell yourself that it’s their blunt way of expressing their love.

But when these comments start to erode your self-esteem and make you question your self-worth, it’s a sign of a more significant issue. In fact, criticism is considered a main behavior that may predict divorce. 

According to Choosing Therapy, criticism can take on different forms, such as: 

  • Insults, name-calling, and negative descriptive adjectives
  • Seemingly “helpful” comments or suggestions that actually reflect disapproval

Ultimately, constant criticism and belittlement can slowly poison your relationship, leading to resentment, stress, and lower self-esteem. 

Recognizing this behavior as toxic is the first step towards addressing the problem.

2) Always being the peacemaker

In a relationship, you may assume that always maintaining peace and avoiding conflict is a sign of maturity and harmony. 

You might pride yourself on being the one who always smooths things over, or perhaps you find yourself constantly suppressing your feelings to avoid an argument. 

While this might seem like a noble sacrifice for the sake of peace, it can actually be detrimental in the long run. It’s called conflict avoidance, and it could be more toxic than beneficial.

You see, constantly suppressing your feelings and avoiding confrontation can lead to emotional exhaustion and resentment. 

It also prevents you from addressing important issues in your relationship, which can lead to bigger problems down the line.

A healthy relationship allows for open and respectful discussions where both parties feel heard and valued. So, being the perpetual peacemaker might not be as virtuous as it seems.

3) Displaying excessive jealousy

A little bit of jealousy in a relationship can sometimes be mistaken for a sign of love or care. But when it crosses a certain threshold, it can turn into a toxic behavior that is detrimental to both partners’ mental health.

I was once in a relationship with an overly jealous guy. At first, I interpreted his possessiveness as his way of expressing love. But over time, the constant monitoring and questioning made me feel suffocated. 

Look, it’s natural to feel slightly jealous at times; psychologists even say it could be healthy. 

An excess of it, though, is a different matter. It can lead to trust issues, insecurity, and anxiety. 

Recognizing excessive jealousy for what it truly is – a toxic behavior – is crucial to creating a healthier dynamic in your relationship.

4) Ignoring personal boundaries

Does your partner frequently intrude into your personal space? Do they respect your need for privacy? Do you often find yourself compromising your boundaries to accommodate their needs?

We all have our own boundaries, and even in a relationship, respect for those boundaries is crucial. 

That includes not just physical boundaries, but emotional boundaries as well, such as the right to have separate interests, friends, and time apart.

5) Using love as a bargaining chip

Love is supposed to be unconditional, but when it becomes a tool for manipulation or control, it becomes a toxic behavior.

You might find your partner withholding affection when they don’t get their way, or perhaps you’ve noticed that their love seems conditional on your actions or behavior. 

This can leave you feeling insecure and constantly on edge, trying to meet their ever-changing expectations.

This type of emotional manipulation is not only unfair but also deeply damaging. It can lead to a cycle of anxiety and self-doubt, where you’re constantly striving to earn the love that should be given freely.

As Psychology Today points out, “When one partner knowingly and willfully disconnects, shuts down, and essentially exiles the other partner, they know what they are doing. They are willfully punishing the other for something they have done. Their goal is to make that other person feel isolated and disempowered.”

I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty toxic. Understanding that love isn’t something to be earned or used as a weapon is crucial in building a healthy and loving relationship.

6) Being excessively generous

This might sound strange, but did you know that excessive generosity can actually be a sign of a toxic dynamic? 

Because it makes the relationship unbalanced. 

It can often be a form of control or a way to create a sense of obligation. It can also foster an unhealthy power dynamic where one person feels indebted to the other, leading to feelings of guilt and unease.

So you see, while those generous actions may seem kind and selfless on the surface, they can sometimes hide underlying motives. 

7) Keeping score 

This one’s pretty common, but that doesn’t make it any less toxic. 

Many couples forget one important thing when they resort to scorekeeping – they’re supposed to be a team. 

When couples start tallying who’s done what or who owes who, they forget they’re supposed to be working together. 

Instead of focusing on scorekeeping, try to see things from a team perspective. Everyone brings something different to the table, and that’s a good thing. 

Sunshine City Counseling offers this perspective: 

“While it’s reasonable to expect some reciprocity, relationships are seldom a matter of 50-50. You’ll probably find that you’re more of a giver or a taker in different relationships at different times so it tends to even out. At the same time, when you and your loved ones give 100% to each other, you’ll create true partnerships.”

8) Holding grudges

In any relationship, we’re likely to make mistakes. But when past errors are constantly brought up as a weapon in arguments, it can be a sign of toxic behavior.

You might find your partner reminding you of past missteps whenever there’s a disagreement, or perhaps you yourself struggle to let go of old mistakes. 

While it’s important to address issues and learn from them, constantly revisiting past faults can create a negative cycle.

Studies show that couples who forgive each other for their mistakes are more likely to enjoy longer, more satisfying romantic relationships.

So, learn how to let go of past mistakes – otherwise, it can make your relationship more toxic than it should be. 

Embracing self-love

Identifying and addressing toxic behaviors isn’t just about improving your relationship dynamics; it’s also about honoring and respecting yourself.

Often, we find ourselves accepting less than we deserve in relationships out of fear of being alone or due to a lack of self-esteem. But remember, you are worthy of love and respect, and it’s okay to prioritize your emotional wellbeing.

Self-love isn’t about being selfish or narcissistic. It’s about acknowledging your worth and understanding that you deserve a relationship that brings you joy, growth, and mutual respect. 

It’s about setting boundaries and not allowing anyone to violate them. It’s about not just surviving, but thriving in your relationships.

Embracing self-love means recognizing when a situation or behavior is harmful to you and taking steps to address it. 

It might mean having difficult conversations or making tough decisions. And yes, sometimes, it could mean walking away from a relationship that isn’t serving you well.

Remember, a relationship is an extension of your happiness, not the source of it. So even if you’re in one, continue to nurture and prioritize self-love. Because at the end of the day, the most important relationship you have is with yourself.

Isabella Chase

Isabella Chase, a New York City native, writes about the complexities of modern life and relationships. Her articles draw from her experiences navigating the vibrant and diverse social landscape of the city. Isabella’s insights are about finding harmony in the chaos and building strong, authentic connections in a fast-paced world.

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