Breaking your bad relationship habits so you can find happiness again
When our romantic relationships are fraught with hardship, it’s often a sign it’s time to start changing some bad habits.
by: E.B. Johnson
Though we traditionally think of love as teddy bears and boxes of chocolate, modern love is a strange and complex thing, full of all kinds of up’s and down’s and in-between’s. Healthy partnerships require communication, respect and a lot of mindful intent, but that’s not always possible and it’s not always easy.
If you want a relationship that can stand the test of time, you have to break the negative relationship habits that are keeping you stuck, scared and lashing out at the only other person that really matters. The bad habits that stalk our most intimate connections can be dismantled, but it takes some brutal honesty and it takes some understanding of the things that make you tick.
The worst relationship habits.
The bad habits that we manifest in our romantic relationship stem from a variety of places including childhood trauma and gradually learned behaviors and avoidances. They all have one thing in common, however — they destroy the deep and meaningful bonds that we share with others, making it possible to create lasting relationships that contribute to our overall wellbeing and happiness.
Displays of “loving” jealousy.
Getting angry when your partner looks at, talks to, or hangs out with a member of the opposite gender is not normal and it is not healthy. It’s demeaning and it creates unnecessary drama, while simultaneously communicating a million-and-one insecurities — as well as a lack of trust.
Keeping a scorecard.
Continuing to blame a parter for past hurts is not only pointless, it’s self-defeating. Keeping a relationship scorecard undermines the trust and respect in a relationship, while deflecting from current issues. And, more often than not, it’s used a manipulative tool composed of pent-up guilt and bitterness.
In some relationships, one partner or the other will lean into big ticket purchases as a means of conflict resolution (rather than talking things out). While this might seem nice for a little while, it’s not. Over time, it leads to bigger and more toxic conflict as well as pent up resentment that causes divisions that can never be healed.
When one partner feels as though they cannot speak openly and honestly to the other, they sometimes engage in passive aggression in order to express their anger or resentment.
This is an especially toxic habit, because it creates an air of mistrust in the relationship, which can cause both partners to believe that they are not safe expressing themselves or their vulnerabilities to one another. Worse than that, passive aggression is often a sign that one partner is afraid of judgement or criticism — the most fertile of grounds for unhappiness and conflict.
Working overtime to “fix” the other person.
No matter what we might think, there’s no such thing as a perfect person. That’s why it’s so unhealthy to fall into a relationship based on a need to “fix” the other party (an impossible task that’s guaranteed to end in heartache).
Reminding your partner to do better is one thing, obsessively trying to make unrealistic changes in him / her is another. People can’t change unless they want to change, and until we realize that we’ll bounce from one unhappy relationship to the next.
Giving up on yourself.
Comfortable relationships can be a great thing, but they can be a bad thing too. When we feel too comfortable in a relationship, we can give up on ourselves and let go — leaving a lump of clay that is nothing like the beautiful masterpiece our partners originally fell for.
Making the other person the #1 priority.
According to Audrey Hope, a renowned relationships expert, making your partner your ultimate priority is a bad habit that has to be broken in order to find romantic happiness again.
“Making a partner your first priority before yourself is a ‘spiritual don’t’ because the secret to life is to love another as icing on an already great cake. If you dare to give your power away and make that person more important, you are out of balance in your energy field. You walk a fragile line with yourself, and if anything should happen, or they leave you, or the relationship changes course, then you are a fallen soul with no means to get up. One must love in healthy way by always making themselves number one in self-care.”
Being together 24/7.
Spending too much time together can lead to you losing touch with your own authentic self. When we insist on being with our partners 24/7 we stop doing the things we like to do and we may even go so far as kicking our friends and family to the curb. That kind of all-or-nothing mentality isn’t healthy and it certainly isn’t the key to a solid relationship built on a foundation of mutual trust and strength.
Believing you can’t live without a partner.
Believing that you can’t live without your partner is a dangerous precedent to set and one that undermines and devalues your self-worth. Putting that kind of pressure on your partner is also a sure-fire way to send them running for the hills, understandably trying to escape the codependent thoughts that you’re harboring deep inside. Worst of all? It’s just not true. You can live without them, and you might just have to if you can’t break the pattern.
Avoiding conflict seems like a good idea in many occasions, but avoiding the inconvenience of romantic conflict only leads to further bitterness and resentment later on down the road. You can’t fix a problem you don’t know exists, so fighting can be key to a healthy relationship (when practiced appropriately).
When we bring up issues with our partners, we actually demonstrate trust in them, as well as a willingness to be vulnerable, which enhances connection. Assertiveness can be a powerful indicator of relationship satisfaction, so we need to disagree in order to connect on a deep and meaningful level.
Always picking up the tab.
We all run into hard times at some point in our lives, but if you’re always picking up the tab — there’s some serious issues that need to be addressed. Helping a partner is one thing, carrying them like a child is another. If you’re lending everything you earn (and then some) there are some bad relationship habits going on in your life.
When we over-compromise ourselves, we take a step backward and betray our own authentic truths and desires. Every relationship requires a little compromise, but losing sight of the things you love in order to make room for the other person is never okay. True love never asks us to compromise who we are. Never.
Threats as manipulation and control.
Using threats as a means of manipulation or control is toxic and corrosive to any healthy, stable relationship. These threats might run along the lines of “if you cheat, it’s over,” and — while they’re not untrue — they’re not exactly true either, making our partner revert to hiding behaviors, rather than disengaging from them altogether.
Idealizing the other party.
Elaine Zukerman, an author, certified life coach and psychology professor, also makes the point that idealizing the other party in a relationship is toxic and dangerous for our wellbeing.
“In the beginning, many new couples view their partners through rose-colored glasses. Though a few extra compliments and some over-idealizing are normal, placing your partner on a pedestal can be emotionally dangerous. As soon as your partner falls into becoming an ordinary “human” (flaws and all), you will set yourself up for great disappointment. Also, a partner who is over-idealized may come to expect it and be disappointed — and even angry — if you don’t maintain the facade.”
Many of us grew up in turbulent homes and, as such, came to view mind games or emotional manipulation as a normal part of the process. These games are extremely damaging, though, and can destroy the trust and respect we should share with our partners. If you want to improve your confidence in your relationship, you have to do it by setting boundaries — not traps.
Where our bad habits come from.
Our bad relationship habits come from a lot of different places. As humans, we’re complex creatures and that complexity affects our emotions as well as our perspective and the way we see ourselves in the world and our relationships. From insecurity to childhood trauma and poor past choices. There are a million different places our bad relationship habits stem from, but these are the most common reasons we self-detonate our romances.
Low self-esteem or insecurity.
When we don’t value ourselves, it makes it impossible to see how anyone else could value us. That negative self-belief in hand, we seek out people who will tear us down or tear us apart, and so begins the self-defeating cycle that follows us from one relationship to the next.
Criticizing ourselves or focusing exclusively on our insecurities can lead us down some scary roads and it can cause us to lash out in some uncertain ways. When you’re used to seeing yourself in a negative light, you seek to prove that belief at all costs, acting out in your relationship in ways that leave you alienated and feeling worse than before.
Rejection is never easy to deal with, but it can be especially hard in an already-established relationship. If one partner feels rejected, dejected, inspected or dismissed, they will often act out by trying to even the playing-field. These feelings can be amplified if one partner (or the other) has also experienced a childhood in which these feelings were common; leading to a sinkhole of negativity that can be hard to escape no matter how strong your relationship might be.
For those of us who grew up in turbulent or abusive households, the concept of love is an elusive one and one that is often uncomfortable. When you start your life associating love with hurt, it can lead you to believe that these things are natural bedfellows — and it only follows that you’ll manifest the same behaviors in your own relationships.
Learning that it’s okay to be treated poorly leads you to seek that treatment out. In lieu of a lover who scorns or dismisses you, you might seek to dole out that treatment yourself; creating an environment that is at once hostile and comfortable, destructive and isolating.
A loss of self.
Losing touch with our authentic self has consequences that are far-reaching. When we lose ourselves, we lose sight of the things that matter. Our authentic self is where we find the key to our destiny, so falling out of sorts with it can lead to settling…rather than going what you actually need and deserve.
Settling leads to a cycle of bad relationships and happens only when we aren’t sure what our own standards and ideals are. In order avoid and endless cycle of superficial and wandering relationship, it’s key to get in touch with who we are on the inside, as well as the passions that inspire us to grow and change.
Looking for rescue.
Life is hard, and the worst part about it is that no one gets out of it alive. Getting overwhelmed by life’s hardships can drive us to look for rescue in some strange (and dangerous) places, that leads us to a dead end every single time. There’s no such thing as getting “rescued” by the knight in shining armor. You have to save yourself, and you have to put in the work in order to be happy.
How to break your bad relationship habits.
Most of us suffer from bad relationship habits to some degree, but that doesn’t mean that overcoming them is impossible. You can break most of your romance woes with a little commitment and a lot of brutal honesty, but it takes time and it takes a lot of work on the inside.
1. Get past your past.
Though we don’t like to admit it, our pasts have a lot to do with our presents. Even when we don’t realize it, the toxic relationship patterns we learn in childhood repeat over and over — so we have to take a good long look at those patterns and resolve them in order to stop them once and for all.
Sit down and take a good long look at your relationships past and present. Be brutally honest with yourself and take responsibility for the decisions and actions that led you to where you are. Consider what things from your past you’re still working on, and root out the issue until it’s fully at rest and at peace in your mind.
Mindful journaling practices are great for helping us get in touch with the traumas and emotions of our childhood in a safe space, but it’s also sometimes to consult a mental health professional. However you resolve your past, all that matters is that you do. Take small steps and work out your traumas one piece at a time. It took time to get you to this point, it will take time to get back. Accept that. Embrace the challenge. Move forward.
2. Learn how to listen.
If you’ve come to a crossroads with your partner, it’s important to listen to them (really listen) and hear what they’re saying — not just what you want to hear. When our bad habits have stirred up conflict in our relationships, we can often respond reactively to our partner’s reaction. Getting caught up in our emotions can lead us to block out what is really being said, only focusing on what we want to hear; be that good, bad or anything in-between.
Opening up the lines of communication with our partners is key in overcoming our bad habits and finding a path back to passion. That takes listening to what’s actually being said, though, and it takes listening bravely with both an open mind and an open heart.
3. Forgive yourself.
Though we play a huge role in the destruction of our partnerships, we have to learn how to forgive ourselves in order to make any real or meaningful change in any facet of our lives.
No one is perfect — ourselves included. While some things are our fault, not everything is. So, we have to be brave enough to forgive ourselves for the missteps and let go of the rest.
Forgive yourself for the pains and hurts of your childhood. Forgive yourself for the harsh words and the late nights and let go of other people’s baggage. Everyone has something in their past they’re ashamed of. Everyone has said something that they regret.
You’re not special in your pain or your self-loathing. If you want to get healthy you have to get past your hang-up’s and forgive yourself. Our subconscious mind might bring us to some dark places, but it can be mastered with some self-determination. Make the choice to forgive yourself and make the choice every single day.
4. Move forward.
Forgiving yourself is only one part of the process. You also have to pick yourself up by your bootstraps and accelerate forward past your mistakes and missteps.
Take the lessons that you’ve learned and know that you’ll make the right decisions moving forward. Learn to identify the triggers that bring you back to your worst habits and instincts, and know the difference between a healthy response and one that is caught up in things that are no-more.
5. Get up close and personal with your patterns.
Having an intimate knowledge of your patterns is key in defeating the negative habits that undermine our romantic partnerships. When we take a step back and take a good, hard look at our record of behaviors and decision-making, we can start to pinpoint the traits, characteristics and even symptoms that plague our spree of bad relationships.
Be brutally honest about your track record and write down the things that seem to follow when you find your romances self-destructing. Asking yourself a few questions can be key in identifying the negative patterns that keep you lonely and miserable, but honesty is key (and often the hardest part of the process):
- What do all of your past relationships have in common?
- Were there any tell-tale warning signs that you missed or ignored in the early stages?
- What reaction did these relationships bring out in you, and what kind of feelings did they inspire when they were at their worst?
- What triggers can you identify in order to avoid such behaviors, decisions and calamities in future?
These questions to hand, you can start to burrow down to the root of what drives you in your relationships. Is is a need or longing that can be fulfilled within? Was it a hope in some delusional result or ideal? You’ve got to do the work to find out, and no one has the answers but you.
6. Clarify your feelings.
Our emotions are a hard mountain to tackle, so — more often than not — we don’t; opting instead to ignore the way we feel as we stumble blindly from one faulty relationship to the next. It’s understandable. Our emotions are linked closely to some of our most vulnerable moments, but they have to be dealt with in order to define what we want from life.
Clarifying your feelings can help you understand, more intimately, what it is you actually want from life. Digging into your emotions can also help you let go of past hurts and even unlock intangible opportunities you didn’t know existed.
Putting it all together…
Breaking bad relationship habits is a complex process that takes a lot of time and a lot of understanding. The traumas of our past (along with the experiences of our present) can come together to create some truly appalling personal beliefs and affirmations that cause us to lose sight of who and what matters.
If you want to stop your bad relationship habits in their tracks, you have to start by identifying your feelings and understanding how they manifest through patterns in your life. Only when you get past your past, clarify your feelings and learn how to listen can you save your self-respect and your relationships — but that takes a conscious choice and a conscious effort every single day. Are you ready to put in the work it takes to save your relationships? You’re the only one who can make that choice.