4 Unhealthy Relationship "Tips" That Can Make Your Relationship Worse

Megan Holstein

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What makes relationships work (and what destroys them) is a topic research psychologists and clinical therapists have been studying for a few decades now. There have been many important findings.

But for some reason, most of us don’t get our education about relationships from the authorities. We get it from online articles, astrology readings, and the advice of friends and family. Not surprisingly, we are often led astray. For every nugget of wisdom, there’s another of pure folly.

This article is about four common nuggets of pure folly people come to believe about how relationships should be, and why they are so toxic for your love life.

#1: “If You Fight That Means You Care”

This relationship cliche is often used as a platitude for people who are going through periods of conflict with their partners. “Well,” they say, “It’s not so bad. If you fight, that means you care.”

No, that’s not what it means. If you fight, that means one or both of you don’t have the relationship skills necessary to handle conflict without it escalating to fights. That’s it.

It’s true that healthy partnerships do involve conflict. No two people agree on everything all the time. If your relationship seems to have no conflict or disagreements at all, that’s a warning sign of its own. But healthy people are able to work out conflict without it escalating to shouting matches, personal attacks, or other out-of-control behaviors.

The only thing fighting is a sign of is weak conflict resolution skills, for both you and the person you’re fighting with.

#2: “If He Loved You, He Would Feel Jealous”

Or, “If he loved you, he would want to be with you,” or “If she loved you, she would do this for you.” Or “If they loved you, they would [insert thing here].”

When I was fourteen years old, I had a crazy strong crush on a boy in my class. It turned me into a little lunatic. I deduced his entire class schedule based on when I saw him, “ran in” to him in the halls to talk to him between classes, and took frequent walks around my neighborhood that would happen to pass by where he lived.¹ Even today, ten years later, I still remember how powerful my feelings for him were.

This boy was a friend of my friends, and we got along, so we became friends too. Then I found out he had a crush on… another girl!

Most people report feeling jealous or heartbroken when this sort of thing happens. I did not. Like, at all. I simply thought to myself in my fourteen-year-old way Well, I have a crush on him, so I want him to be happy. He says she makes him happy. So I’m going to help him get her. Any time they were together, I did what I could to get them in situations alone. Sure, I was sad he didn’t want to be with me, but it was so mild I don’t even remember feeling it.

You can’t know how someone feels based on prescriptive rules about how people “do” and “don’t” or “should” and “shouldn’t” act if they feel a certain way. Everyone is different. If you want to know how someone feels about something, ask them.

If asking them is not possible, consider what you know about them as a person. For instance, I’ve dated men who consider sex and love to be two different things. For them, the frequency or intensity of sex was not an indicator of the strength of their love at all. I’ve also dated men for whom sex and love are one and the same. For them, to ask for sex was to ask for love. I’ve also dated men who just didn’t really care about sex in the first place.

You probably know your partner pretty well. If you take a moment and think about things rationally, you will realize you probably already know what you need to know.

#3: “Never Go to Bed Angry”

My God, I hate this advice. I lived this advice for a few months in a high-conflict relationship and it made things ten times worse.

Trying to resolve conflict when you’re angry is a terrible idea. The best thing to do is always to wait until you’re feeling better, then try to talk about things. This can take anywhere from an hour to a few days. This means if you start fighting at 9 PM and you’re still angry when it’s time for bed, go to bed angry. You’ll wake up in the morning feeling a lot less angry (so will your partner, by the way) and you’ll have a much better chance at resolving your conflict.

In the past, I didn’t do that. I would say “We have to resolve this argument! I don’t want to go to bed angry!” All that would happen is the argument would get ten times worse, as I said. Then I would go to bed angry and on the couch. How lame.

4: “You Should Be Able to Tell Your Partner Anything”

You should feel emotionally safe in your relationship. Of course. But expecting to be able to tell your partner anything, whenever you want, is expecting perfection no human will ever be able to give.

You are a human with needs, weaknesses, and flaws. Sometimes you can be a great listener and kind human being, but sometimes you do not have the emotional resources to provide that kind of support for people. Sometimes you need to set boundaries and say “I can’t deal with this right now.”

Well, your partner needs the same thing. If you are with someone for long enough, eventually the time will come when you say “I am extremely upset and need your support” and your partner will say “I am sorry, I can’t support you right now,” for whatever reason. Despite being in a relationship, you will have to weather your distress alone.

There may also be subjects you simply can’t bring up with a partner because it will trigger them. No matter how much they want to support you, they may simply find the topic too distressing to discuss.

Last but not least, there may be some things you can’t discuss with your partner because you disagree about it and conversations about it are never constructive. You won’t be able to talk to your partner about these things, no matter how much you want to, because it will simply end in an argument.

For years, I thought this meant my relationships were bad. If we were truly meant to be, I thought, we wouldn’t experience conflict like this. We would be able to share anything with each other. We wouldn’t have to struggle to connect like this. I wasn’t looking for a relationship, I was looking for a mind-meld. Talk about unrealistic.

Not being able to discuss certain things, or have discussions at certain times, doesn’t mean your relationship is bad. That’s all or nothing thinking. All this means is you’re a flawed human in a relationship with a flawed human. That’s life.

Footnotes

1: Don’t worry, it never escalated to more than that. I was obsessed, but I also respected people’s right to privacy and autonomy.

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Self-help writer with 3M+ views on Medium and Quora. Covering personal growth, relationship skills, and career growth.

Columbus, OH
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