Bad habits can separate healthy from unhealthy couples

Tara Blair Ball

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I grew up believing a healthy relationship was all about finding the right person. If a couple wasn’t healthy, it simply meant they weren’t “soulmates.”

What I’ve learned, as both a human and as a Relationship Coach, is that healthy relating skills are learned. Some of us are lucky enough to learn them as children from our parents and caregivers. Some of us (me included) learned them with the help of a therapist or coach, and some of us never learn them at all.

While having positive habits is important, not having bad habits is what really separates healthy from unhealthy couples. Below are 7 things healthy couples don’t do.

1. Assume.

Our brains have a negativity bias. This means, more often than not, that we’re going to assume the worst.

When our partner comes home from work, distracted and distant, we might wonder, Are they mad at me? Or, worse: have they stopped loving me?

Unhealthy couples assume. They assume their partner meant something underhanded or unkind or that their partner purposefully forgot or acted maliciously.

Healthy couples ask instead of assume.

Instead of making up a narrative of why their partner seems distracted and how it’s connected to how they feel about them, they skip the obsessing and jump right to asking.

A helpful thing to say would be something like, “You seem really distracted tonight. Is everything okay? I’m making up you’re mad at me.”

More often than not, what we make up isn’t true. The only way we can find out the truth is by asking.

2. Criticize.

Dr. John Gottman, a well-known marriage therapist, calls criticism “an assault against your partner.”

None of us respond well to criticism. Most of the time, criticism uses words likes “never” and “always,” which are two of six words you should stop saying in your relationship.

You never listen to me. You’re always so thoughtless! are just a few of the things unhealthy couples say.

Criticisms attack your partner’s character or make sweeping judgments.

Healthy couples complain instead of criticize.

They point out the behaviors that are a problem, but don’t apply it to their partner’s character.

3. Abuse.

There are many forms of abuse, and none of them are ever okay, whether it be verbal, emotional, physical, psychological, etc.

Abuse is never love. A relationship that has abuse is not a relationship that also has love. A relationship that has abuse is ALWAYS unhealthy.

Healthy couples compliment instead of abuse.

A compliment shows our partner we care about them, why we fell in love with them, how great we think they are. Nothing could be more opposite than abuse.

4. Invalidate.

“It could be worse.”

“At least I didn’t…”

“I don’t know why you feel that way.”

“Just don’t think about it.”

“You’re overreacting/too sensitive/being dramatic.”

All of these statements tell your partner that their feelings are wrong. Feelings aren’t rational. They just are. Someone can’t necessarily stop how they’re feeling. They can simply not choose to base their actions on them.

Unhealthy couples make statements like the above to each other.

Healthy couples validate each other’s feelings instead of invalidate them.

Healthy couples validate each other’s feelings with statements like,

“I’m sorry I hurt you.”

“It sounds like you’re having a tough day.”

“What can I do to help?”

“It makes sense that you feel that way.”

“Help me understand why you feel that way.”

5. Lie.

Unhealthy couples lie by omission (not sharing something “unless they’re asked”), fudge the truth, or outright tell untruths. Emotional intimacy and closeness have to be built on honesty, and couples that skirt the truth or deceive prevent that from happening.

Healthy couples tell the truth instead of lie.

Telling the truth is never easy. It often means we have to deal with being vulnerable or other uncomfortable emotions, but healthy couples know it’s the only way to truly build something special. It’s also important to note that being honest without also being loving is brutality.

6. Reject.

When our partner makes an attempt to connect, the worst thing we can possibly do is reject their overture.

Here are examples of how an unhealthy couple would respond:

“How was your day?”

“Terrible. Leave me alone! Can’t you see that I’m busy?”

“I’ve been missing you. Can we have a date night sometime this week?”

“I haven’t seen my friends all month. Why does it have to be this week?”

Healthy couples connect instead of reject.

Here’s how a healthy couple would respond:

“How was your day?”

“Terrible. I need some alone time right now. Can we talk in an hour?”

“I’ve been missing you. Can we have a date night sometime this week?”

“I haven’t seen my friends all month, so I’d like to see them too, but I’d love to have a date with you this week.”

Yeah, we’re all going to have bad days, but our partner should know that their bids for connection will be accepted instead of rejected MOST of the time.

7. Stifle.

If you water a plant too much, it’ll drown.

The same is true for relationships. You can stifle both your relationship and your partner by constantly needing their time, attention, energy, etc.

All of us need time to ourselves to decompress, process, evaluate, think, envision, brainstorm, etc. Further, we need support and space to be able to have our own lives separate from our relationship.

Healthy couples nurture instead of stifle.

Healthy couples have their own individual friends, interests, desires, hobbies, etc. They understand that everything they do on their own works to improve their relationship and their time with their partner.

Healthy couples nurture each other by allowing both people to have the time and space to be their best selves possible.

No couple is perfect.

Healthy couples will definitely do unhealthy things from time to time because that’s just part of being human. We all make mistakes! The difference though is that healthy couples don’t let one-offs become habits.

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Certified Relationship Coach and Writer. E-mail: tarablairball@gmail.com

Memphis, TN
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