No one ever said relationships were easy. And if they did, they were horribly off-base. Indeed, many people seem to struggle through their relationships, replicating the same insidiously toxic (yet human) patterns time and again.
But even for those of us who do happen to possess a dash of hard-won self-reflexivity, bridging the gap between identifying our patterns and actually changing them is no easy task, since many of our patterns stem from childhood. The good news: if you’re willing to see yourself, you’ve got the will change.
Here are 3 common toxic relationship patterns and a few tips on stepping back, regrouping, and refreshing for a different outcome.
1. Clinger & clingee
Your relationship feels imbalanced. You may’ve found yourself repeatedly on one end of the dynamic, or perhaps you’re susceptible to both roles. One person feels they can’t get enough quality time, while the other needs space. And as the intricacies of human nature would have it, there’s nothing that makes someone feel more clingy than a partner who seems to be floating away.
When the “clinger” tightens their grip, the “clingee” tends to run for the hills. But it bloody-well takes two to tango, and chances are you’re both hardwired. Are you used to running away from emotional bonds? Or clinging for fear of abandonment? While many find themselves overly reactionary, the best move is to stop reacting. If your partner wants alone time, let them have it. If they want more time together, plan a hangout. Relationships thrive when both try to understand the other’s needs — no matter how outlandish they may initially seem.
2. Parent & child
If you’re sharing finances, a home, and/or children with your significant other and find their behaviour either irresponsible or overbearing, it can really put a strain on your bond. Maybe you’re in the habit of scolding them for rash spending habits or seeming unwillingness to pull their weight, and you resent them because you feel you’re being forced to act like a parent.
Or maybe you feel your partner is talking down to you and treating you like a child, causing you to act out. Either way, intimacy is usually the first thing to go. The best thing you can do is take a step back and try to foster a strong sense of equality. Rather than falling into the parent-child trap, reprogram yourself to talk to your partner as if they were your roommate. Try to avoid just taking care of a problem yourself to save time, as this only feeds the beast.
Sometimes referred to as a “relationship addiction,” codependency is often characterized by one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive dynamics. While pleasing another person is not inherently bad, you may start to feel like you miss your old self, and the things that person used to care about. You may even feel like reverting to those behaviors would upset your partner or the balance of your relationship.
It’s possible your partner has also made unhealthy sacrifices. The thing is, resentment builds when you don’t recognize your own needs and wants. A great way to start taking baby steps away from this is to choose one thing a week you truly want to do and share it with your partner. Best case scenario: you rediscover yourself and your relationship in far more honest, rewarding ways.