Many of us have been watching the ongoing (and very public) defamation battle between Johnny Depp and his ex-wife, the actress and activist Amber Heard, with a great sense of sadness. As the two, who were once so fiercely in love, try to drag one another’s names through the mud in the wake of their divorce we’re reminded that even those whose lives seem perfect can experience the same problems that we do. Accusations of everything from hurtful words to physical assaults have been made all-too public. Yet, upsetting, the fans of both actors have tried to make this heartbreaking parable of good love gone bad about choosing sides. About which of the two deserves the most blame. Which of the two “started it” and which deserves to be the most seriously penalized.
But this mentality completely misses the point.
What we should be doing is mourning the fact that these are two people who so clearly bring out the worst in one another. But this can be hard to see, especially when you and your partner are so besotted with one another that you have each other spellbound. And when alcohol or illicit substances enter the equation, as was the case with Depp and Heard, it can be a recipe for disaster. In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the signs that you and your Significant Other may be bringing out the worst in one another, and that it is in danger of toxifying the relationship.
But before we begin…
It’s entirely possible for two people who are very much in love to find that their relationship has become toxic. And upon finding out that you’re in a relationship that has gone awry, your first instinct may be to end it. But while this certainly may be the case, you should be wary of making rash decisions. There may still be a lot left in your relationship that’s worth fighting for. And having identified the problem, you may be able to support one another to be the best versions of yourselves. This may be easier and more effective with someone by your side than doing so alone.
That said, if someone routinely makes you feel unsafe or demonstrates abusive behaviors, you certainly shouldn’t feel as though it’s up to you to “fix” them and endanger your health or wellbeing to do so. You need to know when it’s best for everyone for you to get out. But you also need to know when to work together to repair the damage your behaviors have done.
With that in mind, here are some of the signs that you and your SO may be bringing out the worst in one another…
Disagreements get really ugly, really fast
What a bland and boring world it would be if we all agreed on everything. Still, there’s a right way and a wrong way to disagree. Sometimes, we can ger very defensive about our ideals, our lifestyle, our families and other things that matter to us. And when we feel that they have been attacked, especially by someone who professes to love us, we can react with our claws out and our teeth bared.
And when your SO knows how to press all the right buttons, it can lead to some spectacularly heartbreaking emotional fireworks. Disagreements about the most pointless things can result in raised voices, pointed fingers and hurtful words. In some cases they may even result in physical altercation.
It’s easy to see why this isn’t sustainable. Perhaps you and your partner need to work together to employ some Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques to control your anger and address your negative thoughts before they result in damaging actions.
You enable one another’s bad behaviors
This one can come from the most innocent place, but if left unchecked it can create serious problems in the relationship.
There’s a fine line between indulging and enabling.
For instance, buying your loved one a big box of chocolates can be a wonderful way to show you that you love them. But if you know that they’re struggling to lose weight and have a love / hate relationship with sugar, it’s easy to see how even a benign and thoughtful gesture can turn bad. Likewise, giving your whiskey-loving spouse a crystal decanter for their birthday can be a lovely and thoughtful gift. But if you know that they’ll be pouring from it daily at the expense of their health and your relationship, it’s easy to see how this can go awry.
Nobody likes to have to two the line with their partner. And everyone loves to see the one they love happy. But you need to recognize when you’re endangering one another’s health and wellbeing. You may need to attend couples rehab together, especially if you and your partner are perpetuating a cycle of dependency on alcohol or elicit substances. When fun and laughter turn to side-effects, shame and regret, you know something has to change.
You are always in competition with one another
Some of us are competitive by nature. And in many aspects of our lives, this can be a positive thing. A little healthy competition in our work lives, and our hobbies can be good for us. It can bring out the best in us and prevent us from resting on our laurels. It’s even fine to make light-hearted jokes about who’s the better driver or who can run the fastest. But competition can have a nasty side, and that can toxify even the healthiest relationship.
Yet, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of unhealthy competition. You use the nice things you do against your partner when they don’t reciprocate (more on that later) or, worse still, use things that they’ve done wrong (and been forgiven for) against them.
Competition can be a slippery slope that leads to resentment, anger, manipulation and emotional blackmail. And expecting a relationship to flourish in this kind of environment is like expecting a rose to grow in an atmosphere of nothing but exhaust fumes.
You have a cycle of performative generosity
Speaking of competition, an unhealthy competitiveness in your relationship can sour even the nicest gestures and toxify the things that are supposed to bring you together. Gift giving should be a wonderful way to show your loved one that you care. But in some cases, it can become a cycle of one-upmanship. Gift giving stops being about making your SO feel good, and becomes an exercise in trying to make them feel guilty for what they got you, or making them feel under pressure to “outdo” you when the next birthday, Christmas or other gift-giving occasion rolls around.
This kind of passive aggressive gift-giving is often done with the intention of modelling to your partner that you expect them to make an effort. But while this is understandable, it’s an inherently flawed model. If your partner doesn’t rise to the occasion when it’s time for them to reciprocate, you’ll feel angry and resentful. But if they do bring it to the yard and hand you a present with real wow factor, you’ll always wonder of they did it because they truly want to, or because they felt like they had to. And that’s a really dismal feeling.
When this cycle is left to perpetuate, it can make both parties angry, resentful, miserable and broke. No material possessions will be enough to compensate you for that feeling.
You use your past as an excuse
Many of us come into a new relationship somewhat battle scarred from our last attempts to create a life with somebody.Which is why it’s never a good idea to get into a new relationship until you’ve truly put the last one behind you, learned from it and decided that you’re ready to move on.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. And if you see your current partner displaying behaviors that remind you of your ex, you may subconsciously fear that history is repeating itself. As such, you mighty find yourself preemptively reacting to something that they haven’t done yet, overreacting and / or pushing them away.
However, using your ex and your past as an excuse can also toxify your relationship, especially when you’re both doing it. You need to promise one another that you’ll work together to solve the problems in your relationship, instead of against one another.
You’re stuck in the same place
And finally… Does it seem as though everyone else is getting married except you? Are you still living separately at a point when many of your friends are moving in together? Do you find that your friends and family members visit you less often? These can all be signs that you’re stuck in a rut, and neither of you knows how to move things forward in the relationship.
Of course, not every couple has to get married, move in together or have kids. Every person has a different metric for what a successful relationship looks like. And if it feels like you’re stalling, perhaps you’ve both stopped making the effort to keep your relationship moving forward towards shared goals.
Have you found yourself in a toxic relationship? How did you handle it? Let me know in the comments below!