Happy Valentine’s day! It’s the time of the year where many of us start thinking about relationships. For myself, I have seen different types of relationships not only in real-life but online too. There are lovey-dovey ones, humble and quiet ones, dominant ones and many more. This leads me to ponder what makes a healthy relationship? And what makes a toxic one?
Is he/she the right one? Am I really happy in this relationship? Are our fights normal?
These are the questions I believe most couples ask themselves. The important thing to note is that every couple goes through hard times.
Counselling helps you identify toxic relationships
I think one of the most obvious ways to find out what type of relationship you are in, is through your daily life with your partner. For example, when handling troubles. When you and your partner have a fight or face a problem, what happens? Do both of you talk it out and be open about it? Or do both of you shut each other out and avoid talking about it? In healthy relationships, couples are able to admit their wrongdoings, and talk openly about it without having the fear of losing the other. However in toxic relationships, couples often refuse to apologise and admit their flaws, and just brush it off with no proper closure.
Toxic relationships are not only limited to physical abuse but emotional too. I have seen many relationships, especially in the traditional Asian settings, where emotional abuse happens frequently. And yet, some are clueless about these toxic ties in their own nutshell.
Signs of a toxic relationship from a counsellor in Singapore
- Constant Blaming – If you or your partner constantly blame the other when bad things happen but only take responsibility when good things happen, it is a sign of a toxic relationship.
In contrast, a healthy relationship is when both parties have a sense of responsibility when facing problems and can be understanding towards each other.
- Being Jealous or Dishonest – In toxic relationships, you or your partner might be over-possessive or jealous towards the other’s family and/or friends. This leads to misunderstandings and dishonesty. The toxic partner might tend to control the other by restricting their social circle.
In contrast, healthy relationships have an understanding towards each other and give one another personal space and freedom, allowing each partner to express their individuality while having shared moments together.
- Denial and Gaslighting – Toxic partners would deny the fact that they have a negative effect on the other. They tend to control and manipulate the events to make it seem that they are always right, which is gaslighting. Gaslighting means to manipulate a person psychologically to make that person doubt their perception and sanity.
In contrast, healthy partners would accept and own up to mistakes, and try to make a positive impact on the other.
One sign which I have observed from my interaction with in Asian families or couple relationships is guilt-tripping. In Chinese we call it 道德绑架, which translates to moral kidnapping. Many partners would restrict their partner’s freedom or actions by implying moral values. For example, the toxic partner restricts the other to go out and work, implying that if he/she goes to work, the house would be a mess, nobody to take care of the baby or the old parents. This leads to the other feeling guilty and takes the blame for being “selfish”. This scenario often happens in many relationships, and it is a sign of a toxic relationship.
Tips from a counsellor to getting out of a toxic relationship
Being in a toxic or unhealthy relationship does not spell doom. If both partners are able to recognise and willing to work on improving the relationship, there is still hope. We can always try rebuilding a toxic/unhealthy relationship or to learn how to build a healthier one in the future. Here are some tips:
- Be mindful: The very first step to improving a relationship is recognising that there is a problem. Learning to take a pause, reflecting on what’s going on, recognising each of your roles in the relationship, and wanting to consciously make change is the key to moving forward in a healthier way
- Try using open communication with your partner: A healthy relationship will require a lot of communication between partners to create understanding. Set aside time to speak to each other and try putting yourself in the other’s shoes when dealing with a problem. Use “I statement”, reflect what your partner is saying, listen instead of trying to defend yourself. Pause before responding.
- Being honest: A healthy relationship requires a lot of trust between each other, and honesty is the best way to achieve that.
- Be respectful: A healthy relationship involves respecting each other’s privacy and space (i.e. having healthy boundaries).
- Be affectionate and caring: A healthy relationship can also face fights or quarrels, but it is important to compromise and not emotionally abuse the other. Couples should show appreciation to each other from time to time to let the other person know how much you care.
If you have tried using our tips and tried working things out with your partner, but you still feel like you are in a constant battle or struggle in your relationship, it might be a sign that your relationship needs more help. One way to get a better understanding and improve your relationship is through couples counselling.
Research found that couples relationship education might help buffer the harmful effects of repeated conflict in close relationships. Couple counselling allows a professional to help you discover the root cause of your major points of conflicts, understand each other better, improve your communication and conflict resolution skills, and help determine your next step in the relationship.