After being in a toxic marriage, I had no clue how to be in a healthy relationship. I’d read plenty about “healthy relationship habits,” but I’d never experienced them, or if I had, I’d immediately ruled them out as weird or wrong.
Toxic relationships rewire our brains and desires. We mistake the “familiar” for “healthy,” and thus, the “unfamiliar” for “unhealthy.” But in order to move forward, we have to quit trusting our screwy instincts and instead rely more on outside instruction.
To help you with this, here are some actually positive relationship habits.
1. Not talking every second of every day.
In my marriage, I responded to my increasing feeling of anxiety over our poor communication by upping how often I reached out. I most often barraged his phone with text messages about…anything. What I saw. What I was doing. That I’d seen something. That I’d like to do something.
If he didn’t respond immediately or in a “reasonable amount of time” (which, to me, had to be in less than 10 minutes), then I’d send a flurry of more messages.
Now that I’m in a healthy relationship, this is not something I even think about doing. We text, call, or e-mail when we have to or like to. Neither one of us does it because of a fear response.
We’re secure enough in our relationship to understand that the other has stuff going on and that we aren’t the other’s only priority. We have self-care, friends, careers, hobbies, and children that may need to move to the forefront at times, and that’s okay.
If you or your partner needs to be in contact contact with the other, then your relationship is like a building on fire and you better rush to douse it with some water (have an honest conversation about boundaries, needs, etc., see a couples therapist, individual therapist, break-up, etc.).
2. Not telling your partner everything
I think some fibs are okay to tell your partner. I don’t think we have to operate like we’re always drinking truth serum. Your partner doesn’t need to know whenever something inconsequential happens in your life or if you hate something they do.
My partner is annoying sometimes, and surely he thinks I am too, but we don’t have to tell the other that or lash out meanly.
If you can’t be both honest and loving at the same time, then just keep your mouth shut. The person you’re with is human. They’re going to make mistakes or do stupid things, and you don’t have to call them out for every single one. Deal with the small ones on your own, and address the bigger issues with your partner as they come up.
3. Being honest
While we don’t have to share every thought we have in our goddamn heads with our partners, we should work on being honest with our partner on things that matter.
If they’re going to a job interview wearing sweatpants, tell them they should change. If you don’t like the comments they’ve been making about your mother, voice that, and/or set and keep boundaries on what is and isn’t okay.
Unhealthy relationships develop when we start tip-toeing around the truth.I don’t like it when s/he screams at me whenever we fight, but I can’t tell her/him that because s/he won’t like it. NO.
Be kind, but also be clear.
Also: if you feel like you have to tip-toe around your partner regularly, shit isn’t right.
4. Going to bed angry
Things always look different in the morning light. I don’t care what your fight was over, I promise it will look better in the morning.
My ex-husband and I, though, followed the popular advice of “don’t go to bed angry.” This meant really fun screaming matches late into the night, each of us saying whatever nasty thing we wanted to, and then passing out exhausted only to hate the sight of one another in the morning.
My current husband and I understand that nothing is going to get resolved after 9pm, so we don’t even bother. We give each other space. We fall asleep, and then we can think more clearly in the morning and actually address it then with a lot more kindness.
5. Not feeling “completed” by your partner
While it’s a lovely image, it’s a sad one and really hurtful to the happily single. You are not half a person if you aren’t in a relationship. In a healthy relationship, two whole people are walking along the same path together.
Only in codependent relationships do one or both parties feel incomplete and rely on the other to “fill” them up. They become enmeshed and over-attached.
Work on yourself as individual, and choose a partner that works on themselves as an individual. Don’t live a half-life waiting on or being with a half-partner.
6. Having your own interests, hobbies, friends, etc.
If you’re two whole people, then you’re going to have separate interests, hobbies, friends, etc. If you’re two half-people, then you’ll share every goddamn thing, and that’s gross. GROSS.
Get a life you like, and enjoy it. Your partner can support you in what you like, but they shouldn’t be your sole interest, hobby, or friend. They should have their own magical life too. If you’re each an individual, you’ll have a healthier, more well-rounded relationship.
7. Practicing self-care
When I’m overwhelmed, I need to get away from people. I need a walk in the woods or a long hot bubble bath, but in my first marriage, I was afraid to because I feared being separate from my partner. My anxiety meant I neglected myself for the relationship.
But now that I get that time to myself, I realize it’s good being selfish in that way. I’m a better human, lover, wife, mother, etc. when I’m getting my needs met. I can’t give anything to anyone if I’m empty myself.
The same is true for my partner. If he doesn’t lift heavy things multiple times a week, he’s a cranky unlikable monster.
When we practice self-care, we’re also practicing self-love, which in turn helps our self-esteem. It also helps us build on that “whole person” thing we want, instead of assuming someone else is going to take care of our half-needs.
8. Breaking up if it’s not working
My ex-husband and I had only been dating like 3 months when we started going to couples therapy. Not because we wanted to get a jump on healthy habits to build something better than we had before, but that because after 3 months, things were already fucked.
There are some relationships that no matter how much couples therapy you attend, self-help books you read, popular advice you follow, etc. it’ll never work. It’ll always feel like uphill drudgery.
The kindest thing we could have done for one another was break up that 3 month mark instead of dragging it on for another nine years.
If shit isn’t working (and you should have a good gauge of that if you’re practicing self-honesty), let it go and move on. It’ll be the healthiest decision for the both of you.
Too many of our relationship habits are based on what we saw growing up or in popular culture, but we can’t always rely on those as good role models. If you’ve previously practiced mostly toxic or unhealthy relationship habits, these may feel weird to put into practice. The best part, though, is that these healthy habits can lead to a much more satisfying relationship.
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