Relationships are tricky. They can be confusing. We can easily mistake a rough patch for a red flag and overreact unnecessarily. Or, we can fail to react when we see a red flag because we’re mistaking it for — or rationalizing it as — a rough patch.
See the problem?
Since each relationship is unique, we can’t always gauge how one will play out from another, and we can’t always reach into our past for guidance, especially if our past is riddled with mistakes. Yet, there are similar patterns we can rely on that have been tried-and-true when our relationship is in a transitional phase, versus when it needs to end.
- Rough patch: There’s no push-pull. A push-pull is defined as a toxic combination of intermittent positive and negative reinforcement that has one partner “chasing” and one “running” each time attachment trauma, or early core wounds are triggered. There may be a ‘time out’ where each partner has their own necessary space to process, to reflect, and to respond, without reacting. Healthy relationships allow for this without overstepping personal or relationship boundaries.
- Toxic relationship: The push-pull dynamic is in effect, which is one of the biggest red flags of a toxic relationship. One partner pushes away, the other pulls towards, or any related dynamic (both pushing/pulling in unison). This is often a result of unresolved childhood wounds that shaped an insecure attachment style (Avoidant, Anxious, or Disorganized), and now plays out in how we approach fears of intimacy, the beliefs we hold about ourselves, or in what we were taught as “normal” in a relationship.
- Rough patch: There aren’t discards, cheating, or hidden agendas identified by narcissistic self-interest. If the relationship ends, both partners are respectful of the other, and give each other a decent parting of ways. Partners use a separation as time for introspection and self-improvement instead of jumping into another toxic situation. They recognize that their role in the relationship ending, and take accountability for their part in it.
- Toxic relationship: Cheating, overlapping relationships, an inability to be alone, or discarding and quickly replacing partners is very common when issues arise or Ego is threatened. Our relationship issues often trigger unresolved core wounds, so when a relationship is toxic, unresolved trauma or core attachment wounds being triggered, also triggers the need to “run” and escape the relationship while finding something to replace it with.
- Rough patch: These are solution-focused relationships where not just any “bandaid” will work. Partners address the issue together while hearing and respecting the other person’s perspective. Values and boundaries are not violated. Solutions and options are tested out until one is chosen that works for both partners and is agreed upon.
- Toxic relationship: Uses problem-driven options where ‘any’ option is used to silence partners, avoid intimacy or minimize communication such as stonewalling, avoidance, emotional numbing, tuning out, etc. Instead of a solution being found, a bandaid is used to patch the issue, until the next time it happens, and other bandaid is used.
- Rough patch: Building intimacy is key (communication, shared moments, quality time). Partners are interested in not only learning “who” their partner is, but in learning how to balance their need for interdependence, with their need for independence, without feeling threatened or rejected. All emotions are recognized and respected as necessary, including vulnerable emotions.
- Toxic relationship: Toxic positivity replaces authentic emotion, emotional vulnerability, and authentic emotional connection. “Get over it” and “move on” commonly identify this mindset, and the other person’s emotions and needs are ignored or minimized.
- Rough patch: Communication remains intact where the practice of nonviolent communication and reciprocity are in effect. Each partner learns how to communicate their needs without overstepping the other person’s needs or boundaries. Learning how to “fight fair” is the goal when the relationship is based on authentic connection.
- Toxic relationship: Communication is severed or filled with sarcasm, avoidance, invalidation, silent treatment, contempt or criticism. Emotional immaturity is the overarching theme in toxic relationships where one, or both partners are ill-equipped to handle mature intimacy, and emotional expression without core wounds, regression, denial, rationalization, or projection taking a front seat.
- Rough patch: Emotional and physical intimacy are equally important in building and maintaining the relationship. Sex is used as a guide to increase emotional intimacy, tap into sexual connection and authenticity between to people, but not as a way of replacing it.
- Toxic relationship: Sex is the “go-to” behavior that often happens as a way of replacing emotional connection, to fill emotional voids, or when things get “boring” or “predictable”. Common in toxic relationships are turning to other things (porn, cheating, fetishes, etc.) to “fix” the relationship instead of focusing on core issues such as whether the couple is emotionally, psychologically, or intellectually compatible.
- Rough patch: Communication and putting the partner’s basic needs ahead of their own helps reduce emotional unavailability and build intimacy. Each partner understands that they need to know where their own unmet needs may be, and how their unmet needs have affected their attachment style, and relationship patterns. This helps each partner build a solid foundation in helping support the other person and their own growth.
- Toxic relationship: One or both partners are emotionally unavailable. Emotions are ignored, overlooked, neglected or undermined, and unmet needs remain, unmet. Because things like attachment styles and core wounds trigger vulnerability, unmet needs are seen as something to be ignored or denied. In toxic relationships, things like trust, security, stability, safety, and authentic connection are not examined, leaving both partners vulnerable to re-experiencing these unmet needs.
- Rough patch: Each partner recognizes their part in the relationship struggles and has full accountability for their behavior. Accountability is used as a way of promoting solutions, and not to shame a partner. When each partner owns up to their mistakes, their shortcomings, and their unmet needs, it solidifies the foundation of the relationship.
- Toxic relationship: Pointing fingers, lack of accountability and shifting blame are part of toxic relationships. In this situation, partners don’t take responsibility for their habits, choices, or unhealed wounds which keeps the relationship stuck in a toxic situation where neither partner is willing to grow, or emotionally evolve.
This post was previously published on Hello, Love.
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