Are we confident to admit when our behaviour alters from healthy relationship habits?
I was re-reading the first chapter of the book, The Incurable Romantic, when I paused at: “Her abnormality was quantitative rather than qualitive.” Written by clinical psychologist Frank Tallis, the opening pages describe a previous patient who suffers from Clérambault’s syndrome: a mental illness where a sufferer falls in love with someone, they’ve had little to no contact with, and feels certain the person also loves them. Often, cases involve a woman falling for a man.
Tallis describes the obsessive behaviour his patient (known as Megan in the book) forms. She stalks her unrequited lover, waits outside his work place, keeps a shrine of his old possessions (business card, pen, newspaper photograph). Prior to this syndrome, Megan’s life was rather ordinary – married, working in a stable job.
Articulately, Tallis compares the delusional thinking and actions of Megan, with the irrational experiences love-struck couples engage in. We may not stalk our crushes outside a workplace, but how many of us stalk through social media. Most of us don’t dedicate memory boxes to our early lovers, but more than a few of us will scatter our phones and photo frames with boyfriend/girlfriend pictures.
In psychological terms, from what I’m aware, separating normal and abnormal is a case of deciding percentages. Factoring whether our behaviour fits in with how other ‘normal’ humans behave. In a world where most of us want to stand out; mentally, we want to blend in.
What do we count as healthy relationship habits?
To source this answer, it helps to know what counts as unhealthy. HuffPost spoke to relationship experts (therapists, professors, psychologists) and comprised a list of bad relationship habits. In summary, the piece links negative habits to insecurity, not paying attention, and dominating power.
As an example, one habit mentioned: “Constantly asking your partner if they love you”, rises from low self-esteem, wanting to seek validation. It’s the supposed romantic way of asking: Can you please tell me I’m good enough and lovable enough, and that my self-doubt doesn’t actually reflect your feelings.
This I believe because I’ve been that person. I use to say I love you all the time, desperate to have a partner say it back. I needed constant reassurance that I was wanted. Later when I spoke to Guru Ashta-Deb, I said to her, “For some reason, I don’t really say I love you anymore, unless I’m saying bye to someone”. And she told me that was self-growth. It meant I was becoming more confident with my emotions.
Through the many websites I’ve scrolled, healthy relationships habits also do not include:
- Keeping score: tracking each time a partner does something right or wrong. (Prevention.com)
- Fighting due to stress: Creating an argument because you’ve had a bad day or want more intimacy. (York Region Psychological Services).
- Hiding important feelings from a partner. (Bustle)
- Believing physical acts like smashing plates during an argument shows passion.
- Collectively: trying to make a partner jealous, being passive aggressive (silent treatment, avoidance), consistently placing blame on who you’re with, threatening to breakup, trying to change a partner to fit your ideal.
If the person we love contributes to our anxiety, causing fear and unhappiness, or if we do things in our partnerships based on our own worry, fear and anxiety, most-likely we’re going against healthy relationship habits.
Expecting too much from our partners
In my view, much of our relationship problems today stem from overly high dating expectations. Wanting our other halves to take on every role to fulfil us. It shouldn’t be a partner’s role to build our esteem.
In healthy relationships, when a person feels their partner doesn’t offer them enough compliments, they openly communicate that they’d appreciate more praise. On the opposite side, an unhealthy situation involves self-criticising in front of a partner, hoping they will magically read your thoughts and offer you the compliments you’d like.
Healthy and abnormal blur – thinking something is okay
An old friend depended on her boyfriend for somewhere to live. I thought he was emotionally abusive and extremely controlling. As she was a light-drinker and quick to get drunk, he banned her from alcohol. Though not in a loving manner – he threatened to either kick her out or give her the silent treatment when she didn’t stick to his orders. He worried that her drinking may lead to her flirting with other men. It wasn’t about her own health and well-being.
Yet my friend chose to see his behaviour as caring. Yes, he ignored her when she didn’t obey, but that was okay because he was looking out for her.
If we become use to particular habits, do we stop realising that they’re bad?
Think about stalking… imagine a person you’re dating hiding in some bushes as you go to grab lunch, or stalking your friends to find out what they’re like. You’d think you were dating a creep. Despite that if you apply these actions to social media, they begin to feel okay. Many of us check in with our partners, not because we like their content as such; we merely wish to know 24/7 what they’re doing and who they’re with. Sometimes in relationships, we become so adapted or use to certain actions, that just like with social media, it becomes a new norm.
Related read: Instagram Stalking: Our Crazy Obsession
So, when considering healthy relationship habits, take a step back and analyse what behaviours you’re repeatedly doing that negatively impact your relationships, and what your current or past partners have done that have negatively impacted you. Realise that healthy bonds form from positive emotions, comfort, trust, happiness, openness and acceptance.
What do you think are the biggest healthy relationship habits? Are you guilty of committing some of the bad ones?