How to tell the difference between love and toxicity

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To love someone means to accept them fully, with all their flaws and all. This is the definition of love. Over the years, certain behaviors, rituals, and symbols have become synonymous with this all-encompassing notion of an eternal bond – such as the institution of marriage and complete non-judgment of your partner.

This rigid, binary view of love can make it difficult to see the many grey areas. It is possible to indulge in bad behavior and even allow others to do the same.

Research in mental health has shown that love can be different than what it looks like in movies, books, or music. These are the three most common mistakes people make when they look too rigidly at their intimate relationships.

#1. You’re too quick to make sacrifices for your partner

Sacrifice is a natural part of most relationships. It is also honorable. But does that mean it has to always be selfless, or even necessary? ResearchIt is not true.

“It’s certainly honorable to put aside one’s own self-interest because of your partner or your relationship,” explains psychologist Francesca Righetti. “However, our research shows that there is a difficult aftermath for both the giver and the recipient.”

According to Righetti’s research, this is often what the aftermath looks like:

  1. Because they have to give up their goals and preferences, the giver has lower well-being. Sacrifice is a highly prosocial and costly behavior.
  2. Mixed feelings are left for the receiver. The receiver is grateful and feels loved. However, they may also feel guilty or indebted.

Although sacrifice can have an impact on both partners, women are more likely not to feel well after they have made sacrifices. This is because sacrifices are often seen by them as their duty and not their choice. These women may experience both the costs and the benefits of sacrifices made in the relationship.

Righetti suggests these steps to avoid the hurt that sacrifice can cause in a couple:

  1. Focus on what matters most. You are more likely to feel unhappy and less fulfilled if you concentrate on the losses you have suffered after a sacrifice. Look at the positive side of the sacrifice. For example, if you look at how happy your partner is, what they can learn from it, or being proud to be such a generous person.
  2. Rethink the need for sacrifice. Sometimes, sacrifices are necessary in order to keep a relationship alive. You can avoid them with some planning and adjustment. For example, while moving countries to support your partner’s career change is valid, sacrificing your own weekend to accompany your partner to their parents’ house when you don’t want to might be unnecessary.

#2. You’re too lenient in ‘letting things go’

Sometimes, our loved ones can be unethical or potentially dangerous. These situations require us to be completely honest with our partners and ourselves – but it is possible that we fail to do so because we love them.

“When someone close to us behaves unethically, we face a conflict between upholding our moral values and maintaining our relationship,” explains psychologist Rachel Forbes of the University of Toronto in Canada.

Forbes’ Research found that people often experience a deep ambivalence when responding to their significant others’ unethical actions – possibly because of people’s tendency to share a sense of identity with their loved ones:

This ambivalence comes at two costs:

  1. As a by-product of lenience, the self seems to bear some of the burden of the misbehavior – feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and guilty about their partner’s actions
  2. If they aren’t called out, the significant other may continue to engage in the same behavior. This can lead to abusive relationships that result in extreme concern.

For people who might be struggling with being honest about their loved ones’ misbehavior, Forbes has the following advice:

“The ambivalence we feel when confronted with close others’ bad behavior is difficult to reconcile,” says Forbes. “When faced with a loved one’s unethical behavior, it’s important to reflect on our moral values and whether the act itself fits within those values.”

#3. Your relationship is built around utility

If we love someone, we will choose to stay in a long-term relationship. However, there might be (in more cases than we would care to admit) other considerations – like the status of the family they belong to, how they can help us achieve our own goals, and other financial and material perks.

While considering someone as a resource isn’t completely wrong, it can be a problem when it is the foundation of one’s relationship.

Psychologist Xijing Wang refers to this approach as an ‘instrumentality perspective,’ which is a dimension of objectification, i.e., viewing a person as an object. Under an instrumentality perspective, people are degraded as pure tools whose function is to facilitate others’ goal achievement. We only care about the utility of a person to us if we adopt an instrumental approach.

Wang cites 2 reasons why this approach may have negative effects on intimate relations:

  1. No partner is “useful” forever. People’s goals can differ substantially during different stages of life and thus the “tools” they need can vary. This means that although B might be useful to A in achieving a goal, it can be difficult for B to be continually useful to A. A will eventually feel disappointed if A expects B to be always “useful”.
  2. It is possible for your partner to feel isolated. Your partner may view instrumentality as a sign that they don’t have intrinsic value or can only do what they can to help you reach a goal. According to Wang, being treated in such a callous and depersonalized manner by one’s partner can be unbearable.

If your partner is judging you from a utilitarian view, it is important that you realize that this is not your fault. It should not affect your self-esteem. This is because goals are what motivate people, and an instrumental approach to social relationships can become a default mode, even in intimate relationships.

It is important to have an honest conversation with your partner or loved one. This can directly impact your self-image and well-being.

Conclusion:A partner that stays with you through thick or thin is a blessing. You need to be open to listening to your partner and evaluating the relationship honestly so that it doesn’t become a prison instead of a sanctuary.

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