Updated: Mar 3
Toxic relationships cause a lot of stress and anxiety for those involved. Whether your partner is aggressive, possessive, controlling, or narcissistic, the effects can be seen with decreased confidence levels and higher body mass index (BMI). But did you know that many toxic relationships are actually brought about by the unhealthy expectations that come from society? In other words: Your relationship isn't toxic because _____________. It's potential toxicity comes from societal pressures placed on men and women.
What makes a relationship "toxic"?
If there's one thing that toxic relationships have in common, it's that they are driven by social expectations. People in a healthy relationship expect their relationships will be happy and balanced. There is a balance between the expectations of society, and the expectations of a healthy relationship. Toxic relationships are pushed towards imbalance as society likes to portray men and women as needing each other to be happy.
We are brought up to think that we need this person, or that people need us. This causes us to have high expectations for the relationship. Feminists have pointed this out for years, but it applies to everyone. If we don't see examples of equality in our relationships and relationships around us, then we assume that equality is not possible. Because of this, women and men who are driven by societal expectations are comfortable playing traditional gender roles in their relationships. Many couples find themselves repeating the cycle of abuse they were brought up with in their own parents' relationships.
Beyond societal pressures, we also have internal social rules that cause jealousy and possessiveness. While jealousy is a natural reaction when a partner is interested in someone else, it becomes unhealthy when it's taken to the extreme and spills into all areas of life. This leads to an insecure partner, which eventually gets worse and worse, until the relationship starts to feel toxic.
Moving towards a healthy relationship...
We all have a small degree of possessiveness, but it's all about how we react to it. The person who has expectations that are driven by society will likely feel more possessive and jealous if their partner is giving attention to someone else. But someone who has expectations that come from a healthy relationship will be content with their own happiness and allow their partner the freedom they desire in relationships.
So what can we do to keep our relationships from becoming toxic? To start, it's important to understand that unhealthy relationships are not necessarily the worst things in the world. In fact, there are many benefits of toxic relationships. Many people have been able to heal from abusive relationships and still be happy. But toxic relationships often don't last long because of their instability. If and when unhealthy expectations are brought into a relationship, that relationship will only last for a short amount of time before one or both partners begin letting those expectations go and seeing their partner for who they truly are. This is why it's so important to know when something is causing you anxiety in your relationship and whether or not the relationship is truly toxic.
And for the hundredth time…
Relationships don't become toxic until the expectations of the relationship are unhealthy. If a partner is not giving you what you want from them, or if they show signs of aggression or possessiveness, this is not a healthy relationship and needs to be put in check before it gets out of hand. If you're going to apply an unhealthy expectation to your relationship, make sure that it's just an expectation and not a demand. Demands are ways that people try to hold their partners against their will. This can be seen in the way some women may have expectations on how they want their husbands to act and look - but they don't allow him his own freedom because they have demands on him. It's important to not make ultimatums or to try to coerce your partner into doing what you want. When you have expectations, you have to let your partner be who they are, even if that means things don't work out for the two of you.
Conflicts in a relationship happen all the time, but as long as there is communication and understanding between partners, then these conflicts will really help your relationship grow stronger. Instead of being toxic and destroying relationships, some conflicts can actually make them healthier! Some couples are able to find the balance between societal expectations and a healthy relationship - becoming more aware of their partner's needs while also maintaining their own identity in the relationship.
Takeaway that you really need to take "away" from here
If there's one thing to take away from this, it's that relationships don't become toxic until the expectations of the relationship are abusive. If your expectations are running away with you, and you're making demands, then it's going to be hard for the relationship to stay healthy. If things are getting out of hand, it's time to take a step back. When you have expectations that make your partner the object of your affection and you're constantly trying to force them into being how they were raised to be or into behaving in a certain way, this is when unhealthy comments start creeping into your life. With all the rules that society has put on men and women, it's inevitable that many of them will follow these rules in their relationships.
Written by Harshita Sevaldasani