As I wrote in my relationship book, Why Can’t You Read My Mind?, toxic thoughts are often silent relationship killers of intimate, loving relationships! Why are toxic thoughts so crippling to love? The answer is because they lead to what I call the 3D Effect (Distraction, Distance, and Disconnection).
Distraction occurs when relationship partners become internally preoccupied with negative thoughts about each other. They harbor these thoughts, often outside of immediate awareness. Intimate partners who are distracted by toxic thoughts may consequently feel their love has lost some intensity but they generally still value their mutual connection.
Distance comes into play when toxic thoughts wedge themselves between loving partners’ sense of “we”. Couples that get top heavy with toxic thoughts tend to start saying, “me”, “I”, or “You”, rather than “We”. At this stage of more intensified toxic thought seepage, relationship partners do not enjoy each others company as much. They may start to feel lonely as well.
Disconnection is apparent when partners no longer feel like a couple! These are the couples who come into to my office sharing that they feel more like “roommates” than as a happily and mutually committed couple.
So what are these toxic thoughts? Check out these thoughts below that can insidiously build over time and demolish relationships:
1. The All-or-Nothing Trap: You and lead to see your partner as either always doing the wrong thing, or never doing the right thing. (“He always has to be right!”)
2. Catastrophic Conclusions: One partner exaggerates negative actions and events concerning the other partner. (“She bounced that check and now we are definitely heading to the poor house!”)
3. The “Should” Bomb: One partner assumes the other will meet one or more of his or her needs—just because he or she should know that need. (“You should know how much I hate my job, even though I tell everyone what a great opportunity it is.”)
4. Label Slinging: You unfairly, and negatively, label your partner and lose sight of his or her positive qualities. (“You are so lazy!”)
5. The Blame Game: You unfairly, and irrationally, blame your partner for relationship issues, or bigger issues. (“My life only sucks because of you!”)
While there may certainly be kernels of truth underlying some of these types of toxic thoughts, it is the extent to which we distort, exaggerate, and overly focus on them that can suck the joy out of loving relationships.
The Key To Overcoming Toxic Thoughts
Being determined to look for, and then dwell on, your partner’s positive qualities and behaviors is the key to overcoming toxic thoughts about him or her. Happy, satisfied couples that do not get bogged down in toxic thoughts have a better, more realistic, and healthy way of thinking about each other. It is this way of thinking that enables such couples to improve communication, solve problems, and enhance romance.
This true foundation for a happy relationship, this elusive secret to your success, can only be found, or built, in one place—your own mind. [Let me add: You did not get into your relationship to be treated poorly, ignored, or abandoned. Being abused or denigrated, subjected to reckless spending, deprived of a sex life, or forced to put up with problematic, immature behavior is not what I’m asking of you. If this is occurring in your relationship, your partner needs to make major changes. Individual and couple’s counseling may be needed. And if your partner will not cooperate with counseling, you need to face the fact that he or she will probably never change, and then decide to try living with him or her the best you can, or move on to a new and hopefully more satisfying relationship. I am all for trying to save relationships, but in the face of repeated hurts and insensitivity, it may be best to move on.]
Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein is a psychologist with over 30 years of experience specializing in child, adolescent, couples, and family therapy. He holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the State University of New York at Albany and completed his post-doctoral internship at the University of Pennsylvania Counseling Center. He has appeared on the Today Show, Court TV as an expert advisor, CBS Eyewitness News Philadelphia, 10! Philadelphia—NBC, and public radio. Dr. Bernstein has authored four books, including the highly popular 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child (Perseus Books, 2015), 10 Days to a Less Distracted Child (Perseus, 2007), Why Can’t You Read My Mind?, and Liking the Child You Love, Perseus, 2009).