7 Relationship Habits That May Not Be As Toxic As We Thought

Toxic relationships have existed since the beginning of time, spanning from Romeo and Juliet to Rachel and Ross. In recent years, though, talk about toxic relationships has taken over. Over 1 million posts on Instagram use the #toxicrelationships hashtag, and on TikTok, the #toxic hashtag has racked up 46.4 billion views (and counting). Off of social media, too, "toxic" has entered our everyday vocabulary — Oxford even chose it as its "Word of the Year" in 2018.


This is mostly good news. People have become privy to red flags in a way daters may not have in the past, and as a result, they're raising their standards and refusing to fall for harmful relationship habits.

On the other hand, there isn't one clear definition of what's "toxic" and what's not. "As far as I know, it's not an actual psychological construct that has validity and reliability," psychotherapist Jack Worthy revealed to The Atlantic. Translation: What your favorite influencer or online coach calls "toxic" might be harmless — or even healthy — in relationships. Here are seven relationship habits that might not be as poisonous as they seem.

Being needy

Healthy relationships require some space and individuality to thrive, so when one partner is regularly barraging the other with requests for help or quality time, it can look like a toxic case of neediness. But as psychotherapist Minaa B. writes on Well+Good, "There is nothing wrong with having needs, communicating them, and expecting them to be met within the scope of your romantic partnership." She explains that relying on a partner is a good thing and that it's unrealistic to try to meet all your own needs without help from others.


The reality is that everyone has needs, whether they express them or not. A "needy" partner might just be good at directly communicating their desires without playing mind games or beating around the bush. The alternative — burying personal needs or hoping the other person will be able to accurately predict them via mind-reading — often triggers resentment and disconnection.

And FYI, while having needs isn't toxic, calling someone "needy" can be. Minimizing a partner's needs or suggesting they have too many can be a sign of gaslighting in a relationship.

Expressing anger

Anger has earned a pretty bad reputation, and it's easy to see why. When people are angry, they might lash out, call their significant other names, or even turn to physical abuse. These actions are never okay in a relationship, no matter what happened to trigger the angry response.


However, anger itself isn't a bad thing, and it's likely to show up at least occasionally in even the happiest partnerships. "We are allowed to express anger because it is a natural emotion," therapist Dr. Reshawna Chapple told TalkSpace. "Anger is an indication of fear, frustration, or helplessness." In other words, feeling angry might tip you off to an area that needs improvement. Ignoring it could stifle your relationship and lead to more hurt and frustration later.

According to the American Psychological Association, non-toxic expressions of anger involve overcoming the urge to behave aggressively and, instead, respectfully stating what upset you and what change you'd like to see. It's okay to admit that you're angry, but your anger should never be weaponized to seek revenge or emotionally wound the other person.


If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Staying with someone you're no longer in love with

Falling out of love is something many long-term couples fear, and staying in a relationship that seems to have run its course sounds depressing at best and toxic at worst (after all, what good can come of staying with someone you no longer get butterflies for?). The typical prescription for a loveless relationship: End it before anyone gets hurt.


However, it's critical to understand the difference between limerence and love. Limerence — what many call being "in love" — is common early in a relationship, when you're completely smitten for your new boo. You might obsess over them and yearn for their company when they're not around. By contrast, love emerges over time, after those initial feelings of infatuation fade and you accept your partner as they are.

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that passion and obsessiveness usually decline the longer two people stay together, as does romantic love (though romantic love often bounces back years later). But rather than simply falling out of love, couples usually develop a greater sense of friendship — and really, what's so toxic about that? As long as you go into relationships with realistic expectations and an understanding that it's normal for feelings to change over time, it might not be such a bad thing to stay with someone you're no longer head-over-heels for.


Keeping secrets

Secrets only belong in toxic relationships, where lovers cheat and don't truly respect each other, right? Not exactly. Sure, some information should always be disclosed between partners — that includes your STI status, your intentions in the relationship, and anything else that could impact the other person's physical or emotional safety. And let's get one point out of the way: Straight-up lying can destroy trust in a relationship. Still, keeping secrets isn't always toxic.


As Joyce Marter, a licensed psychotherapist, shared with Shondaland, "We should not be expected to share everything with everyone, and it is appropriate to pace the amount of information you share with various people in your life." If you're still in the early stages of a relationship and don't feel comfortable opening up about a sensitive personal detail, that's okay — you're entitled to your privacy. As the partnership progresses, you can decide when's the right time to divulge.

When choosing whether to keep your lips zipped, consider how the information could impact the relationship. If you're embarrassed about some extra body hair, for example, and don't want your S.O. to know you wax it regularly, it's fine to keep it on the down-low, since it has little impact on your relationship. Even a crush on a coworker can remain a secret, as long as you never pursue it. But if the secret could shape your future as a couple, it's best to come clean.


Accepting that your relationship may not last forever

People have, on average, five or six relationships before finding "the one" (via Her). Of the couples that marry, nearly 42% are expected to divorce, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When you consider these stats, it's clear that most relationships won't stand the test of time. Yet many people buy into the fairytale of "forever," to the point that those who don't may be called "toxic" or "uncommitted."


This doesn't mean you should go into every relationship expecting it to fail. That can lead to a pattern of avoidant attachment that prevents any relationship from getting off the ground. But accepting the unpredictability of love and romance — and being willing to end things when they go south — can be much healthier than latching onto a bad relationship. "Some people stay [in a toxic relationship] out of a sense of loyalty," Matthew Verdun, a licensed marriage and family therapist, explained to The Zoe Report. "People who grew up believing they have to be attached to 'the one' for their lifetime but were never taught how to identify 'the one' are especially susceptible to this."

If a relationship starts to feel forced (or, more critically, unsafe) and you realize that you and your S.O. need different things in life, remember that it can be much more toxic to cling to "'til death do us part" than to let go when needed.


Putting yourself first

Relationships require sacrifice and selflessness, at least to an extent, but that doesn't mean it's toxic to prioritize your personal needs and wants. In fact, a 2020 meta-analysis published in Psychological Bulletin found that making sacrifices in a relationship lowers personal well-being and has little effect on the relationship, and costly sacrifices may actually be detrimental to the relationship. So though there might be times when it's necessary to suffer a loss for the sake of your relationship, bending over backward isn't always worth it.


When sacrifice involves self-betrayal — where you ignore your needs and tell yourself that your feelings don't matter — it's unlikely to end well. This habit often fuels anger, resentment, and feelings of powerlessness and victimhood, as psychotherapist and codependency expert Sharon Martin told Healthline.

Even if you've always believed that it's toxic to put yourself first, know that there's nothing wrong with prioritizing your feelings. Besides doing yourself a service, you might also be saving your relationship from future conflict and power struggles.

Arguing often

You argued with your partner today, bickered last weekend, and ran into a major disagreement the week before. Before you decide to call it quits over how "toxic" your relationship has become, note that arguing on a regular basis doesn't always indicate incompatibility. There can even be benefits to arguing with your significant other. Dr. Joseph Cilona, a licensed clinical psychologist, pointed out to Glamour, "There is no one correct formula when it comes to frequency of conflict, and there is no one correct way to navigate conflict that's right for all couples."


If your partner tends to initiate tense talks more often than you'd like, it might just mean they have a different conflict resolution style (there are five types, according to the Thomas-Kilmann model, including competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding, and accommodating), based on how they were raised or their past relationship experiences.

The most important thing to watch out for: toxic communication habits during arguments. Name-calling, interrupting, blame-shifting, and below-the-belt jabs have no place in your relationship.