This post is a bit of a rant and a tangent combined but I still find it extremely useful. Read at your own risk.
The reasons why some people tend to romanticize toxic relationships can vary widely but what I've noticed over the years is that people that saw this type of behavior growing up tend to romanticize these traits more often than those that did not. So as we grow older, we tend to look for these things in our own relationships which result in romanticizing toxic relationships.
If a child views toxic relationships when they are growing up, there is a tendency to begin to accept these traits as normal and acceptable. Some people can even begin to yearn for these familiar feelings despite their toxicity because it’s all they learned about relationships from the people who were their first models for a healthy relationship, their parents. This can happen even if the parents are "playing". A child has no way of differentiating harsh play from real toxicity. Moreover, if the child's parents treated them with a certain level of toxicity it only serves to cement the idea that "this is how family and loved ones interact with each other". This can set the stage for romanticizing and searching for more toxicity in your life.
Fantasy of the perfect relationship
Moreover, a person can continue to look for that “perfect” relationship they yearned for as a child with their parent(s). If there was an emotional disconnect with them due to their parents being emotionally or physically incapable or unavailable to build a deep bond with a child, the child could continue to try to recreate this fantasy with other people in their lives which can leave the door wide open for toxic relationship traits. This is due to the child overcompensating to try to establish a connection. This is an open invitation for a toxic relationship because the person looking for connection will put up with almost anything to achieve their goal of establishing that deep connection they have been searching for for so long.
If a person's environment growing up was filled with chaos and drama, a person may continue to search for that “familiar feeling” in other relationships. Feelings such as the threat of loss, anger, uncertainty and other intense feelings can turn into a normal day-to-day affair. When this happens, you can begin to look at things through this lens and begin to shun the steady and predictable in the search to relive what is “normal” to you which in this case is chaos and emotional turmoil.
Similar to the examples we grew up seeing, TV shows, movies and other forms of entertainment serve as a source of information about how things should be in relationships. We are constantly inundated with messaging through one of all of these mediums of communication. The characters in the shows, movies, and even music we are exposed to from a young age can become our extended family of sorts. We see their lives unfolding in front of our eyes, we see how they handle (or mishandle) everyday issues and we tend to glean lessons about life from these forms of entertainment. How many times can we be exposed to the themes of revenge, double crossing, and infidelity before it becomes normal to us.
Hollywood further exacerbates this issue with the romantic notion of "forbidden love" and the stories of the good relationships being those intense relationships that "make you crazy" or that "you can't live without". We see this messaging over and over couple that with toxic messaging from parent (or teacher), family, peers, etc. in childhood and you have a recipe for not only romanticizing toxic traits but actually feeling like you are missing out if you don't have it in your life.
Here are some specific behaviors people consider romantic in relationships, but are actually toxic in nature.
This is the idea that when your romantic partner idolizes you, you are “doing things right” and when they demonize you or are mad at you then you are “doing things wrong” and need to change. Most of us want to be the protagonist of our stories. In order to do so, people have to like us. What’s more romantic than changing yourself to be more liked by your partner, right? Wrong! This is sometimes a way to say “stay in your lane”. Choosing your behaviors simply off of the idea that your partner may or may not like it can be a recipe for disaster.
Break up to make up
Roller coaster emotions, living on the edge, almost losing the love of your life but then at the last minute, we agree to try again. The gift of reconciliation can feel so romantic as if nothing ever happened or better yet, like you are starting from scratch.
Taking it to the brink
If your partner continues to take the relationship to the brink of disaster only to make things better at the very end, they may be testing boundaries. This can be very toxic and emotionally painful. Not to mention the feeling that someone is playing with your emotions almost as if your emotions don’t matter.
"We will overcome"
The idea that the only real romantic relationships are the ones that have to go through hell in order to survive. The idea that you need some sort of crisis in the relationship to be able to overcome and then reconnect better and stronger than ever feels like a living love story for the ages.
Threatening to leave
The idea that your partner may leave you if you do something unacceptable (to them) may sound like they are strong and clear in their convictions which feels very romantic on the surface. What if they are simply not committed to working things out and plan to run away at the first sign of danger.
We can’t have a list of toxic relationship traits without mentioning this one. Have you ever had someone reach out to you to “connect” only to have them turn everything around and end up in a major argument. You’ve just fallen for the oldest toxic trick in the book.
It doesn’t stop there, they will tell you that all they tried to do was talk to you and you ruined everything. This is an obvious form of gaslighting which is one of the most toxic of all traits that gets romanticized all too often. Another simple example of this could be when your partner consistently asks you your opinion of something only to end up telling you that you are wrong and trying to prove how their opinion is the right one.
Here are some healthier alternatives to how we should think about these specific behaviors.
If you are being severely ignored or otherwise treated badly because you forgot to get the fries that your partner asked you for, there may be a problem here. If you feel like now you have to make it up to them in order to redeem yourself for "being so stupid" and forgetting, you are romanticizing the whole situation...and there's a problem.
We should be loved for who we are and not for every act we may get wrong or right. Having a clearer picture as to what is reasonable and not reasonable for people to react strongly to can be useful in this type of situation. People who decide how much they love someone based on the “what have you done for me lately?” can be a big red flag in relationships.
Break up to make up
Why is this even happening? If someone treats you in a horrible way and then believes that buying you a puppy can make everything right, there is a problem. There is a point in the relationship or at a certain age that we no longer want to play the game.
Strongly define what it is that you want out of the relationship and ask yourself the difficult question. Do I truly believe that this person is capable of fulfilling this definition? If they continue to play with your emotions in this manner, they may have some unresolved issues or they are playing with you and you should probably get out as soon as you can.
Taking it to the brink
A less severe but no less toxic trait is when a romantic partner is always taking the relationship to the brink of ruin only to make things right at the last minute right before you take action. This is probably a person that has problems with boundaries. This is another roller coaster relationship trait that breeds insecurity and fear in your life.
We will overcome
Choosing a partner with the idea that you will both help each other fix each other is a recipe for disaster, not to mention filled with the message of codependency. Each person needs to take care of their own issues on their own in order to be better suited for a healthy relationship. Healing together sounds like an amazing idea until you begin to see that this may be a way to skirt taking full responsibility for their own healing.
Threatening to leave
The behaviors that send the message of “I am not dealing with any of this” may seem to be coming from someone who is strong, healthy and has their priorities together. Oftentimes the threat to leave becomes a scapegoat for keeping you in your lane. Behaving in a way that they feel is right and when you get out of line, the relationship is in danger. Once again your relationship cannot hang in the balance over every one of your behaviors. No one can act perfectly all of the time. If you feel that this card is being overplayed, listen to your intuition.
Constant and repetitive toxic behavior can drive anyone to breakup but one behavior and your done is usually more a type of manipulation than a healthy relationship standard
The feeling of possible abandonment is one of the most romanticized toxic traits that I have seen. People feel as if the deep feeling of loss is a direct reflection of how much you love your spouse/partner. In reality, it could simply be us playing out the childhood pain of being left (or ignored) because we did something bad. This in turn causes many people to begin behaving in a way that "makes things better" in the relationship. Once again, many people cannot distinguish between when someone is mad (and then ignoring them) for legitimate reasons or if they are manipulating their feelings to get them to act in a certain way.
Being asked a question only to be shown how you are wrong each time is a mathematical impossibility. There is no way on this earth that one person can be wrong all of the time while the other person is always right. If this is happening in your relationship there is a severe imbalance of power going on. If your partner is constantly pointing out that you are wrong in your decisions or that their version is always a little bit better, you can ask yourself if they NEED to feel better about themselves by putting others down. This could be a sign of someone with pretty big self-esteem issues.
Depends on the type of relationship you are actually looking for. Not every person views every relationship as a long-term situation. Sometimes people understand that they are simply getting together for the time being and there is sometimes that quiet understanding that this will not go anywhere.
Ultimately, we all want to feel loved and appreciated. Striving for a fun, respectful, trusting, reciprocal and spontaneous relationship is usually touted even by the most toxic among us.
Healthy behaviors in relationships
Practicing healthy boundaries
Building trust and security in the relationship
Reciprocation and balance
Clear communication in a respectful manner
Acceptance of who we and the other person are. Not the idea of what you would like them to be.
You win some, you lose some
Finally a relationship that is enjoyed and not survived should be what we ultimately strive for!