7 Relationship Destroyers: The Characteristics of Unhappy Couples



Throughout my professional experience, I’ve noticed certain qualities in relationships that are less than healthy, and others that can even be toxic. While any one of these unhealthy aspects may not spell doom, it makes sense to eliminate as many as possible in your relationship. Do any of the negative characteristics listed below describe what’s happening between you and your partner?

1. Lack of joy, or lack of positivity, in the relationship. This quality can be observed in those couples who simply “go through the motions” of everyday life. Often, there may be very little interaction and connectivity in the relationship. Or it may be a relationship made up of complaints, criticisms, and negativity.

If the foundation of your partnership consists mostly of unpleasant interactions, the health of your relationship will be dramatically, adversely affected. According to Dr. John Gottman, well-respected researcher and psychologist, the ratio of positive to negative interactions in a healthy relationship should be a minimum of 5 to 1. Without the “buffer” of positive interactions, partners tend to no longer give one another the benefit of the doubt in their relationship. This can easily cause an escalating pattern of seeing the worst in one another.

2. Intolerance of differences. In virtually every relationship there are qualities or behaviors that rub each partner the wrong way. It may be overly simplistic, but couples basically fall into two groups: Those in which the partners learn to focus on other (more positive) qualities of each other, and those in which the partners become more fixated or stuck on each others foibles. Couples who become increasingly intolerant of each other’s behaviors, personality traits, or character “flaws” can end up at great risk of breaking up in short order.

Related in part to #1, they’re focusing on the negative instead of the positive aspects of their partner, which is a recipe for disaster. To learn more about how intolerance affects relationships, go here.

3. Righteous conflict. When each partner is primarily concerned with who’s right and who’s wrong, the relationship always loses. This attitude is a result of very poor communication skills and an inability to understand and empathize with each other. When each partner is more concerned with being right than in finding a mutually-acceptable compromise, the couples’ connection is destroyed over time.

4. Sweeping issues “under the rug.” This is connected to what Dr. Gottman refers to as “stonewalling,” and occurs when one person avoids conflict and shuts down from his or her partner. It sets couples up for increasing distance in their relationship. When this happens with any frequency, it does predict a breakup or divorce.

5. Lack of shared interests, hobbies or time spent together. Without common activities in a relationship, it only makes sense that a couple will grow further apart and their connection will continue to fade.

6. One or both partners’ individual problems are being ignored. If a partner is super controlling, a people-pleaser, drug dependent, an alcoholic, or suffers from depression (to name only a few unfortunate possibilities), it can cause major disruption in a relationship if the problem remains untreated.

7. Distrust. If there is a lack of trust in a relationship, or one partner has not worked through any distrust experiences that occurred in the past, it can erode a couples’ connection rather quickly. Not trusting your significant other often creates jealousy and insecurity, among other negative emotions. If not addressed, perhaps in counseling, these unresolved feelings of distrust can spell doom to the relationship.

The good news is, if you recognize any of these characteristics or qualities in your relationship, they can be overcome. If you feel you need assistance in doing so, seek professional help from a qualified therapist or couples counselor. Living together in a healthy, happily-ever-after relationship is definitely a goal worth striving for.

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