‘When people don’t introspect about what they have done, they tend to believe the other person is responsible for what has happened.’
‘It’s always easy to blame someone else than look at your shortcomings,’ say mental health experts as they explain why relationships turn toxic.

Why do marriages become difficult?

Why do fights between couples cross the limits of decency?

Why does their relationship turn toxic?

In any situation, there is always an action followed by a reaction.

While we are quick to judge a person based on her/his reaction, it is equally important to understand what might have triggered it.

One must understand that there are certain rules set by a couple. There’s also a certain conditioning that creeps in. Some of it happens through mutual consent, some as time passes. This helps a couple navigate through their differences and find a common path.

When this balance is disrupted, or when the boundaries are trespassed intentionally or unintentionally, it leads to conflict.

If these conflicts are not addressed on time, it encourages problematic behaviour.

In the second part of a series on understanding and fixing toxic behaviours in relationships (read part 1 here) , experts point out the various factors, people and situations that influence unfavourable behaviour in couples.

According to Delhi-based relationship coach Kanchan Rai, if a person is in a toxic relationship, s/he will most certainly never realise it.

Mental health coach Anu Krishna adds that if toxic behaviour is not addressed or confronted, it will — over a period of time — dull your perception of what is right and wrong to the extent that you may lose your sense of identity and beliefs.

Toxic traits may be different when it comes to men and women, explains transformational coach Dr Ashish Sehgal as he lists some of the leading causes and factors influencing bad behaviour in Indian couples.

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Most relationship experts agree that one of the common factors influencing toxic traits in men comes from patriarchy.

“Blame it on the values passed on from generation to generation but most Indians love patriarchy and the culture that comes along with it,” says Dr Sehgal.

With patriarchy comes male supremacy and controlling and narcissistic behaviour.

“The feeling of ‘I’ over ‘We’ or ‘Us’ can be damaging in the long run,” says Dr Sehgal.

In his observation, “the culture we have learned though patriarchy consciously or unintentionally influences such behaviour.

While we tend to accept patriarchy at work, at home and in our society, the minute it feels inconvenient, we call it toxic, he adds.

Krishna shares an example to help us understand this better.

“If a person — a male or husband for example — has been conditioned through patriarchy, certain behaviour patterns, values or relationship rules might seem very normal to him.

“It can be chores like cooking or cleaning or distribution of responsibilities or dressing patterns, religious rituals, tone of speaking, etc…

“In patriarchy, the conditioning by culture is so strong that he will resort to any sort of behaviour because his belief is so strong. If you confront him, he might even respond by saying: What is the big deal about this behaviour/reaction?”

In such a situation, he might even convince his partner that he is right in whatever he is doing.

However, if a woman has been brought up differently, in a more favourable or equal society, she might find certain kind of male behaviour toxic.

Krishna further explains how toxic behaviour, caused by conditioning, can be incidental and temporary; it can also be misinterpreted, she says.

“If you see a child rolling on the floor, you know s/he is throwing a tantrum. Anyone would instantly call it toxic behaviour.

“But we also know that s/he is doing so to gain your attention. Now, whether this is an isolated incident or something that occurs quite frequently is what will define how toxic or harmful that behaviour is.”

Past traumas

Past traumas or stressful incidents of abuse or disrespect experienced as a child or as an adult can trigger unfavourable responses or behaviours both in men and women.

Rai says that, under such circumstances, it is important to seek the help of an expert to understand whether the behaviour you are facing from your partner, or inflicting on your partner, is toxic.

“It must be first confirmed by an expert before you take a decision to work on it.”

Habitual offenders

Incidents of lying, cheating, spying and stalking are common traits observed in men and women.

However, if an individual constantly resorts to dishonest means of communication, it is important to understand what might be influencing that behaviour.

According to Krishna, a lot of human behaviour has to do with the conditioning and experiences we’ve had as children.

“Why do people lie? It could be because s/he was maybe never rewarded for her/his honesty as a child. The person then grows up believing it’s not safe to be truthful so s/he begins to lie or hide things.”

Women in India, according to Dr Sehgal, display a different level of toxicity.

“In their own minds, women get into a comparison mindset and justify that ‘I am doing this because I am entitled to this (love, care, respect)’. And not necessarily because the person has done something to deserve it.

“Or it could come from a sense of entitlement, the feeling that ‘I am entitled to everything — respect, love, care, no matter what others think or do’ is common, particularly among women.”

“For men, the reaction is of offence; for women it is usually justification,” notes Dr Sehgal.

Having worked with hundreds of individuals from different walks of life, he further explains how toxicity can be closely related to narcissism.

“Any person who is unable to understand and respect another person’s space may have narcissistic traits. For her/him, the boundaries of other people become dull or problematic.”

As per Dr Sehgal, one of the primary causes of this behaviour is a lack of adulting in men and women.

“What is adulting? It’s the transformation of a person from a sense of entitlement to a sense of responsibility,” he explains.

“When people don’t take responsibility for their own emotions or introspect about what they have done, they tend to believe the other person is responsible for what has happened. It’s always easy to blame someone else than look at your shortcomings.

“At some stage, this feeling starts eating you. It affects the self first, then it affects the other person. When it is not addressed on time, there is a big conflict.”

The other influencing factor, Dr Sehgal says, is a general lack of empathy.

With the right intervention, all of these factors and behaviour can be corrected. Nothing is impossible.

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