Every relationship is a dynamic mixture of two energies – positive and negative ones.
Positive energies are the energies of connecting, sharing and loving. They bring people closer. Examples of positive energies are touching, making love, having deep talks, exchanging useful information, working on team projects, having fun together, sharing resources, offering mutual support, and so on.
Negative energies as the second dynamic are thoughts, words and actions that bring distance and tension in relationships. Negative energies are the energies of disconnecting, excluding, hating and alienating. Below are examples of negative energies in relationships.
I call them drama in one word.
- Hiding the truth
- Verbal fighting
- Physical fighting
- Passive aggressiveness
- And so on
Negative energies are present in every single relationship. It’s a matter of the yin–yang principle and the duality of life. Positive can’t exist without negative. There is no good without bad. And in everything good there is just a little bit of bad, and in everything bad there is just a little bit of good.
Here are a few examples. If you eat too much chocolate, you get sick. In the same way, if you spend too much time with someone, like 24/7, a relationship starts to get stifling. And there must be a little bit of friction and conflict in a relationship. It brings passion, creativity and growth to both parties.
Nevertheless, there is a limit to how much negative energy is too much. There is a point when too many negative energies make the relationship a toxic one. Then the relationship becomes abusive, destructive and life destroying.
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It brings nothing but the negative and drama into the lives of everyone involved. That’s why it makes sense to constantly pay attention to how much drama there is in every personal relationship in your life, especially the key ones, and to manage drama properly.
The DNA of a relationship is set in the first 90 days
In the startup world, there is a saying that the team’s DNA is set in the first 90 days. A-level people attract A-level people. Smart people attract other smart people from different domains and industries.
Every startup has its own DNA, which is considered a combination of culture, processes, competencies, vision and other elements. The DNA is nothing but a mixture of its leaders’ DNAs. You can find the same phenomenon in personal relationships, especially in two ways.
Birds of a feather flock together. People who like drama attract people who like drama. If somebody doesn’t like drama, they cut people who cause drama out of their lives. Ambitious people attract other ambitious people. People who like to whine and complain spend a lot of time with other people who whine and complain.
Analyze people in your life and they always reflect a part of your personality. Much like parts of your personality are reflected in other people’s lives. So change yourself and you can change others. Change yourself and new people will come into your life. Find a new group of people and you will become a new person. It’s that simple.
Men/women are like kitchen tile. If you lay them right the first time, they stay there for the rest of your life. It’s a stupid example, but it shows very well how the DNA in an intimate relationship or any other relationship is formed. The beginnings of every relationship are extremely important and they set the tone of the relationship for the rest of its existence.
In the first 90 days, the culture of a relationship gets shaped. Boundaries, general attitude, communication style, common interests and the things you do together, locations where you spend time together, relationship vision, and so on. Once the relationship DNA is set, it’s extremely hard to change it. It can be done, but it’s extremely hard.
If you observe a little bit, you will see that with the same person things usually evolve and operate on the same pattern. You do the same things together. You talk about quite similar topics all the time. You go to more or less the same restaurants or types of restaurants. You have the same types of fights, and so on. That’s the relationship’s DNA. It’s a collection of the relationship’s core patterns.
If a lot of drama develops in the first 90 days, because both parties encourage or allow it in one way or another, there is a great probability that drama will be a dominating force for the rest of the relationship.
The first 90 days are crucial for the direction into which a relationship will go. So make sure that you set the right boundaries and the right culture from the beginning. Making changes later in a relationship takes incomparably more effort and hard work.
Every relationship is a dynamic thing, for sure. It can be changed later. People change their preferences and values. A relationship’s DNA is no guarantee for anything to be as it is forever and it’s not completely predictable. But it definitely sets the general tone of a relationship. Now let’s get back to drama.
How much relationship drama is just too much?
As we said, there is some level of drama in every relationship. In every relationship’s DNA, there are chromosomes that cause tensions, destructive interpersonal patterns and misunderstandings. But the question is: how much drama is simply too much?
If we want to find the answer, we need a few metrics that can help us determine how toxic a relationship is. Since relationships are not math, it’s a completely subjective assessment, but we can still get a good sense of quality of every relationship.
The metrics that measure the level of drama are at least the following (I read that somewhere on the internet and found it a brilliant idea, so I developed it further):
- Type of drama and level of destructiveness (intensity)
- Frequency of drama
- Average duration of drama
Type of relationship drama
There are different levels of destructive patterns in relationships. In other words, there are things that can be forgiven and things that shouldn’t be acceptable at all. Some things hurt more than others.
It definitely depends on you what is acceptable to you and what hurts you the most, but we can try to set a general scale from the most destructive type of drama to the most forgivable one.
Ground zero is having a normal human discussion with someone. Then we can continue with heated discussions and small fights that are quickly under control. But already in the next step, we have different types of drama that at some point get out of control and can even escalate all the way to physical abuse.
Here are different types of drama:
- Physical abuse: Hitting a person, strangling, scratching, kicking, smacking, throwing objects etc.
- Verbal abuse: Humiliating, scolding, making fun, insulting, passive aggressiveness, criticizing, sarcasm, mockery, threatening etc.
- Betrayal: Cheating, lying, having double standards, manipulating, stealing etc.
- Behavioral abuse: Ignoring, evoking jealousy on purpose, rudeness, controlling etc.
You can find 50+ types of drama in the template you can download at the end of the article.
I suggest you make your own scale of what is tolerable to you, what you can deal with and where is the limit when a behavior becomes completely unacceptable to you. A deal breaker. If you don’t want toxic patterns to repeat themselves, you have to draw the line the first time it happens.
When it happens the second time, you just leave.
Frequency of relationship drama
The second important metric is the frequency of drama or, to be more exact, the frequency of different types of dramas. Frequency is extremely important and here is why.
Causing drama is a bad life decision. What leads to a general poor quality of life is making a series of bad decisions, stupid decisions. You can make a big stupid decision, like driving drunk and getting into an accident, or you can make small daily stupid decisions, like smoking a pack of cigarettes.
Even if small stupid decisions don’t seem as hurtful as the big ones, they accumulate over time and can have an even greater negative impact than big stupid decisions. The best thing is obviously to avoid both, big and small stupid decisions, but frequency matters because it accumulates. It’s the same with the frequency of drama.
Everyday cynicism, criticism and small fights can be as hurtful as big abusive fights that happen from time to time.
You want to avoid every toxic combination: frequent big drama and frequent small drama. Drama should be the exception in a relationship, not a rule. It’s completely up to you to decide where is the limit when an exception turns into a rule. Nevertheless, we again need some metrics to get a better perspective.
You can simply measure how often drama happens in every one of your relationships. It can be:
- Constant never-ending drama
- A couple times per month
- A couple times per year
- Never – which is usually also not a good sign
What you’re looking for are exceptions that cause drama. Somebody had a bad day or got thrown out of their emotional center. Being extremely tired lowers tolerance levels, and so on.
At the end of the day, tough times are real relationship tests. They aren’t toxic drama, they’re real-life tests. But what you want to avoid at all costs is a repeating pattern of constant drama in a relationship.
Average duration of a relationship drama
A monster grows with time. Drama grows with time. You want drama in your relationship to be short and to turn sweet as quickly as possible – into a smile, hug, deep conversation or make-up sex. The longer the drama lasts, the more your precious life is being wasted.
Simply measure how long a drama lasts in different relationships you have in your life:
- A few minutes
- An hour
- A few hours
- Maybe even a few days
- Seems like forever
Together with the other person in a relationship, you have to find a way to make every drama last as short as possible. There are many tools you can use to achieve that, but that’s a topic for the next article.
What is acceptable to you?
As we discussed, every relationship has a certain DNA. The DNA as a blueprint of a relationship consists of patterns that repeat themselves over and over again, unless a person is really prepared to change things when the relationship gets toxic; or both of them, to be more exact, since there must be two people to create drama.
It rarely happens that people are willing to change, but sometimes it does. In my past, I tolerated and created a lot more drama than is acceptable to me today.
In very healthy relationships, drama occurs a few times per year, it’s always a controlled one that doesn’t do serious emotional damage and it lasts for an hour or so at most. Under rare circumstances, spikes can happen, but they must be a big exception not a rule.
The type of drama, frequency and duration – you have to decide what is acceptable to you. You have to decide how much drama you will create in relationships and how much you will tolerate. Try to get the drama creation from your side to be as low as possible and then show the other person how to do that.
There are many mechanisms for achieving that:
- Compliment people and tell them you love them (5 – 7 compliments to 1 critique is a healthy ratio)
- Express your expectations and boundaries with values
- Be straight with other people, apply the radical candor philosophy
- Develop superior communication skills
- Don’t let debates escalate in a negative direction
- Treat others as you want to be treated
- Try to solve problems immediately
- Apologize when you make a mistake
- Learn to accept yourself and others as they are
Although we know many drama management tools, from time to time you meet a drama queen or drama king, and then it’s usually time to let go and move on.
Sadly, people create drama in relationships because that’s the only way they know, they had dramatic relationships at home with their parents. But only when people are willing to change, only when people are willing to find a new better way, can you really help them and show them how to improve and how to grow.
Relationship drama assessment template
Below you can download a template that will help you evaluate how much drama there is in your relationships in life. It will help you get a clearer picture of how healthy a specific relationship is. It won’t give you an exact answer, but you’ll get the general idea. The template includes 50+ abusive behavioral patterns.
- Relationship drama assessment – Template (xls)
So many people prefer to live in drama because it's comfortable. It's like someone staying in a bad marriage or relationship – it's actually easier to stay because they know what to expect every day, versus leaving and not knowing what to expect. – Ellen DeGeneres