Society, the media, and our families can all put pressure on our relationships. Forcing your relationships to meet certain expectations can be toxic!

Forcing your relationship to follow a timeline can apply toxic pressure.
Forcing your relationship to follow a timeline can apply toxic pressure. Photo by mentatdgt from Pexels

Toxic Relationship Pressure #1: The Biological Clock

I hate the phrase “the biological clock is ticking.” This cliche refers to the fact many consider it dangerous to get pregnant over the age of 35. Yes, there are pregnancy risks that become more likely when you’re 35 and older. But this cultural obsession with following a timeline can pressure people into wrong decisions for their relationships – or the right decisions at the wrong time.

People safely have babies over the age of 35 every day. I have witnessed the pressure to find someone to have a baby with push friends into marrying people wrong for them. Is making it to the marriage and baby phase before 35 worth it if you’re bringing a child into a toxic home situation?

Reminding someone of their “biological clock” will not help them find love. All this phrase does is apply toxic, anxiety-inducing pressure to a relationship.

Toxic Relationship Pressure #2: Checking All the Boxes

Forcing your relationship to hit milestones can apply toxic pressure.
Forcing your relationship to hit milestones can apply toxic pressure. Photo by Emma Bauso from Pexels

The “American Dream” narrative fed to us by advertisers and the media hold a very specific image as the ideal family: a mom, a dad, two to three kids, owning their own homes and cars, living safe and salaried suburban lives.

There is nothing wrong with wanting a family like this. I grew up in a family like this, whom I love very much! The pressure to build a life exactly like that, however, can become toxic to a relationship. Marriage isn’t right for every couple. Not everyone is heterosexual. Some people don’t want kids or have a tough time having kids. Some people face housing discrimination (a fact often left out of sitcoms).

When couples focus on how their relationship should look, rather than what they want, it can push them to make toxic choices. The pressure to “check all the boxes” on the list of what society wants, rather than what you want, is toxic to your relationship.

Toxic Relationship Pressure #3: Gender (and other) Roles

Applying pressure to maintain gender roles is toxic to a relationship.
Applying pressure to maintain gender roles is toxic to a relationship. Photo by Retha Ferguson from Pexels

The media also places an enormous emphasis on gender roles. A gender role is something people feel required to do or be because of their gender. For instance, I identify as female. For decades on TV and in movies, people like me are “good” if they are caring mothers who rarely work outside the home. The media often portrays women who stay single, childless, and/or focus on their careers as toxic.

Men in TV and movies often appear strong, heroic, aggressive, unemotional, and, in many sitcoms especially, stupid and incompetent fathers. This is an example of toxic masculinity. Only recently have LGBTQ+ lifestyles and couples arrived in our media. There is very little representation of more diverse genders. When children grow up immersed in this imagery, it forces them to fit into a very narrow version of the human experience. Once again, the toxic pressure to fill gender roles pushes people to make decisions that may be toxic for them.

For example, I do not want to have kids. I never have. I remember being 13 years old and zoning out while my friends fantasized about baby names. I was usually thinking about a book I was reading or the fashion choices of the surrounding people. It’s not that I don’t like kids. I’m a former middle school teacher. I’ve always enjoyed working with youth professionally. I have never wanted my own children.

I felt the toxic pressure to fill my motherly gender role, specifically on my wedding day when many of my wedding guests asked us when we were planning on having kids. Why do we pressure people to have kids they don’t want? What kind of family relationship would that create?

If you are safe, happy, and loved in your relationships, does it matter what they look like? Toxic pressure to conform to a specific lifestyle can lead to unhealthy and unbalanced relationships. Empower yourself to make the healthy choices for yourself and your relationships!