How To Navigate Your Partner's Problematic Behavior (& Hold Them Accountable)

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Even if you're not a Taylor Swift fan, you probably know she has a new man. Swift has recently been spotted with 1975's lead singer Matty Healy. Those who've heard of him probably know more about his problematic behavior than his music. Unlike Swift and her good girl reputation she's carefully curated, Healy has done the opposite. This past January, Healy appeared to do a Nazi salute on stage. He's also been accused of being anti-Muslim, antisemitic, as well as misogynistic. On The Adam Friedland ShowHealy revealed his racism and fatphobia, which were directed toward rapper Ice Spice — who Swift conveniently decided to collaborate with, in a presumed PR move on the part of Swift and her team.

Whether that's Swift's way of doing damage control or not, the fact she's still dating Healy has her fans less than thrilled. Some even question if Swift, a woman who's very calculated in every choice she makes in how she wants to be perceived, might not be as good as everyone thought. Granted, no one can hold Swift accountable for what Healy does and says, but standing by someone with such a reputation doesn't bode well.

While Swift isn't the first person to date someone with problematic behavior, her silence is deafening. If your partner has some questionable things they say or do, you can't pull a Taylor and remain quiet, as conflict avoidance can impact your relationship (and your self-esteem) in very negative ways. You need to hold them accountable. 

Take off the blinders

Let's be honest: dating is hard. Whether you meet on an app, you're set up with someone by a friend, or randomly meet someone at a bar, getting from casual dating to an actual relationship isn't easy. Because of this, some people, particularly those who want to be in a relationship just to avoid being alone, are willing to turn a blind eye to certain behavior their partner may be exhibiting. Especially if that behavior doesn't directly affect them.

"When you finally find that person who treats you well and is who you want them to be when they're with you, the desire to want to compartmentalize that from the person they are to others is understandable," Jordan Conrad, Ph.D., LCSW exclusively tells Women. "But putting the blinders on to the way your partner treats others can make you miss out on some serious red flags."

As Dr. Conrad explains, the intoxicating feeling that comes with falling in love can definitely get in the way of how you see them. Maybe they're great to you, but if they're rude and disrespectful to others, or even worse, racist and misogynist like Healy, then you need to peel those blinders from your eyes and see things as they really are. "You are dating the whole person not just the parts of them you like," Dr. Conrad states.

Consider their moral code against yours

No one is going to date someone exactly like them, and that's a good thing. It would be so boring to be with someone who's just another version of you. But there's a big difference between not liking the same music or disagreeing on who's the greatest writer of all time and someone who's a racist when you're the furthest from such a thing.

If you are dating someone who behaves in a way that is outside of your own moral code, this is a serious consideration for long-term relationship satisfaction," Laura Silverstein, LCSW, co-owner of Main Line Counseling Partners and author of the "Love Is an Action Verb Series" exclusively tells Women. "Relationships always need to include healthy compromise, but this includes issues such as learning to communicate differently, maybe cleaning a bathroom differently, or trying new things. It will not work to expect someone to change their values, their morals, or their character."

If someone deep down in their core believes that the color of their skin or their gender makes them superior to others, that's not something they're just going to lose overnight. It's going to take a lot of work, education, and understanding Ron DeSantis' favorite academic concept: critical race theory.

Examine past and current behavior

In some cases, as we get to know our partner better over time, we become aware of certain behaviors. For example, tweets they've posted, comments they've made on Instagram photos, or even gossip that may come through the grapevine. Dr. Jordan Conrad points out that it's okay to judge your partner but to do so with compassion. "People are growing all the time and even subtle changes can have huge effects on a person's development. Check in with them, see if they are the same person and how they feel about who they were and what they've done."

But while that's true and what someone may have tweeted five years ago may not be reflective of who they are now and what their current beliefs are, if the past tweets or other problematic behavior was just within a month or two of you meeting them, then that's a different story. "The main thing I'd be assessing for is to determine whether or not the past behavior is in line with the other person's values system," explains Laura Silverstein. "Your decision to stay or leave a relationship will probably be determined by the extent to which it was an anomaly that elicited guilt and behavior change, or whether it was evidence of a fundamental difference in morals."

Talk to them

After you have evidence, it's time to be direct with your partner. While their past actions may have been meant to be jokes or done for shock value (something that Healy defenders protest), that still doesn't make it right. "I would want to hear unsolicited remorse and see evidence of learning and growth; not just words," explains Laura Silverstein. "I'd be listening closely to how the person describes the past events and the emotions they describe along with their body language. I know that we all sometimes do things that are outside of our moral code, and we have to learn how to forgive ourselves and deepen our self-awareness so that we do our best not to repeat mistakes."

Ask yourself if you're okay with behavior that can not only be triggering but hateful, regardless of what your partner's intention might've been. Even if someone does or says things to get a rise out of others or because they think it's funny, it shouldn't be ignored. Someone giving a Nazi salute suggests that a part of them is aligned with that thinking, regardless if they claim otherwise.

"Some relationship challenges are solvable problems that can be worked through by reading articles, doing workbooks together, or seeking couples therapy," says Silverstein. "Suppose you see evidence that your partner experiences pleasure or humor from someone else's suffering . . . this is potential evidence of a severe mental health issue that needs assessment and treatment from a licensed practitioner."

See if they're willing to change

While change isn't easy, it's worth seeing if your partner is willing to take accountability for their actions. "If the behavior is ongoing . . . communicate to them how much they mean to you, how much you care about this issue, and let them know how it affects you," says Dr. Conrad. "Try not to be accusatory, just tell them how you feel. Ultimately they get to decide how to behave, but you get to decide who you want to spend time with . . . If they don't find it regrettable, then the two of you should have a conversation about why."

Although you shouldn't be held accountable for your partner's behavior, your affiliation with them speaks volumes about you. People are bound to wonder if you agree with your partner because you've decided to stay with someone who says and does offensive, hurtful things. "If you let your partner know that you have a core need, and they are unwilling to change, you may need to consider ending your relationship," says Laura Silverstein. "I once heard Dr. Julie Gottman describe it as being unable to 'give up the bones in your body.' There are some things we simply can't give up because it would mean giving up who we are."

You shouldn't sacrifice your beliefs for someone whose moral compass is broken. You deserve someone whose morals and ethics align with yours. That's what helps make for a healthy relationship.