Relationships are meant to be a source of comfort. In times of stress we turn to the ones we love and their care shields us from the hard blows of life. But what if your relationship is actually the source of stress in your life? What if the persons you rely on are usually the ones who bring you down? It’s important to recognize the unhealthy aspects of a relationship and take the necessary steps to fix them.
The first step is to recognize when a relationship is being harmful to you. Do any of the following sound familiar to you? The backbiting, manipulative friend from your teen years who still expects you to show up at her whims. The demanding, self-absorbed partner with whom your needs always come second. The colleague who rushes for your help then blatantly claims ownership of your work to go up the career ladder. Or perhaps the parent whose manoeuvers bring up painful childhood memories and still fails to see your suffering? All these relationships probably leave you feeling drained. Coping with such a relationship requires that you make a choice. You may choose to change the pattern of the relationship in the hope that it becomes better, or you may leave everything as is for fear of rocking the boat.
Leave everything as is….
When you choose not to take any action it’s very probable that the same person will hurt, annoy, ridicule or ignore you over and over again. This can have serious long-term effects.
Remaining in a dysfunctional relationship leads to a serious loss of self-worth. This happens because you start to see yourself through the negative lens of your abuser. If you stay long enough, your negative self-image becomes fixed.
Another disturbing impact is that you lose the ability to accept the love of other well-meaning persons with whom you are in a relationship. Past experience led you to believe you that love never comes easy. You learned to accept the scarcity of love, the blame or the complete rejection of the other person. You believe that a close person can never fulfil your emotional needs. This inner belief will sabotage your future happiness in a relationship. Without knowing, you start to expect the same treatment from others in your present life. In a healthy relationship it remains hard for you to believe that you are worthy of respect, love and acceptance.
Change the pattern of the relationship
Changing the pattern of an unhealthy relationship requires action. Waiting for change to happen on its own usually brings more frustration. Here’s one such scenario:
Audrey became increasingly upset over the hours her husband spent at work. She felt very lonely on her own and needed him to be with her more. During his days off she would lament over his frequent absences. On his part, the husband wanted to achieve better financial stability for the family and felt that Audrey was not appreciating his efforts. Both had good intentions but neither was eager to understand the other’s point of view. In therapy, they realized what triggered their conflict and learned to negotiate on how to meet each other’s needs.
Audrey and her husband were both willing to improve their relationship. However, this may not always be the case. It may happen that one partner is content while the other is feeling very dissatisfied…..usually it’s the one who is suffering the most. If you feel that you are the victimized partner then you may be the one giving more than you can. You may be hoping that your partner will see this but, if you really want change to happen, then it has to start from you.
How can therapy help?
You may choose to go for therapy alone or as a couple. In couples therapy you will identify what is holding you back as a couple and improve your communication methods. This will help you to develop better mutual understanding – the key to any successful relationship.
If your partner is not willing to attend therapy then you can opt for individual therapy. You will learn how you may be enabling your partner’s victimizing behaviour. Seeing your part in the story is the first step. The second step is to start developing new skills to implement the change you hope to bring about in your relationship.