When we start a new relationship, we typically expect the other person to be emotionally supportive and communicative, and as a result make us happy. The reality, however, is that sometimes relationships don't meet our core needs, and as a result, they make us feel worse.
Referred to as toxic or dysfunctional relationships, the behaviors that characterize them are the result of unhealed past wounds. Sometimes, rather than look to ourselves to heal, we expect our partners, who may also be carrying around past wounds, to make us feel whole. This is the basic recipe for a dysfunctional partnership.
The Warning Signs
Relationship dysfunction can present itself in one of two ways: co-dependency or counter-dependency. Both types reflect your incomplete self, which is looking to your partner to fill in your identity gaps.
- Low self-esteem
- Constant approval and support from your partner to feel good about yourself
- People pleaser
- Unable to experience true intimacy and love, but crave it
- Cling to others
- Feel insecure and incompetent
- Act self-effacing
- Push others away
- Act strong and invulnerable
- Are detached from your feelings
- Blame your partner for relationship problems
- Control others
- Reluctant to ask for help
- Feel anxious in close relationships
- Do you and your partner nurture and support one another?
- Do you trust each other?
- Do you feel that you and your partner are on the same team?
- Are your goals similar?
- Do you and your partner encourage one another's growth?
- Are you able to resolve your differences constructively?
The only way to cure a toxic relationship is for both people to take full ownership of their contribution to the dysfunction. Foremost, that means you must identify your own dysfunctional behaviors, with brutal honesty. It also means strengthening and developing your own identity, acknowledging why you act and react the way you do, and learning to overcome your toxic behaviors. For a partnership ("we") to be healthy, both partners ("I" and "you") must be well defined.
Remember, healing a dysfunctional relationship is not about looking for a villain. As a team, the functional question to ask yourselves is not "Whose fault it is?" but rather "What can we do together to solve the problem?"
On the other hand, if you find yourself trapped in a toxic relationship in which your partner refuses to take accountability for and correct their dysfunctional behavior, it's time to cut the cord. No matter how much you think you can change your partner for the better, you simply cannot.