Author: Jennifer Berbrier, M.A., MFT
When there seems to be more emotional turbulence than fulfillment in your relationship, or when your time together becomes more destructive than constructive, you are probably in a dysfunctional relationship.
The roots of dysfunctional relationships often stem from childhood. Those who were brought up in a tumultuous environment might not have had healthy relationships modeled. They may subsequently end up repeating dysfunctional patterns in their own romantic relationships.
Often, unresolved individual issues can also lead to dysfunction. After all, the journey to a strong, healthy, connection has a lot to do with how well you know yourself and how secure and mentally healthy you feel. There is no relationship with someone else that can compensate for your own unhappiness, no matter how good it is. Expecting a partner to make you happy or fulfill you can lead to disappointment and dysfunctional patterns.
Although no relationship is perfect, it is the genuine and mutual desire to communicate respectfully and manage conflict that can help you to weather the most difficult storms.
Here are 5 signs that you are in a dysfunctional relationship:
#1 High levels of conflict
Destructive communication involves an endless pattern of escalation. Imagine starting off a discussion with; “The trouble with you is…”, or “Why are you always so selfish?”. It is easy to see the intensification of negativity this would invoke. Of course, there’s no such thing as a relationship with NO conflict. Research tells us that only 31% of conflicts are solvable. So, what couples need is an attitude of forgiveness, conflict management tools, and good communication skills. This is perhaps the hallmark of a healthy relationship.
In this sense, the danger is NOT the conflict, but disconnection. If you do not regularly confront your issues, you can end up in a vicious circle of negativity, repeating the same argument over and over again. It is when you have trouble reconnecting and resolving your issues, or end up avoiding your issues altogether, that you feed dysfunction.
#2 Imbalance of Power
When you feel a power hierarchy, where one of you is controlling most of the decisions, shows very little respect, offers no compromise, or one where you don’t dare risk honest self-expression, then you likely have an imbalance of power in your relationship. This may look like one spouse asking for more and the other pulling away, or where you have little influence and are ignored.
In healthy relationships, both partners vie for power during a conflict. But, when power and control are prioritized over love and respect there will likely be dysfunction.
#3 Emotional Disengagement
The fact is we need emotional security to grow and thrive in a relationship. When you can read and respond, share and listen, you create a relationship where emotional trust and safety exist and intimacy flourishes. It is not uncommon for modern-day stresses and obligations to pull you apart. While many couples can come back together and heal, some remain chronically disconnected and may need help learning to connect.
Being emotionally out of tune is especially destructive if your partner is trying to make a bid for connection and instead of acknowledging the bid you turn away. For instance, you see your partner particularly sad one evening, instead of reaching out and/or asking if they need to talk, you ignore them and go on watching TV. Emotional presence, active interest, and concern for your partner, are hallmarks of healthy functional relationships. A serious sign of dysfunction is when you notice your partner stops caring or fighting for the relationship.
The most frustrated, dissatisfied and unhappy couples are those who blame their spouse for problems in the relationship. On the other hand, those who take personal responsibility for solving their problems score highest in marital satisfaction.
Taking personal responsibility is key to happy relationships. That means if your partner crosses a line, instead of blaming yourself or your partner, you take charge of the issues that come up. If you take responsibility for your role, and you both feel it is your job to make each other happy, you will likely decrease dysfunction.
A high level of resentment in a relationship is the silent poison that often leads to destructive and harmful communication patterns. Resentment leaks into your day-to-day interaction and makes your efforts to repair things more difficult.
Prolonged resentment sours your outlook on the relationship. It often ties up with pride, identity or values and can feel impossible to let go of. Resentments need to be understood. Ask yourself, what is causing these feelings? Is it connected to the past? Often resentment is rooted in deep core values and beliefs being threatened. Try to focus on your own feelings, then explain what the issue represents and means to you.
Overall, we know that we can’t completely avoid conflict, disconnection, power struggles, blame, or resentment in relationships. We can control our attitude and mindset, however. Find compassion and prioritize your relationship; nurture, and take an active interest in the well-being of your partner. This goes a long way to functional, healthy, loving, relationships.