Friday, October 1, 2010

Destructive Relationships

Why do some of us keep finding ourselves in destructive relationships over and over again?  The reasons are many and vary from person to person.  Do any of these reasons ring true for you?

Learned dysfunction
Most people learn how to be in relationships from the people they grew up with and if you had destructive role models, there is a chance you might find yourself in a similar situation as an adult.  Sometimes people wind up repeating a cycle they witnessed or experienced as youngsters. Other times, in an effort to avoid repeating mistakes, they swing like a pendulum to the opposite extreme (which can be equally destructive).  Fortunately, behavior that is learned can also be unlearned.

Fear of being alone 
Many people have an underlying dread of growing old alone and some even fear spending more than a few hours on their own.  People who are comfortable with being alone for extended periods of time are generally good company to themselves, can tolerate silence, entertain themselves, structure their own time, and find purpose in solitary activities.

Some people just haven't had a lot of experience being alone.  If you haven't been alone much in your life, its going to take some getting used to.  Like anything new, it just takes a little practice and time to adjust and feel comfortable.  In order to learn to tolerate and even enjoy solitude, you must be willing to tolerate through any initial discomfort and experiment with healthy ways of coping while you adjust.

Some people have never really had a chance to learn to live independently.  Have your parents continued to take good care of you even into adulthood or did you go right from your parents home into another type of caregiving relationship?

Other people did master their independence at one point, but then they gradually came to rely on another person to fill their basic needs.  They start to forget their earlier independence and co-construct a life together that feels difficult to manage alone.  As a couple, have you accumulated too many responsibilities and obligations to effectively handle on your own?  Would you face financial ruin without the other person?

Do you think you just need to try harder to make your relationship work?  Do you tend to ask yourself how you caused the destruction in your relationship?  You may keep trying to be a better and better friend, daughter, son, sibling, roommate or partner, but you never quite get it right because the relationship remains destructive.  Remember, only 50% of the relationship is up to you and that is the only part you have control over.

Believing you can change them
Change is something people must do for themselves.  You can advocate for change and support people in their change process, but you ultimately cannot change them.  You can, however, change your own thoughts, feelings, and behavior.  You ultimately choose whether to stay in the relationship, leave, ask for change or accept things the way they are.

Believing deep down, they really love you
Do you find yourself saying you know they love you and that is the reason you persevere in the relationship despite its destructiveness?  Many people in destructive relationships believe the other person must love them even though they have very little objective evidence to support their belief.  But, love is a behavior and not just a feeling. Look at the way a person treats you and not just how you think they feel about you or what you believe their intent is.  Make a two column list of loving and unloving behavior and pay close attention to what you see there.

Reminiscing and dreaming
When you think about your relationship, are you focusing more on the way things used to be and hoping they can be that way again?  Or perhaps you are fantasizing about how things could be in the future if everything went your way.  Think about your partner’s current behavior.  Is it primarily loving or unloving?

Hurts so good
People often want what they can’t have, even if it is bad for them.  They may be drawn in by a challenge or long to "join a club that wouldn't have me as a member".  Sometimes people overvalue things that are "hard to get".  Or you may just be very accustomed to destructive relationship patterns and they feel familiar and comfortable to you, although intellectually they are not what you would say you would want for yourself.

Missing the signs
For many of the reasons listed above, we often fail to recognize or even ignore the red flags that tell us the relationship is destructive.  Friends, family and colleagues may be telling us their concerns about the relationship, but we do not heed their warnings.  Its only in hindsight that we discover they were seeing something we weren't ready to see.

If you or someone you love is struggling with relationship issues, it may be helpful to consult with a professional. You can find mental health professionals in your area through online therapist locators such as those hosted by the American Psychological Association, Psychology Today, Network Therapy and GoodTherapy.

Please also visit my website for more information and resources regarding a variety of mental health concerns.