How to mess up our relationships (Part 2)

I was struck by just how many ways we can sabotage our relationships – easily enough to fill two blogs! So here’s my further four things to think about, and try to avoid, when it comes to our intimate relationships.

Disloyalty: Destructive triangles are often part of dysfunctional relationships. One partner talks to someone outside the relationship about intimate situations without the other partner’s knowing or consent. That confidante then knows things about that partner they may have no right to know. It is common for friends to gain advice and support from other friends when they are distressed about their relationships, but there is a big difference when doing so means selling out their partners most intimate and vulnerable feelings and behaviors. It is especially problematic when the unknowing partner is also friends with the other party. The resulting awkwardness can be significantly uncomfortable and many a time that trusted friend tells the outside partner, leaving everyone in the triangle wondering who to trust.

Winner or Loser Arguments: When couples argue, they usually stop listening to each other early in that conflict. Real conflict resolution, on the other hand, can only occur when the partners in an intimate relationship stay deeply connected to their own feelings and also those of the other. They realize that there are two sides to every disagreement and that compromise often requires both partners mutually searching for a resolution that holds both of their needs intact as much as possible. Arguments are very different. Each partner will used whatever means are at hand to push his or her side of the “truth” no matter what the other needs. They may go on for round after round, losing sight of whatever they were arguing about to begin with, because neither is willing to give up his or her point of view or accept defeat. Most arguments neither solve a problem nor help either partner feel better about themselves.Assumptions are made on both sides and acted upon as if they were true. There is little inquiry or openness to any reasoning that might upend what is already felt or demanded. The argument ends when one or the other partner is just too tired to go on and retreats. Too many of these unresolved conflicts predict potential relationship failure. Emotional scars form that can make each succeeding negative interaction less likely to result in healing.

Boundary Violations: Boundaries are the way people keep their internal vulnerabilities, concerns and insecurities safe.The way we were raised as children plays a significant part in how easily we give up our rights to those decisions.Parents who consistently violate boundaries teach their
children that they have no right to privacy in any situation. In dysfunctional relationships, one or both partners often feel little conflict about entering the other’s private world without permission. They believe that what is their partner’s is also theirs, without question or concern. That can apply to material things, thoughts, feelings, plans or desires. At the other end of sorrowful dysfunction,  a partner doesn’t know his or her boundary rights and gives up what is their right without question or argument. That means acquiescing to any demand the other partner wants, whether it is good for them or not. Partners who violate boundaries may do so, not so much out of maliciousness, but out of the fear that their partners are keeping things from them that would affect their lives if they knew. Those who allow their boundaries to be violated may be seeking intimate blending without thought of consequences.

Fear of Loss: The more a partner is attached to a relationship, the more he or she will fight for it if seems threatened in any way. Being attached is not the same as being involved, inter-dependent or deeply connected. Those are three healthy responses to a non-ownership relationship. Intense attachment, like a child might feel on the other end of a potentially abandoning parent, produces a feeling of anticipatory grief at the thought of losing the relationship. It can drive the person feeling threatened into a desperate grappling to hold on to it at any cost that, sadly, usually has the opposite effect: ultimately pushing the desired partner away. To stop the anxious partner’s terror, he or she must be able to self-soothe, ease off and focus on attending to the needs of that partner. If love is strong enough, those behaviors might be alright for a while, but no one wants to be on a shelf, waiting to be needed on demand.

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