Many of us, and especially women, growing up in traditional Western cultures, have been taught to believe that one day we will meet a prince on white horse, who will save us from suffering and make us happy and whole again. This theme is very pervasive in our culture including books and movies. Think about movies such as Jerry McGuire (“you complete me”) or Pretty Woman. In the past women didn’t have as many career choices that we have today, so many times they just had to be happy and put up with whatever life brought them and suffer emotional, mental, financial, and even physical abuse. Luckily, with women’s rights and moving up the career leader things have changed yet on emotional level we still expect for a man to make us happy. This is the core of our misconception.
You might be a stay-at-home mom/dad, or a professional or business owner, the issue remains the same. We all want love, understanding, and a shoulder to cry on. We have read enough self-help books, or even spent years in therapy, yet we are not getting the results. And this goes for both men and women alike. Nowadays it’s not uncommon anymore for a woman to have a demanding career, while a husband stays home or works in a less demanding job. So whatever I am saying here is true for both genders.
Men just usually don’t share their suffering, or even abuse from a spouse due to stigma attached to it.
I have my own share of failed relationships that stem from my own traumatic and dysfunctional childhood. I started dating when I was 15 because this was the only way for me to have felt loved and understood. Yet, because I haven’t healed, I kept attracting abusive, angry, and narcissistic men. I wonder if this rings a bell for you. Many of my clients that I worked in my clinical practice had similar struggles in relationships that also led to clinical depression, anxiety, and lack of self-worth. There is a pressure to find that one man – or woman – who is your soulmate, otherwise you might be perceived as there is something wrong with you.
Probably like most of you, I read a ton of self-help books, including Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and saw healers, coaches, and therapists.. and learned a lot about myself and relationships which also led me to become a marriage and family therapist. In my professional practice I utilize so called Imago Approach, founded by Harville and Helen Hendrix. You can find several books that you might find helpful on my website NaturalStressManagement.com.
According to this theory, we attract partners in our life that remind us about our primary caregivers, who are generally our parents, and that goes both for their positive and negative traits. To give you an example, a woman who grew up in a home where her mother was very submissive, might find herself attracting domineering and controlling men like her father.
However, don’t despair. With some professional help this CAN be overcome. The best approach that worked for me and my clients is to understand how your subconscious and unconscious mind works. Many times, when we grew up in a dysfunctional home, we made certain beliefs about love, relationships, feelings, money.. and so on.. that we might not even remember.. yet we keep living our lives based on those beliefs. If we want a different life, the key is to understand your mindset and your beliefs. Many times you would find that you are still living your life based on your parents’ or other authority figures beliefs. As children, we depended on others for our survival and well-being so we were not able to question those beliefs, however as ADULTS we can, and we MUST in order to change our lives for better.
The techniques that work best in uncovering hidden beliefs include NLP, hypnosis, and EMDR. You can find more about them by going to my website naturalstressmanagement.com.
Now, let’s talk some more about HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT YOU ARE IN UNHEALTHY RELATIONSHIP or even TOXIC relationship. I want you to ask yourself if any of these statements apply to you. By the way, an excellent book I often refer to is by Doreen Virtue, Assertiveness for Earth Angels. Some of these behaviors are more call for an improvement, while others could be too toxic and you might need to leave the relationship.
It’s important to know what your DEAL BRAKERS are and what you can tolerate, however there are some that deserve our attention and I am just mentioning a few common ones that can destroy even a happy relationship.
- Interrupting – the person who continuously interrupts you is not interested in what you have to say. Very often, the person who constantly interrupts is frequently anxious or hyperactive (and that might be due to use of stimulants, such as coffee). You need to tell them something like: “Excuse me, I am not done talking yet” and be assertive.
- Constant correcting – this is even worse than interrupting. You constantly walk on eggshelves. You need to be assertive and tell them that it feels more he or she is acting more like your teacher, and not your partner.
- Clingy/needy behavior. Again you need to tell them you are busy with projects and set proper boundaries.
- Stalking – which is even worse, in some cases you might need to get a restraining order if situation doesn’t improve.
- Guilt-tripping – manipulating people. You feel resentful and angry. It’s important to say NO and stick to it.
- Angerholics – addicted to being angry. This anger might be a result of upbringing, or also deep feelings of inferiority, disguised as anger. It’s important to get a professional help especially if the angry person continues to be in denial and doesn’t respond to common sense.
- Controlling behavior – controlling people act out immaturely or with anger when they feel that they are not in control.
- Addictions, including substance abuse – it’s important to understand that any addiction needs to be treated by a professional and if you are pleading with them, most of the times it will not help as you continue enabling their behavior. It takes a lot of strength and courage to stay in a relationship with an addict. Until they get a professional help, you are not really in a relationship with a man/woman who is hidden behind this cycle of addiction.
- Name calling – this behavior is verbally abusive and you need to tell them every time that it’s not acceptable . Name calling can hurt even more sometimes than physical abuse especially for someone who has a trusting, sensitive heart.
- Betrayal - a betrayer breaks your heart and your trust by engaging in hurtful behaviors such as infidelity, flirting with others, lying to you, or exercising extremely poor judgement. In my professional practice I worked with many couples who had suffered infidelity and in some cases, if the relationship had a solid basis, infidelity can be overcome, but it can takes years. Important is to love yourself enough and be honest with yourself and not trying to forgive at every cost.
I also wanted to share with you what Gottman calls “The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse” – 4 main behavior patterns that can destroy the relationship or a marriage (see https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-four-horsemen-the-antidotes/)
Criticism: A complaint focuses on a specific behavior, while a criticism attacks the character of the person.
Defensiveness: Defensiveness is defined as self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victimhood in attempt to ward off a perceived attack. Many people become defensive when they are being criticized, but the problem is that being defensive never helps to solve the problem at hand. Defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner.
Contempt: Statements that come from a relative position of superiority. Some examples of displays of contempt include when a person uses sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eyerolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. Contempt is the greatest predictor of divorce and must be eliminated.
Stonewalling: Stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction. The antidote is to practice physiological self-soothing. The first step of physiological self-soothing is to stop the conflict discussion. If you keep going, you’ll find yourself exploding at your partner or imploding (stonewalling), neither of which will get you anywhere.
Now that we talked about dysfunctional and unhealthy relationship patterns, let’s talk for a minute about key characteristics of a HEALTHY relationship. I like to say, that in a healthy relationship, there is INTER-DEPENDENCE as opposed to co-dependence. Both partners are equal and every aspect and focus on their strengths and work as a team.
According to Gottman, there are 7 key tips for a healthy relationship or marriage
1. Emotionally intelligent couples know each other’s world. They know each other’s goals, worries, and hopes.
2. Fondness and admiration are two of the most crucial elements in a long-lasting romance. I suggest to my couples to keep a jar filled with positive statements of each other and remember positive things when things get tough..
3. Seeking partner’s affection and support and give it freely. It doesn’t always have to be a great sex. Affection is even more important.
4. Treating each other with respect even when you disagree. 5. Solve your solvable problems and let go of things you cannot solve at the moment or learn to compromise.