As humans, we are wired to be connected. We are an interdependent species, which means we cannot survive alone. This is why relationships are such an important part of our lives and crucial to our well-being. This is also why dysfunctional relationships can take a toll on our self-esteem and quality of life. When was the last time you really took the time to examine your relationships? To do so, ask yourself the following questions:
How important is this relationship in my life?
How much trust do I have in this person?
How much do I invest in this relationship?
How much does this person invest in me?
How do I feel in their presence?
Do I like the person I become when I spend time with this person?
What do I get out of the relationship?
I think these questions are very important because we often stay in relationships that aren’t healthy for us. Why do we do this? There are many reasons we stay in unsatisfying relationships….
1. A sense of obligation. How many of you feel this way about your family? We put up with unsatisfying and sometimes downright abusive behavior from family members out of obligation. I think the sentiment “blood is thicker than water” can be very misguided. Continuing to allow yourself to be mistreated just because you are related to a person can be so damaging. In the end, you simply feel dejected, and your self-esteem will continue to plummet.
2. Being unhappy is better than being alone. You are willing to settle because it is so uncomfortable for you to be alone. On some level you feel like the familiar discomfort is easier than the potentially uncomfortable unknown.
3. Denial. We ignore the effect the other person has on us. This happens so often in the beginning of romantic relationships. We fail to see the signs that a person isn’t treating us well or excuse it.
4. Low self-esteem. We don’t feel like we deserve better than the treatment we receive. This happens all too often when we have had a history of dysfunction in our family of origin. We want someone to love us so badly, that we are willing to accept less than we should.
5. Unconscious healing. We have a tendency to rework issues from our past. Have you ever noticed how people end up in relationships with someone resembling unhealthy patterns of their parents? It isn’t an accident. We unconsciously try again and again to gain mastery in our lives, not unlike a toddler learning to walk; because many times we fall down, we tend to try the same thing over and over until we get a different result.
6. We hope they will return to the person we thought they were. People change over the course of a relationship. Either they change together or they change apart. This often happens in romantic relationships that form when people are very young, and it happens in friendships when people pass over milestones like marriage and children. If a relationship deteriorates over time, we consciously or unconsciously hope for the “good old days” when we were more in sync; or if one partner changes drastically, we hope that person will see the light and return to the person we used to know.
Knowing all of this is only part of the solution. How do you know if and when to say goodbye? A key to this is identifying how long the relationship has felt unsatisfying, how much effort you and the other person have put into resolving the issues in the relationship, and how it is impacting your life. When you no longer look forward to spending time with the person, find that the unhappiness in the relationship is bleeding into the rest of your life, and you or the other person is either unwilling or unable to put effort into improving the relationship, it is probably time to walk away.
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Michelle Lewis, therapist in Salt Lake City, Utah
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