Are Your Relationships Energizing or Draining?

Woman enjoying coffee at restaurantAs 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.

Related articles:
When Is It Time to Separate the Family?
What to Do When You Think Your Relationship is Over
But I Said I Was Sorry, so Why Isn’t that Enough?

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Michelle Lewis, LCSW, Body-Mind Psychotherapy Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Kate

    May 7th, 2012 at 12:22 PM

    I hate to admit this but my mom is one of the emotionally draining people that I know.
    She is so demanding of my time, and while it’s not physical stuff that I found myself having to do for her, she is so emotional draining that there are times that I avoid talking to her becaus eI know what it is going to be.
    I have tried to get her some help, because I am not equipped to deal with it all, but she refuses.
    What can I do to create a better mother/daughter relationship, because I am tired of having to be in the parent role all the time.

  • farrah C

    May 7th, 2012 at 1:41 PM

    Sorry- I have enough drains in my life. I am only looking for energy at this time :)

  • Emil

    May 7th, 2012 at 5:04 PM

    A lot of what you get out of a relationship is about what you put into it if you know what I mean.
    If you put all that you are into a relationship with someone then you deserve to get the very same back out of it. I know that sometimes that is all just wishful thinking, and sometimes a relationship takes a lot more than it gives. That’s the time when you have to take a step back and ask if it is worth it, is it worth all the drama and trauma for that matter to stay close to this person. If you don’t think so, then maybe it’s time to let go.

  • Michelle Lewis

    May 7th, 2012 at 7:33 PM

    Thank you for your comments! Unfortunately Kate, that is the case for many people and our families can be the most difficult to detangle from. I think the best approach in any relationship is to be direct by letting the other person know how you feel when difficult situations and conflict arise. If you are tired of playing a certain role, stop playing. It takes both people to maintain the relationship dynamics. Good luck!

  • chloe

    May 7th, 2012 at 11:37 PM

    “We want someone to love us so badly, that we are willing to accept less than we should.”

    this is so true in my case when I think about it..I have been in several relationships and it has always been this way..I tend to feel lonely and uncomfortable so I just end up jumping into a relationship to feel loved and secure..have been hurt quite a lot of times but I guess I need to learn and stop this :|

  • Kate

    May 8th, 2012 at 4:18 AM

    You are so right Michelle.
    I know that I feed into her behavior, but that relationship was established so long ago, well, you know how hard it is to break all of those old habits.
    We are trying to make some progress with each other, but it sure is hard, and what happens when it gets a little too hard?
    We always seem to revert right back to what we are trying to break free of.

  • holden p

    May 9th, 2012 at 2:28 PM

    In my own experiences with people, if you sit around and wait for someone to “go back” to being the person that you once thought that they were, you are unfortunately wasting your time. People have a way of always showing us their true colors, but for a lot of us it takes a long time for us to see it. It’s not their fault- they try as hard as they can, but we only want to see what we want to see. Have to remember though that you might just be looking for something good and beneficial in this person that just isn’t there.

  • Michelle Lewis

    May 14th, 2012 at 8:38 PM

    Great comments! Fortunately and unfortunately, each relationship is a learning experience. The important thing to remember is that we are all capable of growth and change if we decide to allow ourselves to do so.

  • Kelly D.

    May 21st, 2012 at 12:01 PM


    Great post… I believe that the key to a successful relationship is to lose your ego completely. Be the person you want mate to become. You have to change FIRST in order to see any changes in your partner. If you want understanding then give understanding. If you want more love then give more love. If you want less arguing then don’t be argumentative. Change begins and ends with you, do not seek outside of yourself. It’s that simple :)

    Best Regards,


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