Relationship Deterioration and Building Healthy Dynamics

Relationship Deterioration and Building Healthy Dynamics

Relationships deteriorate due to hurts and pains on a repeated basis.

From severe pains of physical abuse to death by a thousand papercuts from verbal, emotional and mental abuses.  Individuals seeking counseling never seek help because their lives are going well and happy at home and work.

It’s always about relationships

Nobody gets arrested for being “too” happy unless they end up in detox- and I don’t typically see them in my practice.  

Freud and his object relations theorists are correct.

It all comes down to the parent-child relationships. Siblings and peers are thrown in there of course too.  

Humans are emotional creatures and we’re wired to be nurtured and cared for during our slow development.  

We are dependent on our caretakers to nurture, protect, and comfort us plus take care of our basic human needs- think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.  The first level is physiologic needs for nutrition, thirst, fatigue, and cleanliness.

Ask yourself, “what kind of environment or caretaker is not able to meet these basic needs?”  Of course, the primary focus is going to be on mom’s early care for the child and fathers have a huge impact- directly and indirectly on mom, the environment, and the child.  

What is happening in a woman’s life if she does not tend to her child’s needs?

Is she depressed on a genetic level without medications?  Is she depressed because of her relationship with the father?  Is she being abused and depressed? Is she too depressed to care for the child’s needs?  The house? etc.

Has she turned to medications or substance abuse to numb the pains of her experiences?  What is the father’s role in her mental and emotional health? What is his role if addictions are part of the equation?  The questions are endless. The answers define the baggage carried forward. The second level of needs is safety needs, such as the need to feel secure and the ability to avoid pain and anxiety.  

The third level is belongingness and love needs.  Most of my clients described their “normal” childhood and discipline in fairly harsh and punitive terms, such as belts, paddles, “anything available.”  

They internalize pain

These parents, with authoritarian, unresponsive, and inflexible parenting styles, inflict pain to teach their children right from wrong and believe in “old school” discipline.  While some children may react positively to such measures, most do not.

They internalize significant pain with a strong dose of “F- you!” simultaneously.  Often, such parents are inconsistent, send mixed messages of love and hate, or worse, rejection only.  

Divorces for any reasons are seldom good and will bring their own hurts, pains, & fears. Fear is our greatest motivator.  

Anger is socialized through high expressed emotion and social learning through observation combined with direct experience.  They’re being taught to hurt someone to teach them that they did something wrong. They’re being taught to hurt someone when they violate your expectations. We teach people how to treat us.

We invite abuses when we passively take it

We invite abuses when we passively take it without assertively establish boundaries and appropriate consequences.  We invite aggression when we use aggression because there will be those who decided, “I’m not going to take that anymore” and chose to aggressively defend themselves.  

Therefore, our belief systems and cognitive schema are formed through these experiences and interactions.  

Our hurts and pains and triggers are established long before we begin dating.  

And the more painful the childhood experiences of more people, the deeper the wounds and pains.  And the more desperate they were to have an intimate relationship solve their problems. Not a single client has recognized the threads of their family dynamics within their adult relationship failures until they were forced into therapy in one way or another.  

As my mentor, Dr. Walsh said in the first week of my graduate school internship, “Nobody comes to therapy voluntarily.  They’re either court-ordered or spouse ordered.” In my practice specializing in relationships in crisis (voluntary & court-ordered), less than 5% of my clients have been voluntary.  

And their issues and problems are never different than those on probation for their conflicts crossing the boundaries to involve law enforcement.  

Family baggage is like going to the airport

Family baggage is like going to the airport

Clients learn in therapy that their family baggage is like going to the airport.  You cannot simply set down your baggage and walk away from it. It’s wrapped around your ankles with steel cables and gets tangled with our partner’s – sometimes like industrial strength Velcro – completely enmeshed and codependent.

Mostly everybody with a painful home environment turns to an intimate relationship to meet their needs for love, acceptance, value and nurturing.  And too often, turn to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain and have fun in their altered states.

Dr. Harville Hendricks, a long-time relationships therapist and author of the books, Getting the Love You Want, discusses IMAGO, meaning mirror.  Our Imago is the internalized representation of our caretakers positive and negative traits and characteristics.

We are drawn to find partners who represent our parents’ negative traits

His theory, which resonates strongly with my clients, is that we are subconsciously drawn to find partners who represent our parents’ negative traits and patterns.  My own life has clearly highlighted the unconsciousness of our mate selection and attractions.

Luckily, on a mild and tolerable level that allows for exploration of the subjects and issues for growth and change.  

According to the theory, if we felt rejected and unimportant in childhood (i.e., middle child syndrome, alcoholic parent or following a divorce), we will find someone who makes us feel the same in life. Perhaps the partner is a workaholic or travels a lot for work.

That could feel the same (i.e., lonely, abandoned, unimportant) as being married to an alcoholic, someone who spends all his time hunting, fishing, golfing or wrenching on his car while leaving you at home.

If we felt burdened with responsibilities (i.e., parentalized) for the same reasons, then the duties and responsibilities will feel the same, even if we want to be a stay at home parent by choice.  In time, the experience can weigh on you for not feeling supported and out of balance with the duties and household chores.

The conflict of unmet needs and fears surface from our childhood

If he holds “traditional” values, he may believe that he is fulfilling his role as a provider to bring home the bacon and that household chores are “woman’s’ work.”  Thus, the conflict of unmet needs and fears & feelings surface from the depths of our childhood. We become hypersensitive to the same experiences of the past and don’t want to experience those feelings as adults.  

The keys to change are to identify the triggers and unmet needs.  Identify how to best communicate them using the “I Feel” format, and learn to identify your sabotaging patterns, such as shutting down in silence “because nobody cares about me or my opinion.”  

Or shouting to “make sure” that you are heard – it never works.  

Most people whose relationships deteriorate and fail never learned healthy communication skills to begin with.

They get caught up fighting, not explaining or asking for help.  Our fears of vulnerability cause us to communicate indirectly, not at all, or with toxicity out of fear of exposure.  

It’s difficult to trust others when those in our past were so untrustworthy.  Yet, we must trust enough to find out whether you’ll hurt me or not. Slowly. Healthy relationships do not want to hurt each other and trigger the pains.  

Think of what it means to intentionally trigger your hurts & pains. Learn to fight fair.  

Avoid developing athlete’s tongue

Avoid sticking your foot in your mouth and developing “athlete’s tongue”.  We can never take back the words of hurt, and they stick to the ribs. It’s why mental, emotional, and verbal abuses hurt more than physical.  Bruises and cuts heal, the words ring in the ears.

Develop assertiveness and healthy communication to set boundaries

Inappropriate reactions and consequences are hallmarks of high expressed emotions and volatility learned in childhood and exploding or imploding in adult relationships.  

Relationships are an exchange of emotional energies.  You get out of it what you put in.

Love does not equal Chaos + Drama!  Speak calmly and clearly. It’s the only way people will care.  Listen with the intent to learn, not defend and slice apart.

Follow the STAHRS 7 Core Values.  BERRITT (Be “Right”): Balanced, Equality, Respect, Responsible, Integrity, Teamwork, Trust.

And you will be ahead of the game.  

Happy New Year.  It may be the time to re-assess the quality of your relationship.  You might be lucky and part of the happy twenty-five percent. Good Luck with your life and relationships.  We never have room or time for a bad relationship. Only healthy relationships make our lives better.

Duane F Barone
I am a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Washington state and hold a Master of Arts degree in Psychology from Saybrook University.  My process is integrative, and I draw from an eclectic blend of skills from a variety of modalities and have multiple years of experience working in organizations within the mental health field and in private practice, leading thousands of collaborative sessions toward individual, couple, family, and collective wellness.