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Dysfunctional Relationships Don't Happen by Accident - 2/20/2012

A healthy relationship or marriage requires that you be able to express your  feelings and then to act on them. Initially, this statement seems pretty straightforward.  How can two people relate, interact or love one another without demonstrating and sharing their feelings and emotions, their needs, their desires and their wishes? The answer is obvious - they can’t.

The reality, however, differs.  Most if you tend to avoid openly demonstrating or revealing what’s taking place inside you.  You’re reluctant to be vulnerable, to place yourself in a position where someone has an advantage over you, or where you might appear weak or needy. Society has taught you that, to allow someone to have the upper hand emotionally, in business or in any type of interaction only results in you losing. But, I’d have you consider that you can’t win all the time, anyway.  In fact, there is probably a very high correlation between the number of losses that you experience and the amount of success you achieve.  Someone who doesn’t try, who plays it safe, doesn’t lose, but rarely wins.  

One of the best examples I can share with you regarding how cautious relationships begin is two junior high school kids, who initially deny caring for each other, but later begin to express their feelings in small gradations.  One says, “I like you a little.”  The other replies, “I like you a little, too.”  Sometime later, one says, “I like you a little bit more than a little.”  The reciprocal answer is, “I like you a little more than a little, as well.”   The conversation eventually reaches a point where both can say, “I care for you.  I love you.  I like being around you and hearing your voice on the phone.” Nowadays, however, it’ more likely, they’d say, “Whenever I get your text, email or twitter, it excites me.”   

Some of you, after reading the last statement, will almost shudder and think, “Who would say something like that? Only a teenager in love.”  My thought is that the beauty of a relationship can only come about as a result of you expressing feelings of that nature. Those words are endearing and heart-rending.  Even more, I believe they will, in most instances, elicit responses of an equally loving nature. It’s sad to me that many more individuals than you might imagine find it difficult to share who they are, where they’re coming from and what they feel with someone they declare they love and want to spend the rest of their lives with.  

I would venture to guess that, if you were to take a survey of most people in long-term, intimate relationships, you’d find that emotionally open conversations primarily occurred when they first came together but, over time, the occasions when genuine emotions were exchanged decreased. You can attribute it to laziness or apathy, but I believe that the closer you get, the more you feel and, consequently, the more you fear.  The reason?  No one can hurt you more than someone you love.  Therefore, you fear being put down, ignored, rejected, or possibly hearing them respond, “You’re a good friend.” And then having the feeling that you’re standing there, emotionally naked, with a person who in no way has the same feelings for you that you have for them.

These fears, however, didn’t start with your present spouse or partner. They’re the product of early childhood experiences. I cannot begin to count how many times I’ve had patients in marital counseling say, “I want love.  I want somebody that cares, values and appreciates me, who doesn’t put me down, who thinks I’m worthwhile and loveable and will nurture me, but my spouse is insensitive and undemonstrative.  He/she is just like my mother.” (A statement their partner usually strongly objects to.   Nevertheless, it’s evident that a button has been pushed.) My question which usually follows is, “If that’s the case, why did you pick out and marry someone like your mother?  You saw what he or she was and should have realized he/she would treat you the way your mother did.”  You’re not a victim. You’re a volunteer.  And what you volunteered for was more of the same.  You’ve reproduced the same “loving relationship” you probably had with your own mother.  If that’s the case, you have to introspectively ask, “Why did I do that?  Even more, why did I wait until now to complain? What was going on in me?”  

Those are the questions every person in a relationship has to ask themself.  In most instances, I suspect you’ll say, “I did complain , but he/she never listened.”  My retort is, “Because he never believed you.  Your complaints and gritches had no credence because you failed to act on the statements you made.  Moreover, what you accepted in your life says more about you than it does about your partner.  You either lied to yourself regarding what you wanted, were too weak to fight for it, or didn’t think you deserved it.”

On the other hand, if you’re a partner who can’t say, “I love you” with emotions, doesn’t like to be touched or, when you’re  hugged, stiffens up and doesn’t know how to hug back, you have to ask yourself, “Where am I coming from? How can I expect someone to love me, to stay with me or want to be with me, if I can’t reciprocate?”  

In a curious fashion, if you look closely at the behavior of the two individuals described earlier, you’ll realize that they’re both the same.  One lives a lie of claiming to want love, but stays in a situation where it’s unavailable.  The other, oddly enough is more honest. They’re reluctant to be vulnerable or demonstrate their emotions openly for fear that someone may reject or let them down. They’re a perfect match for one another.  They did not come together by accident. They unconsciously searched for someone with the same neurotic emotional dynamics.  Someone who would stay in a disappointing but safe relationship. Now, ask yourself, “Is that me?”

Two weeks from now, look for still another article that will help you to understand the nature of the so-called “loving” relationships you share and/or created. In the meantime, recognize that, although these emotional dynamics are almost carved in stone, your reactions to them can be altered, but only if you want them to.

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