What is a dysfunctional relationship?

If you are not completely out of touch with any media, writing, audio or video, you have been bombarded with words like “dysfunctional relationship”, “co-dependence” and “toxic family system”. You may have noticed that there is a lot of information available about these relationships, but not too much about what to do about them. This month I thought I would give a brief overview of the different terms and what they mean, plus a guide on the difference between these relationships and healthy.

Dysfunctional relationships are relationships that do not fulfill their appropriate function; that is, they do not emotionally support participants, promote communication between them, challenge them appropriately, or prepare or strengthen them for life in the wider world.

Co-dependence means that one or both people in a relationship make the relationship more important than they are to themselves. A classic co-addict is hopelessly entangled with a partner who is out of control through alcoholism, addiction or violent behavior; but the term has recently been used to mean anyone who feels addicted, helpless, and out of control in a relationship; or unable to leave an unsatisfactory or offensive.

Toxic family systems are relationships (starting with childhood families and entering adulthood) that are mentally, emotionally, or physically harmful to some or all of the participants. Co-dependent relationships can also be toxic relationships, although the term “toxic” is commonly used to mean the more abusive variants.

In short, all three of these terms refer to relationships that involve unhealthy interaction, and that do not effectively improve the lives of those involved. People in these relationships do not take responsibility for making their own lives or the relationship work.

The degree of dysfunction, co-dependence or toxicity in relationships can vary. Most of us get a little addicted, and therefore dysfunctional, from time to time – especially when we are tired, stressed or otherwise overloaded. What makes the difference between this normal, temporary human weakness and real clinical dysfunction is our ability to recognize, confront and correct dysfunction when it happens in our relationships.

The question to think about is: what does not work, and how can we make it work? Most people, when faced with a relationship problem or disagreement, start reflexively looking for a villain; that is, they want to know who is wrong. Responding to a problem by looking for someone to blame (even if it’s yourself) is a dysfunctional answer. The functional question is not “Whose fault is it?” but “What can we do to solve the problem?”

When you try it, you will see that if you refuse to focus on blaming someone (yourself or your partner), and instead insist on solving the problem, it will make a huge difference in all your relationships. Families who sit down together, in a family meeting, where everyone, even small children, get to discuss the problem from their point of view, and everyone works together to solve the problem, quickly becomes functional.

Couples who can sit down together and discuss problems in peace and quiet, without blaming, criticizing and accusing, experience that looking for a mutual solution to their problems increases their commitment, their intimacy and binds them together. Nothing binds you in the relationship more powerfully than the awareness that by working together you can solve all the problems that arise.

No relationship will be perfect; and how to successfully interact with your lover can not be worked out in advance. Yes, you can learn basic communication techniques, build your self-esteem and develop patterns of healthy, equal, balanced love before you meet – and all of these will make your relationship, once you find it, much more successful. But because you are unique, and so is your partner, what works for both of you needs to be developed on the spot. The only way I know how to do this is through experience, communication and negotiation.

If you understand that your relationship, in order to be successful, must be healthy and satisfying for both you and your partner, you will also understand that it is just as harmful to co-dependently put your partners’ feelings, needs and desires before your own as to compulsively put your wishes and needs. and feelings before your lover.

By focusing on solving problems and problems together, through honest and open communication, you can learn to achieve a balance. That is, you can work together to ensure that you both have your needs and desires met, and you can both care equally about your mutual satisfaction, health, and happiness.

Every other definition of love tends to degenerate into dysfunction and co-dependence, and will become toxic to you and your lover. Finding out if solutions are mutually satisfactory is easy – you ask each other how it feels and if it works. Starting your relationship with this idea in mind, or renewing an existing relationship based on this, is much easier and nicer than you might think. I invite you to consciously shift your focus from who is wrong to what will solve the problem, and to increase the reciprocity and communication in your relationship, and see what dysfunctional interaction you have, whether mild or severe, is significantly reduced . You can do this with relationships at home, with your parents, your children, your siblings and even with friends and co-workers.

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