If Your Relationship Is Failing, Here’s Why. ~ Dr. Margaret Paul

Via elephant journal
on May 22, 2012
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If there was one thing you could do to heal your relationships, would you do it?

I’m the kind of person who loves to understand the deeper reasons behind behavior, and I’ve spent most of my life learning about what creates loving or unloving relationships. In the 43 years I’ve been counseling couples, I’ve discovered that there really is one major cause of relationship problems—one issue that if you address and heal, changes everything.

The one cause: self-abandonment.

When you abandon yourself emotionally, physically, spiritually, financially, relationally and/or organizationally, you automatically make your partner responsible for you. Once you make another person responsible for your feelings of self-worth and well being, then you attempt to manipulate that person into loving you, approving of you and giving you what you want. The controlling behavior that results from self-abandonment creates huge relationship problems.

Let’s look at the various forms of self-abandonment and how they result in relationship conflict and power struggles, or in distance and disconnection.

Emotional self-abandonment.

When we were growing up, many of us experienced much loneliness, heartache, heartbreak and helplessness. These are very big feelings, and unless we had loving parents or caregivers who helped us through these feelings—rather than being the cause of them—we had to find strategies to avoid them.

We learned four major ways of avoiding these core painful feelings of life, and these four ways now create our feelings of anxiety, depression, guilt, shame and anger, as well as relationship problems.

1. We judge ourselves rather than accept ourselves.

Did you learn to judge yourself as a way to try to get yourself to do things “right” so that others would like you? Self-judgment creates much anxiety, depression, guilt, shame and emptiness, and can lead to many addictions in order to avoid these feelings. Self-judgment also leads to needing others’ approval to feel worthy, and your resulting controlling behaviors to gain others’ approval can lead to many relationship problems.

2. We ignore our feelings by staying up in our head rather than being present in our body.

When you have not learned how to manage your feelings, you want to avoid them. Do you find yourself focused in your head rather than in your body, more or less unaware of your feelings?

We emotionally connect with each other from our hearts and souls, not from our heads. When you stay in your head as a way to avoid responsibility for your feelings, you cannot emotionally connect with your partner.

3. We turn to various addictions to numb the anxiety, depression, emptiness, guilt, shame and anger that develops when we judge ourselves and ignore our feelings.

Addictive behavior, such too much alcohol, drugs, food, TV, gambling, overspending, work, sex and so on, can create much conflict and distance in relationships.

4. We make our partner or others responsible for our feelings.

When we emotionally abandon ourselves, we then believe it is someone else’s job to make us feel loved and worthy. Do you try to control your partner with anger, blame, criticism, compliance, resistance or withdrawal to get him or her to give you what you are not giving to yourself? How does your partner respond to this controlling behavior?

Many relationships fall into a dysfunctional system, such as one person getting angry and the other withdrawing or resisting, or both getting angry or both withdrawing. In some systems, one is angry and the other is compliant, which seems to work until the compliant partner becomes resentful. In all of these systems, each person is emotionally abandoning themselves, which is the root cause of the dysfunctional relationship.

Financial self-abandonment.

If you refuse to take care of yourself financially, instead expecting your partner to take financial responsibility for you, this can create problems. This is not a problem if your partner agrees to take financial responsibility for you and you fully accept how he or she handles this responsibility. But if you choose to be financially irresponsible, such as overspending, or you try to control how your partner earns or manages the money, much conflict can occur over your financial self-abandonment.

Organizational self-abandonment.

If you refuse to take responsibility for your own time and space, and instead are consistently late and/or a clutterer, and your partner is an on-time and/or a neat person, this can create huge power struggles and resentment in your relationship.

Physical self-abandonment.

If you refuse to take care of yourself physically by eating badly and not exercising, possibly causing yourself severe health problems, your partner may feel resentful by having to take care of you. Your physical self-abandonment not only has negative consequences for you regarding your health and well being, it also has unwanted consequences for your partner, which can lead to conflict and power struggles.

Relational self-abandonment.

If you refuse to speak up for yourself in your relationship, and instead become complacent or resistant, you are eroding the love in the relationship. When you abandon yourself to another through compliance or resistance, you create a lack of trust that leads to conflict, disconnection and resentment.

Spiritual self-abandonment.

When you make your partner your source of love rather than learning to turn to a spiritual source for your dependable source of love, you place a very unfair burden on your partner. When your intent in the relationship is to get love rather than to share love, then you will unfairly lean on your partner for attention, approval, time or sex. When you do not take responsibility for learning how to connect with a spiritual source of your own for sustenance, your neediness can create relationship problems.

Spiritual self-abandonment is related to emotional self-abandonment, in that you cannot commit to 100% responsibility for yourself without a strong connection with a spiritual source of love and wisdom.

Learn to love yourself rather than abandon yourself.

Learning to love yourself is the key to a loving relationship. When you learn to connect with a personal source of spiritual guidance and access the love and wisdom that is always within you, you learn to fill yourself up with love. While self-abandonment creates an inner emptiness that relies on others to fill you, self-love creates an inner fullness. Self-love fills your heart and soul with overflowing love so that, rather than always trying to get love, you can now share your love with your partner.



5 Things Done Differently in Healthy Relationships.


All Healthy Relationships Have Hiccups.


The One Thing We Need to Have a Healthy Relationship.


Relephant Bonus: “The one Buddhist Red Flag to watch out for & how you’ll know if he or she is The One.”



Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a best-selling author of 8 books, relationship expert, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® process, featured on Oprah, and recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette. Are you are ready to heal your pain and discover your joy? Click here for a FREE Inner Bonding course: http://www.innerbonding.com/welcome, and visit our website at http://www.innerbonding.com for more articles and help. Phone and Skype Sessions Available. Join the thousands we have already helped and visit us now!

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48 Responses to “If Your Relationship Is Failing, Here’s Why. ~ Dr. Margaret Paul”

  1. Al-Anon member says:

    Thanks for this article! It is opening my eyes just a bit more and helping me on my path.

  2. I'm pleased it is helpful.

  3. […] This, I realize, is my purest part and also the part that causes the most dysfunction in our relationship. […]

  4. its really a great posted by the author and really thanks for sharing this information's us.. and i am seeking.. thanks and i will share it more and more this info.

  5. […] have said that if you don’t love yourself it is difficult to love another. Love tends to be […]

  6. Lynn says:

    Very good article. I was with a passive-aggressive man for many, many years, and it wrung the life out of me. The problem is, once I re-discovered self-love and started taking care of all my own needs, he became nothing but a burden and an annoyance. I kicked him out an divorced him. I didn't save the marriage, but it IS a happy ending.

  7. Amanda says:

    Thank you. This article really nailed down what I am currently trying to work through in such a concise and helpful manner.

  8. Rish says:

    A very well written article. It's a good reminder.

  9. ilfauno44 says:

    Perhaps the best article I've ever read on Elephant. Sound advice from a perspective tested over a long time.

  10. lindsey says:

    This is so wonderful. Thank you, thank you.

  11. sadie says:

    how can I guide my partner to learn to love himself?

  12. Greta Cargo says:

    This is SO SPOT ON. Another way to describe this is to put on your own oxygen mask first….you can't give if you have nothing to give. It's not selfish, it's very real. To give, you need to have, you need to know how to care for yourself first to teach/model that to others and to provide. That also means knowing when to ask for help….being strong is all of that self-awareness. Thank you for posting this, Waylon, and for writing this, Margaret!

  13. Gabrielle says:

    Truth! This is a truly wonderful article.. thank you for this! Sending this around…

  14. josh-leigh says:


    I like you Magaret

    You are amazing….


    Bbm 27da0081

  15. Adriana says:

    Well, living on minimal surviving conditions it is hard to afford to take care of yourself, there is nothing left but spiritual, compasionate care which will also lack to many many other requests you have to fill in somehow before getting down to care for yourself.

  16. Kate says:

    So people with chronic illnesses aren’t worthy of love? What about people with depression who struggle with their sense of self worth as a symptom of their illness? People who aren’t neat freak cause resentment? Why are you even in a relationship if you never need help or support from your partner? Jeez

  17. Awesome blog.I like it.

  18. Donald Theiss says:

    Excellent analysis of the issue in our relationships, the disconnect from self and the only answer to the issue is to connect with self and become in dependent rather than dependent on the other for our sense of well being.

  19. Tara says:

    Gottman is amazing, and his input as a degreed, experienced professional with an understanding of research AND human relationships, communication, and emotional processing, is INVALUABLE.

    The Byron Katie clip at the end of the author’s article, here, though, discredits the author of this article, and I’m fairly confident Gottman would be uncomfortable having his work associated with this charlatan. Byron Katie is a snake-oil peddler, who charges thousands of non-refundable dollars for attendance of ‘conferences’ where one has the costly privilege of seeing her trot out her LoA-style, victim-blaming, “judge-thy-neighbor” methodology.

    She is unlicensed, with no training or degree in mental health counseling, and has caused serious damage to many of her followers. This little nugget at the end just really undermines the message of a celebrated professional (Gottman) whose validated methods are well-worth the read, without the added fluff…

  20. Sneha says:

    Awesome piece of advice… this is exactly what most of us fail to realize..

  21. Jane says:

    The message is very enlightening, but I think it comes from someone with a lot of privilege.

    Our society is very abusive to all who are part of it, this is the core issue. We are taught to abandon our emotions and fight each other until we die. How can one be expected to do some of these things if they don’t even have a safe place to rest, or enough money for the electric bill. We can’t all just “take financial responsibility” for ourselves if the option isn’t available.

  22. Marykate says:

    So how do we love ourselves ? Easier said than done…

  23. Evita says:

    So basically, it all resumes to proper communication, in many ways.

  24. sara says:

    I agree with Kate. No one is perfect. If you are looking for perfection in yourself or someone else, you'll never find it. Because it doesn't exist. Everybody has a flaw or a deficit. People need to learn to love and respect others for their good and their bad qualities. I want someone who can love and appreciate me, flaws and all, and I will do the same for them.. That's real love and that's the secret to a long marriage.

    In my opinion, this article represents the self-serving, selfish, idealologies that are ruining marriage and leading to a life of living alone and unhappy and divorced.

  25. happyhealthy365 says:

    This is all so true and it is an amazing article full of wisdom and truth. However, it is a bit misleading and is missing action steps. Starting the article with "If there was one thing you could do to heal your relationships, would you do it?" makes the reading think that wow, there is an easy step, OF COURSE, I would do it. Ending the article with "Learn to love yourself rather than abandon yourself." can make someone who is struggling with self-love feel that, oh, shit, she is telling me it is so darn easy but it is impossible for me. Self-love comes naturally for a few, is easily developed by others, while for many is a struggle that seems impossible. As someone who used to find self-love to be impossible, I now know it is the opposite: self-love IS possible and can be learned. As a coach I guide my clients to learn how to love themselves and to find love and happiness inside them. Surely, finding this within will make their relationships much better too. However, it is a process with ups and downs and a learning curve. I am missing action steps in this article. A "learn to love yourself" in the end is not enough for even an aha moment…

  26. Eggshells says:

    Great. Now, in addition to judging myself at work, parenting, and general life, I feel panic, because I apparently am going cause failure of my awesome marriage. All I need to do is love myself a little more, that is all, no pressure.

  27. Becca says:

    All people are worthy of love, of course. But it is unfair to rely on a single person to give you all the love and support you need in your life. When you are ill or depressed or have feelings of low self-worth, you need to rely on a network of caring people that can help you: family, friends, a spiritual community, a mental health community, a medical community, an educational community, etc. There are loving and compassionate people everywhere, available to help people who are struggling. I think relationships fail because we have forgotten how to live in community and rely on a network of people rather than just one romantic partner.

  28. amey says:

    WOW! I’m glad this news article came across my news feed. I needed to ‘hear’ these words.

  29. Becca says:

    A good point is raised here, that I think actually supports the author's message. Divorce rates are higher among those with low incomes. It is very difficult for people to have satisfying and happy relationships when they are struggling financially. I think that financial responsibility is still something that can be practiced though, even if you have to rely on others for financial support. Using your resources wisely, wherever they may come from, is being financially responsible.

  30. Angie Wing says:


    I’m writing to inquire about the apprenticeship being offered this summer. I read the general information but I was wondering if you could elaborate on what specifically we will be doing during the time we are contributing. I’m very open to whatever is needed, just wanted to get an idea of what the week-to-week work will be like; whether its editing, writing, research, etc. Also, I’m wondering if we will get feedback on any articles we might write for Elephant during the apprenticeship. Any other info you can provide is much appreciated. Thanks!

  31. elephantjournal says:

    Hi Angie,

    Your weekly assignments will be a bit of everything: from writing and editing articles to taking care of our social media sites etc. You will be given feedback on all your articles, of course. In fact, we give feedback on submitted articles to everyone, apprentices or no apprentices 🙂 For more information about the apprenticeship check this article <a href="http:// (http://www.elephantjournal.com/2015/04/join-elephants-summer-2015-academy-a-certificate-apprenticeship-in-social-media-journalism-ethics-editing/)” target=”_blank”> <a href="http://(http://www.elephantjournal.com/2015/04/join-elephants-summer-2015-academy-a-certificate-apprenticeship-in-social-media-journalism-ethics-editing/)” target=”_blank”>(http://www.elephantjournal.com/2015/04/join-elephants-summer-2015-academy-a-certificate-apprenticeship-in-social-media-journalism-ethics-editing/) or send any questions to [email protected].

    With ele love,

  32. Jerry says:

    I wished I had read this article months ago. I might have been able to save my marriage.

  33. sarah says:

    Whilst I agree to some extent, unless I missed it this article does not mention the fact that the partner might make self love impossible. They do not allow you the space to get it in the fullest sense because their needs / hang ups / desires etc are too great. You can only love yourself if you have space- surely -both in time and energy.

  34. Debbie says:

    You can't, it is a path he must choose and follow himself. All you can do is follow you're own path.

  35. Rosanna says:

    Good question! What is love? I have asked many and until today I have got not one answer that is relevant.

    If any one is capable, illuminate me, I would like it very much! Thank you, in advance.

  36. jo says:

    The only biti struggled with was financial abandonment. I’ve had the kid and we had to move for my husband’s job. So I am now finding it difficult to find well paid work at 46 after a 6 year break. Society/ the job market discriminates. So a bit of interdependence is inevitable.

  37. Mana says:

    I appreciated the article. I have to say, I was slightly surprised by the varied responses. I would have thought everyone understood this. It is not an easy process. It is a conscious choice every day and sometimes every minute to take responsibility for ourselves. I find it crucial. I find it to be a burden when I am expected to be the source of happiness for an internally unhappy person. I would much prefer to be an addition to anothers happiness. There is a huge difference between self caring and selfish. Self caring allows us room for compassion and love towards others. Thanks for writing.

  38. Christine says:

    Becca, I have read a couple of your comments and I would like to say you are very insightful. I appreciate your thoughts, they are thorough.

  39. Carole says:

    Wow, fantastic article, lots to consider. Bless you for your insights and sharing them with us.

  40. Ralphie says:

    why are there are no men commenting ??? seems to only have women "in trouble" what about all of the men who
    have a "lump on a log" ????

  41. ralphie says:

    Also we are all human, and if either man or woman "get in a funk" from anything from a family passing to a wild child……………..the other spouse has a real had time picking up the slack

  42. Fran says:

    That article seems a bit naive. If you’re din a relationship with a psychopath, sociopath or someone with narcissistic personality disorder and dealing with psychological abuse you cannot save the relationship. If a victim of that kind of abuse who doesn’t know that their partner is one of the above could read that article and think that if THEY changed they could save the relationship. After all, why wouldn’t they think it’s their fault when their abuser always tells them it is. When in fact, you can never fix or save a relationship with an abuser. And abusers certainly never do anything to “fix” themselves.

  43. Sarah says:

    But how do you develop self-love??

  44. Maddy says:

    The key word is “responsibility.” Chronically ill? That’s outside your control. But you can take responsibility for caring for yourself to the best of your ability, and giving back where you are able. Not a neat freak? Okay…but do you take responsibility for your use of space and the problems it sometimes causes, or do you tell others that it’s THEIR problem if they can’t find a single clean space in their house where they can keep and organize their own things because you keep dumping your clutter everywhere? No-one is saying you have to be perfect to be worthy of love, but it IS hard to maintain a loving relationship with someone who won’t take responsibility for the things they can, and instead expects others to take responsibility for them in ways that they can and should take responsibility for themselves.

  45. Maddy says:

    Fran, if you are able to practice self-love as described in this article, you will quickly stop needing the narcissist in your life because you won’t lack anything s/he can provide, and s/he isn’t choosing to contribute the things that s/he could, anyway. At that point, all it takes is for you to REALIZE that your partner is always taking and never giving, and getting out will be easy (from the standpoint of your emotions/will…not necessarily legally of course).

  46. Larry Li says:

    Thank you. Poignant and insightful. Deep gratitude for this article.

  47. Stacey Dematos says:

    I have an ex that should read this

  48. Samuel says:

    Thank you so much for this article. Articulates beautifully what i needed to hear.