Can You Trust Your Mate’s Dysfunction?

Via Nikki Di Virgilio
on Sep 12, 2012
get elephant's newsletter

An invitation into a texting conversation

Background Story:

My husband and I have been considering a separation, and sometimes we text instead of talk face-to-face. Can you couples out there relate to this, and what I am about to share?

Me: Listen, you are who I married. Who I waited for. You aren’t perfect. In fact, some of what you do scares the sh*t out of me, but I feel like we can really be close if that’s what we are willing to commit to. We can be a great team. 

For 13 years, I’ve seen your good and your bad, and you’ve seen mine. There shouldn’t be anymore surprises (except nice ones) going forward.

That’s my new story, and I’d like to stick to it. The past be gone—except for the lessons. 

Husband: My apologies for scaring you. I just feel that you’re constantly wanting me to be better it’s too much for me. Sometimes I just want to do bad, to feel human, or normal, or to get a lesson or whatever f*cked up reason. I feel so desperate that I sometimes feel I need to do desperate things. You not trusting my dysfunction makes me not trust us. 

I had a rough couple of days. I was in bed all weekend, and so I threw in a movie: Gandhi. I did not stay up for its entirety, but I’ve seen it before. Each time I watch it, my soul tunes into something new. Last time I watched it, it was this scene:

Vince Walker: You’re an ambitious man, Mr. Gandhi.

Gandhi: I hope not.

This time it was this scene: Gandhi and his wife, Ba, are in a disagreement. She is to wash the latrines, a task she did not do in their previous existence. She defies his command to do as all the others, stating that she is his wife. He becomes angry and begins to push her out of the house and tells her to go.

The mood settles as they both recognize the violence, which is separating them. She kneels beside him:

Gandhi: What is the matter with me?

Ba: You are human—only human. And it is even harder for those of us who do not even want to be as good as you do.

I have many miles to walk before I reach the commitment and selflessness Gandhi exhibits. However, my ears could not help but to listen in while Ba spoke to her husband….“It is even harder for those who do not even want to be as good as you do.”

When I married my husband, I had established a spiritual practice of digging deep within myself to “know thyself.”

I remember clearly stating to him I would never give up this practice. Even if it meant we might grow apart because of my constant digging.

When we dig we change, and become more real as we shed the unreal. For me, I dug deeper into my codependency, insecurities and fears, which naturally arose when I said, I do. And, being the codependent I was, and still can be, I wanted him to do the same. I wanted him to rid himself of his dysfunction, and why? So, we could live happily and safely ever after, of course.

But what if our partner doesn’t even want to be as good as we do?

What if they don’t want to sit with all of their dysfunction, like a cluttered closet, and sift it through, learning and growing upon their own effort and commitment?

I have known there is resentment in our marriage. I had a sense it was for these reasons. I am relieved by his honesty. It is a beginning, but to where?

In his confession by text, he is saying I set a high bar just by being me, and the way I came here to live, and also in the way I force and pick at him until he gives me what I want to hear, which is never. He upholds his position. He feels forced to keep his “bad” in these moments. In turn, I have resented and feared him.

In his confession by text, he is also asking me: can I trust his dysfunction?

And so I ask you, can you trust your mate’s dysfunction? Knowing, through the course of this post, and some time after I will be asking myself the same question.

We have some examples of this (maybe)—Hillary and Bill. It would appear she has trusted his dysfunction, and he hers? Or, did this agreement go that deep? Perhaps they (I say “they” because although he cheated, we don’t know the entire story) agreed to just forgive and move on. Simple. Or is it?

I am going to debate this idea of forgiveness for it seems it can be simplistic and at times, self-righteous. Here is why: what is there to ever forgive when we, the people, are only doing what we can’t help but to do, which is to express our dysfunction? We all have it. If forgiveness is an antidote for our suffering marriage, are we aware at how extensive the work of forgiveness is and the wisdom it takes to do so?

I ask my husband, after he goes on about how dysfunctional we are, “Well, what were you expecting? Were you expecting it to be all sex and roses?

We both came in with dysfunction, and me being who I am always wants to get through the sh*t sooner rather than later.

For 13 years we’ve thrown all our sh*t on the living room floor, and everywhere else there was space. We have seen our good and our bad. We also know by now how we can cause separation and how we can bring unity.

These are good things to know. It’s almost like we now, after these 13 years in marriage, have a map of our function and dysfunction. We can hang it up in our minds to see all the paths more clearly and where they are going to lead. We may even have a map, which will lead us to someplace new.

This leads me back to forgiveness, and the question: can I trust my husband’s dysfunction? Honestly, I’d rather trust it than forgive it. I’d rather know, understand and hold the space for it, and then forgive it. Maybe this is the work of true forgiveness.

I think of Obama’s recent convention speech. He said he never told us it was going to be easy. He said we have a lot of work to do. He also said, “The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place.”

In my marriage, had we kept our dysfunction hidden instead of throwing it out on the floor, our “honeymoon” years would have been spent in blissful ignorance instead of chaos and dysfunction. But eventually, the carpet that all our crap was hidden under would begin to reek, and eventually break down.

Rumi says in his poem, The Pickaxe:

I was a hidden treasure, and I desired to be known. 

Tear down this house…the only way to get (to the treasure) is to do the work of demolition, and then the digging beneath the foundation. 

With that value in hand all the new construction will be done without effort. And anyway, sooner or later, the house will fall on its own. 

The jewel treasure will be uncovered, but it will not be yours then. The buried wealth is your pay for the doing the demolition, the pick and shovel work. 

If you wait and just let it happen, you will bite your hand and say, I did not do as I knew I should have.

~ A Year With Rumi by Coleman Barks

The path of uncovering our dysfunction and doing the work of demolition is a harder path, especially in the beginning of a marriage, but in the end, it leads to a better place (or at least that is what those with vision and wisdom tell us). It is going to break down anyway.

As I look at the course of my marriage, see that map in my mind, and realize we have the potential to move to some place new, I ask: can I trust my husband’s dysfunction? Do I trust my own? Do I know beneath the rifts that separate us, is a buried treasure? Do I trust that it is this treasure, which creates the dysfunction? That it is this treasure, which glistens and glows beneath, just enough for us to feel its fire so that we dig and dig through our errors and selfish, indulgent ways until finally it is uncovered? 

Yes. In this space of wisdom and vision, I trust all of this. I know it to be true. I know, truly nothing he does or I do is personal or needs forgiveness. It is, simply the work of the soul, and who we do this work with and how long we do it together? With honesty and personal responsibility of our own dysfunction, we can do so consciously and more lovingly together and be a good team, growing in the way we came here to grow.

If you feel this post incomplete, it is. The questions and answers continue to be asked and answered in a new light. The process unfolds, and you can help. If this sparked something inside of you, let’s keep talking and learning and understanding and leave your comments below.




Editors: Brianna Bemel and Lori Lothian


Like elephant Love & Relationships on Facebook.


About Nikki Di Virgilio

Nikki Di Virgilio is a writer at work on a memoir and spiritual guidebook. She also is a soul-guide for those waking up to the inner journey. You can contact Nikki and subscribe to her Daily Soul Reports at or


14 Responses to “Can You Trust Your Mate’s Dysfunction?”

  1. marian says:

    Excellent insights. Thank you.

  2. mara says:

    thanks, that's a new way of holding trust for me. i trust my partners dysfunction. i'm going to give that a shot.
    "Whatever you accept completely will take you to peace, including the acceptance that you cannot accept, that you are in resistance." Eckhart Tolle

  3. Nikki Di Virgilio says:

    You're welcome- and thank you.

  4. Nikki Di Virgilio says:

    You're welcome. My husband inspired the post. Perfect quote by Eckhart. Thank you for your comment.

  5. theiamprogram says:

    i guess my partners dysfunction is actually my dysfunction in the context of 'we are one' and that what we perceive is actually who WE are.
    it doesn't mean I need to stay, but it DOES inspire me to take a close look at the 'dysfunction' on a very personal level…. as soon as we start pointing fingers at anothers dysfunction it is an indication that on some level we have not embraced the same core issue in ourselves…. find the ticket to embracing that and i notice for myself things can rapidly change!
    Byron Katies work is excellent for helping deal with this sort of thing…

  6. I've come to see that coupling shows us how to love ourselves unconditionally. So it doesn't matter who you couple with, the lessons always lead us back to ourselves. I figure if' I'm triggered in relationship, there is more for me to learn from the union. If i'm blissful in union, I'm grateful and know this too shall pass…cause I will be evolving for the rest of my life. I love this quote by Tom Robbins. " “We waste time looking for the perfect lover, instead of creating the perfect love.”
    Great read, Nikki. Thank you~~~

  7. Nikki Di Virgilio says:

    Byron Katie's work, I have found is one of the more simpler teachings out there- and also the most difficult because of how complex we are. We find these complexities when we dig inside, which is the opportunity relationships offer us. I remember I got into an altercation, a physical one unfortunately with an old boyfriend. When I told my father (I was 17 at the time) he asked me what inside of me attracted this experience- meaning what was in me that thought it was okay to get hit. This was a huge lesson for me. It also has a "negative" side. We can get too far into blaming ourselves for everything as well. The inner work is to be as conscious as possible so to not go into those victim places.

    Thanks for sharing. Namaste.

  8. Nikki Di Virgilio says:

    Yes, they do- the lessons always lead back to ourselves.

    Thanks for coming on over to read, Alexandra. Hope you are well.

  9. I know miscommunication and secrets withheld, once uncorked – leads to new light.

    Shine on, shine on…beautiful one.

  10. Amber says:

    I am so pleased to read this!

    I have been practicing something similar for a number of years now. When faced with the concept of “trusting someone”, I just reminded myself that I can always trust that “people are going to do what people do” and I am not the predictor of that. Trust must be in my own ability to navigate whatever life puts in front of me, and that is what I have been cultivating. The past 2 years there has been someone in front of me who in my head, looks like a train wreck in terms of a match for me, but in my heart, it’s an unavoidable collision. We get along famously, but have similar differences to your experience. I have been looking at those things that in past relationships I have made out to be “problems” and just allowing him his own “disfunctions”. It’s remarkably freeing!

    I appreciate your candidness in sharing your experience. It’s appearance for me, is perfect timing.

    Thank you for putting yourself out there and presenting a different angle that many do not ever consider!


  11. Nikki Di Virgilio says:

    Yes, it does. Thank you. Namaste.

  12. Nikki Di Virgilio says:

    Hi Amber. I love this: "in my heart, it's an unavoidable collision." It gives words to my own relationship. There's been years of conflict- should I stay or go…? I keep heart-fully colliding.

    Thank you for sharing,

  13. Angel Pricer says:

    This is a wonderful insight well worth sharing, Nikki. As a woman, mother, and empathic being, I have spent (as many women have/do) a lifetime sorting out what's mine to take responsibility for and allowing others to be as they are. This possibility only seems to arise once the emotional charge in me ceases to be, and that doesn't happen when I am holding onto blaming myself (or anyone else) for 'what happened.' Indeed we are very complex, emotional beings ~ at least in the sense that mastering our emotions is the work that revolves around our relationships.

    I suppose to some degree Byron Katies "Work" has a built in safety net of sorts, for you've got to have at least a glimmer of consciousness to even be willing to ask the questions of yourself. We've all got to start somewhere 🙂

  14. Amy E says:

    Fascinating article: "trust the dysfunction, rather than forgive it". The process of tearing down and rebuilding oneself is a necessary process for growth. If you examine the dysfunction and tear it down, you are healing, learning, and changing. Very interesting perspective! Kudos!