November 30, 2013

Can an Unhealthy Relationship Transform into a Healthy one?

Relationships are key to survival but they can also be the source of destruction.

Learning the difference often takes years of practice, psychotherapy and the relentless integration of self-care.

It means everything to fall in love, and even more to sustain a loving relationship with someone other than God (supposedly even God gets pissed). There is a lot of text in existence talking about the various facets of love. For the purposes of this article, love is about giving and receiving in disproportional and balanced measures. Healthy relationships involve equanimity but love is about giving.

There is no hard and fast definition for a healthy relationship and there is an absolute and definitive definition for an unhealthy relationship.

An unhealthy relationship includes acute and chronic abuse in the form of mental, physical or emotional terrorism. The core of this type of relationship includes destruction, exploitation and deep denial.

Abuse can be blatant and it can be insidious. Threatening bodily harm, enacting physical violence and verbally lashing out are blatant forms of abuse. But, there are more subtle forms.

I used to have this boyfriend who would get mad at me if I wore make-up. He would ignore me, withhold affection and then would give affection if I acted in a way that was pleasing to him.

In a different relationship of mine, I was long-distance with a man who believed in extended periods of non-committal behavior.

It is fair to argue that commitment is a two way street but if one party is driving the wrong way down a one way lane, the respectful thing to do is not to lead anyone on.

It is fair to argue any of these points and once people are in the cycle of abuse they often do.

Phrases like, “He is just stressed” or “It won’t happen again” are common justifications for intolerable behavior. The reality is that in the beginning of a relationship abuse can be hard to spot. An adoring partner might slowly show signs of possessiveness that get misconstrued as caring.

As defined by Lenore Walker the cycle of abuse includes an initial period where tension builds, the incident occurs, reconciliation is exacted and then there is a calm honeymoon period. Abusers often view themselves as victims, and victims take on the distorted perspective that they are helping their abuser. Attempting to salvage this type of relationship is futile at best.

But this article is more than a dissertation on domestic violence and abuse. I aim to address a very real question that every person who struggles in relationship asks, “Can I change what is unhealthy to healthy?” Aside from abusive relationships the answer to this question is yes.

Yes you can transform what is unhealthy to healthy but only if two vital components are in place. The first component is willingness from both parties involved and the second component is work.

Let’s talk about willingness. I really like to get my way. I am a big fan of having my needs taken care of with no effort of my own; not even asking. This infantile preference often leads to miscommunications that result in ongoing frustrations. These frustrations inculcate dysfunctional patterns that illicit skewed survival instincts. In basic terms, I mind-fuck myself all the time when I don’t get what I want. I ascribe to thoughts like, “Well if he would just change, I could be happy.” Another classic is, “If he loved me, he would just intuitively know how to treat me the way I want to be treated.” These are ridged notions.

Willingness is the ability to admit, “I’m not perfect and I don’t know what I’m doing.” Willingness is a cornerstone of successfully negotiating relationship challenges. Moreover, willingness is committing to negotiating relationship challenges, including but not limited to, healing disappointments, sincerely apologizing and taking ownership of bad behavior.

Bad behaviors include not listening, insufficiently or passive aggressively communicating the impact your partner’s actions have on you, assuming that love means getting your way and avoiding ownerships of thoughts, actions and emotions. Bad behaviors can be subtle forms of abuse if not addressed and amended immediately.

Willingness involves addressing and amending bad behaviors the moment they become apparent.

After doing this, the next step in transforming that which is unhealthy to healthy, involves work. Both parties must work at mending and nurturing the relationship.

The relationship is an active third entity that is created when two people decide to couple up. Relationship is a container. It houses the entirety and enormity of love, unconscious realities, fears, hopes, lineages and karma. This is the power and potency of relationship.

But people often mistake relationship as a panacea. It is misconstrued as a formidable Treasure Island full of endless pleasure.

Nope. Relationships take work. Time reveals all truths and lies. Spend enough time with one human, and the realization they are in fact human, is inevitable.

If your partner is human then this means having to admit your own mortality, fallacies, misconceptions and vulnerabilities. It takes work to contain an infinite soul inside a finite body otherwise known as being human.

So if you find yourself questioning if the struggle is worth it, the answer is yes. If you are willing to dare greatly, to be a contender, then transforming your relationship has everything to do with dedicating your body, and partnership to traversing your spiritual path.

The quickest way to transform that which is unhealthy and destructive, to productive and healthy, is to apply spiritual truths. Firstly, take responsibility. Own your thoughts, behaviors and actions. Be kind with no exception. Be discerning without judgment. Learn to let go and then surrender. Have faith in the ability to respond in the moment. Believe in the heart’s capacity to love. Practice humility. Allow the mind to rest as well as learn. Be of service. Engage in daily prayer and meditation. Clean up all messes. Slow down and tune in.

There are plenty of obstacles prohibiting living a spiritual life, including mental illness, constant distractions and fear. However, these obstacles can also support a healthy relationship, if one is willing and able to put in the work.

I spent my 20’s listening to Sheryl Crow and on her first album Tuesday Night Music Club, she sang the lyric, “No one said it would be easy, but no one said it would be this hard.” Having done my best to change others only to learn I had to change myself, I know what she means. Willingness takes work.

Authors Note: If you or anyone you know is being abused seek help at:  http://www.thehotline.org

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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

{Photos: Sokrovvenno Art Group & Ingrid Schroder}
& Flickr

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