How to Go From Unhealthy to Healthy in Any Relationship 

Publish date: 2021-05-23
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Due to the fact that our brains are wired for resistance, we usually take on the  challenges we face in our relationships through avoidance rather than with curiosity. Hence,  many of the relationships  that seemingly start off as healthy transform into an unhealthy dynamic.

Even though unhealthy relationship dynamics can take different forms - family, friends, romantic or professional partners– the focus of this post is more on the relationships that we choose to have ( romantic, professional etc) and not the ones given to us (family).

Relationships follow an equation that does not follow the rules of arithmetic; but it can be easily proven with algebra and demonstrated in a branch of mathematics called graph theory. The equation I am speaking about is one plus one equals three i.e. you, the other person, and the invisible thread between the two of you.

The growth, strength, maturity, and evolution of a relationship is a direct result of what you and the other person(s) feed into it. Even though you're not the only person responsible for the health of a relationship, you have equally taken part in shaping the relationship into what it is today. This means the values, beliefs, memories, decisions and language of each person significantly influences the direction of the relationship and what you two will share in the experience. 

All things considered, there's a long list of things that we do or don't do in our interactions that brings us to a point of  feeling anything but “good”. 

When we feel this way our immediate response is to  quickly turn outwards to find solutions to alleviate the symptoms of a condition deeply rooted inside us.

Take for instance when you start losing interest in your partner, instead of uncovering the cause, you may plan to go on a trip together in hopes of rekindling the spark in the relationship and when that doesn’t work in order to further distance yourself from this uncomfortable feeling, you may deflect the blame and responsibility onto the other person as a defense mechanism. You may even start looking for that spark in an ex-partner or maybe  a new person.

Restricted expression of emotions and unacknowledged feelings often lead to a chain of unhealthy behaviors such as shutting down, lashing out, hypersexuality, overeating or drugs and alcohol abuse, etc. 

While such solutions could temporarily help us get out of the predicament we are in, since we have not addressed the underlying cause of the problem, they usually won't be effective in the long run. Consequently, we fall back into repetitive cycles and recurring patterns where we continue to face the same challenges and slip into  a similar back and forth exchange. In some cases, we may even find ourselves in a place where it feels like we're having the same relationship dynamic only with a different person.

You may ask yourself why can’t I get this part of my life right? 

In my view, there are three common approaches to relationship problems: 

  • Denial: Ignore the problem entirely .
  • Aggression or Repression: Admit  that there's a problem, but think you're at the “effect” end of the spectrum and  just look for a quick fix.
  • Expression: Accept that you're at  the “cause” end of the spectrum and commit to working out an enduring solution for yourself.

If you're a person that wants to choose the third option, the first question that you must ask yourself is : What do I need to do  to get this part of my life in order? 

In a nutshell, many of the problems that we encounter in our relationships are tied to various interconnected psychological reasons that stem from our repetitive thoughts and reflect the complexities of our own emotional world.

These repetitive thoughts are the beliefs that we form about the truth in order to give meaning to our individual reality and make sense of the experiences gained from interacting with others.

A belief is the result of a thought process that produces emotionally charged conditional statements to generalize, delete, and distort our subjective experiences.

A belief system is:

1.A collection of self-biased opinions and convictions.

2.Subject to change based on the information that one receives from external and internal sources  if only put in “direct experience”.

Beliefs are stubborn  mental filters that we have created overtime that hold us back from raising our level of consciousness . The reason is that they are nested upon a knowledge graph that runs in circles meaning a belief only comes into existence because it's been justified by another belief that is supported by another belief and another belief and finally an assumption. 

Some of our social beliefs are deeply ingrained in our psyche and linked to our upbringing and background and impact the way we show up in our adult life (e.g. “good thoughts, good words,  good deeds,“ “show respect to elders,” and “see the good in people”) ;whereas  others are generated  through our interactions in adulthood (e.g. “love is a short-lived joy and a lifelong pain.” , “I always do good  but never get anything in return” or “trust no one .”). 

These beliefs bleed into our day-to-day life by which they 

  • Become the foundation for our automatic responses in different situations i.e. the things we should do or say and how things should be or how we should behave and what we expect from others.
  • Present themselves as the things we consider to be important when forming and maintaining relationships. 
  • Translate into repeating behaviour and communication patterns.
  • Determine how we negotiate our needs and wants with others.
  • Impact  our self-image, self-worth,  and internal dialogue .
  • Influence our perceptions of others. 
  • Impact how we recall  memories.
  • Activate our emotional triggers  and …. 

Some of these beliefs are empowering. They  support our values and help us live a happier life. Others prove to be debilitating and even damaging as they  are attached to unhelpful feelings and emotional states  such as fear, anger, shame, guilt, sadness, hurt, loss, and etc.  These beliefs  stem  from our previously imagined or conscious experiences  and  create a lot of uncertainty, hesitation, self-doubt and insecurity.

Interestingly enough, positive self-beliefs are much easier to doubt  in  comparison to the negative ones.  For example it’s easier for us to believe we are not good enough than to believe that in relation to our previous choices we are doing good. 

Likewise, it's much easier to believe something negative  about others than it is to hold on to a belief that supports  a positive idea about them. For example, let's say your partner  says something  that appears to you as hurtful and  clashes with your belief system or that does something that reminds you of an old experience. It's much easier to conclude that they are flawed  rather than the opposite. 

This happens because the emotions we feel after hearing or seeing something are in contrast with what we expect and hold as true or false; therefore, they act like fuel and set our body into the freeze, fight or flight mode.

That is to say our minds automatically collect  and filter evidence in order to reinforce our beliefs so that it can maintain homeostasis.  The part of our brain that is responsible for processing emotions and making decisions  is connected to a network of neurons located in the brainstem that primarily functions as an internal GPS to help us move away from anything that resembles danger (e.g. the unknown or similar emotionally discomforting experiences).

To free yourself from the disabling beliefs  you need to move out of  autopilot  and start making deliberate decisions. This means you need  to step outside of yourself, put things into perspective and observe your thoughts and feelings objectively. 

You can challenge your beliefs by examining them from different angles. 

You can start by asking yourself,

  • How is this belief contributing to my happiness and success in this relationship?
  • Where did this belief originate?
  • Which past experiences are supporting the existence of this belief?
  • Is it  supporting my values or is it supporting my fears?
  • What is this belief trying to protect me from?
  • How is this belief supporting my value system?

Values  are the outgrowth of a belief system. A Value System is an ever evolving one and  progressively matures  in a directional pattern.  It  is significantly influenced by things such as one’s life experiences, education, culture, etc. 

While core values  such as love, growth and loyalty are universal, they are unique to each individual. For instance, two people may value growth in a relationship but one may define growth as settling down, buying a house, starting a family and growing old  together while  the other finds growth in autonomy, freedom, creating meaningful memories, and contributing to the world through collaboration.

Remember:  Dismantling your belief system and  deconstructing your perception of reality in order to develop a more holistic view of  events  takes courage and requires a lot of  mental effort and emotional labor . 

I do group coaching as well as one-on-one sessions. You can learn more about coaching sessions with IVY here. For questions or feedback contact us here. Stay tuned for my upcoming posts on going from unhealthy to healthy in any relationship!