Three Reasons Your Relationship
Will Never Get Better
L.A. couples therapist featured in Time Magazine uses unique approach to marriage therapy including the acceptance that things won’t change.
There are three reasons that your relationship cannot improve, even though you keep thinking it will. These are primary problems that are so influential that they are an obstacle that must be cleared before real progress in the relationship is possible.
#1 Someone is frequently dishonest and that person is unwilling to identify that behavior as an individual problem that he or she wants to work on. An ongoing affair whether it is known or secret.
#2 Psychological or medical disorders that are not treated. (Or personality disorders that are untreatable)
These include: depression, manic depression, or menopause disorders, post traumatic stress and anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive or post-traumatic stress disorder. (Include narcissism, psychopathy, sociopathy or borderline personality in the personality disorders category)
Post traumatic Stress is often a result of abusive, neglectful or violent experiences in childhood. These can experiences can profoundly affect how someone later experiences issues of trust and conflict in current relationships. If symptoms from any of these illnesses are present and the person is unwilling to get treatment for it then there is a much reduced prospect for significant change in the relationship. First things first.
#3 One partner uses physical violence, verbal abuse, psychological manipulation or emotional intimidation and is unwilling to say that this is their individual problem that s/he wants to work on it separately from the relationship.
Saying, “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.” is a good thing to hear from your partner. More importantly though is whether the intimidation ceases. The frequency, intensity or duration should be getting better. If it doesn’t then you may have ‘Toxic Hope.’
Toxic hope is waiting for someone to change when there is no realistic reason to believe that it will happen. Battered women, or men, who keep hoping something will change, perhaps even when their partner has never even admitted that they have a control problem; are in toxic hope. Even though there is a fair effort made; the frequency and magnitude of the continuing offenses are severe enough that the other partner does not feel safe enough to continue within the relationship.
We emphasize ‘progress, not perfection’ so the issue isn’t that slips or mistakes are made. The important thing is does the person eventually recognize his or her responsibility in the conflict and can the person show some concern for how that affects you. Or, if one person is unable to reasonably follow the guidelines and is not willing to seek further help.
What do I mean when I say “an individual problem that he or she is willing to work on separate from the relationship?” Or what is meant by getting ‘further help’? A person can work on the issues they struggle with alone by reading books on the subject of violence or lying but few people are able to do this without the help of others.
Using the help of others could mean going to a professional therapist who specializes in the area that needs work or it can mean going to a self -help group for that particular problem. If physical violence is the problem then my recommendation is to attend a professionally led anger management or domestic violence group. Having worked for ten years in these groups I can say that the men are pleasantly surprised that they can learn useful methods that benefit their relationships. For most of the men it is the first time that they are exposed to the principle that being vulnerable will not result in being hurt.
- One partner refuses to ever consider forgiving the other for some past wrong committed by the other, even when that partner has humbly asked for forgiveness.
Alcohol or drug dependence or abuse (prescribed medicines too!) Other addictions such as food, sex, spending, gambling or work are huge impediments to progress in a relationship which are sometimes overlooked or simply denied.
Leaving a psychologically violent or abusive relationship. If you feel scared that you will be hurt, pursued or injured if you leave then trust your feelings and seek help from a women’s shelter or hotline before taking action. Talk with them and consider the advice or recommendations that is given to you. The most dangerous time, physically, for the abused wife (or husband) is at the time of separating. There were armchair quarterbacks saying Nicole Brown Simpson should have left O.J. and divorced him. She was leaving him! It was then that she was killed.
If you are physically abused by your partner call 1 800 978-3600 FREE to talk to a domestic violence counselor to learn about resources in your area. You are not alone!
If violence is occurring in your home then break the isolation. And for the person whose anger is out of control, please seek the competent help of anger management specialists. Why wait for a neighbor’s phone call to initiate your criminal record? Do something courageous and positive NOW! Seek the help of professionals who can help you. Stop saying “I’m sorry.” and take some real steps toward repeating what probably happened in the family you grew up in.
Checklist Before You Leave:
If you have done these things then you can leave knowing that you did everything you could before deciding for sure to leave. These do not apply if there is violence, addiction, continuing adultery or unrepentant lying in the relationship. Things to think about when you consider ending a relationship:
- When your partner apologizes does s/he mention both what s/he did and how s/he’s hurt you?
- If any form of physical control, intimidation or violence occurs, does it get justified (ie. “I wouldn’t have done it if you didn’t….”)?
- If apologies are made is there reference made to the person’s intention about changing future behavior, or is there further justification for the disrespectful behavior?
- Are you growing in this relationship?
- Does this person have all the signs of having a personality disorder (they can not be fixed or cured)?
- Is the other person growing in this relationship? Is there improvement? It’s a process. Is there an expressed willingness to grow? Or are you wishing & assuming your partner wants to change his/her behavior and attitudes. Remember we’re looking for ‘Progress and not Perfection’.
Marc Sadoff, MSW, BCD
PACIFIC SKILLS TRAINING CO.