True. Yet, some are destructive and abusive. This distinction is important.
Unfortunately, with a general lack of understanding abounding about destructive relationships, books, seminars, retreats, counseling that treats a destructive relationship like a relatively healthy one worsens a destructive situation.
So, how can you tell which kind of relationship you are dealing with?
When difficulties hit a relationship, a relatively healthy couple can work through these together. And if they cannot, couples counseling can help.
If an underlying destructive and abusive dynamic exists, difficulties in the relationship will be occasions for destructive patterns to show themselves.
Attachment styles (from childhood to our caregivers)
An anger problem
An extra-marital affair
If a partner acts destructively, a common misconception is that the difficulty is causing a partner to act abusively.
For example, "She's under a lot of stress. That is why she demeans me." Or, "He has had a lot of trauma from his childhood. That is why he is so controlling."
No difficulty in a person's life causes destructiveness and abuse. If trauma causes a person to be abusive, every person with a trauma history ought to be abusive. We know this is not true.
Rather, destructiveness comes from the beliefs and attitudes of the abusive person. This attitude is one of destructive pride that refuses to learn from others, take full responsibility for wrongs, and feels entitled to treat
Failing to deal with destructive and abusive hinders possibilities for real healing.
An extra-marital affair is always the fault and responsibility of the one who chose to be unfaithful. However, in the absence of an abusive dynamic, couples can heal, strengthen, and protect their marriage from outside relationships.
We are complex people. We will continue to grow, change, and learn about ourselves and our spouses throughout our lives.
And sometimes, as you come to see the limitations of your spouse, disappointment can set in.
Your desires may be legitimate. For example, you want your spouse to empathize with you, care about your feelings, and consistently value and respect you.
If your spouse has traits of high functioning autism (HFA, formerly called Asperger's syndrome), he or she may seem cold, callous, and indifferent to you. This type of relationship can feel like emotional abuse and neglect. However, the reason you are feeling this matters.
A person with HFA can also be abusive. So, how can you tell the difference?
Is your HFA spouse be willing to seek a diagnosis? (Please note, even the diagnosis of HFA has a subjective quality to it. Even without meeting the full criteria for HFA, a person can have enough traits to make a long term relationship feel very difficult).
And when he learns he has hurt you, does he show remorse that he hurt you? Does he care and do his best to learn how to treat you better?
If your spouse has traits of HFA, your relationship can become healthy and satisfying enough with education and help from a counselor who understands how to work with these dynamics. Yes, you will feel some disappointment that your spouse cannot read your emotions or know how to easily have back and forth conversation. But you are not dealing with a destructive spouse. You can learn to give and receive love in a new way that works for your relationship.
And sometimes, we are disappointed because we expect too much of marriage.
Jerry McGuire"s "You complete me" mindset will certainly lead to disappointment.
If we are not whole and happy individuals, marriage will never fill that void. If we seek our ultimate fulfillment and meaning in our marriages, disappointment is guaranteed.
The key dynamic in a destructive and abusive relationship is a systematic pattern of dominance and control.
When times are good, they can be very good. The destructive partner can show care and thoughtfulness. They can make you laugh, and know exactly how you like your eggs and coffee. And make them for you almost every morning. And to the outside world, this couple can look like they have no marriage problems.
If the abused partner does not recognize the destructive pattern, he or she can be very confused. The abused partner often makes excuses for the destructive spouse when things get bad.
This can go on for years or even decades.
Examples of destructive patterns include:
Indifference toward a spouse's feelings
A negative ascribing of intentions onto the spouse
Refusal to accept the other's explanations about his or her own intentions
Control or restriction of access to finances, friends, family, vehicle, etc.
Threats of harm to the other's reputation
Threats of physical harm
Regular explosions of anger
Refusal to take responsibility for one's own wrong-doing.
How Couples Counseling Can Help
Learning communication skills is not going to help a highly distressed couple. Underlying patterns of thinking and beliefs and previously unrecognized trauma or high-functioning autism can undermine efforts at "communication."
Couples counseling is not appropriate for destructive marriages. In most cases, it will do more harm than good. Find out more here.
In our times together, we will walk through where you as a couple are getting stuck. You can get unstuck and work toward building a beautiful, albeit imperfect, life together.
I will work together with you to help you find personal growth and relational healing.
*Leslie Vernick categorizes marriage issues as difficult, disappointing, and destructive.
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