2018-11-07 / Editorial

DYSFUNCTIONAL RELATIONSHIPS

Michael N. Searles

Licensed Clinical Social Worker Sharon Martin wrote an article for the PsychCentral website entitled “Why Do We Repeat the Same Dysfunctional Relationship Patterns Over and Over?” The article cites the destructive patterns that contribute to this behavior. Four features were cited: We repeat what’s familiar; We repeat what we learned as children; We repeat what was traumatizing in an unconscious effort to gain mastery over it; and We think we deserve to suffer. The question often raised with battered wives is, “Why didn’t you leave?’ Responses vary but two reasons standout: “I made a promise, ‘until death do us part’ and ‘divorce means I am a failure.’” It’s hard to say, I made a mistake and especially when the decision was made in concert with family. In this case, a failure of a marriage is not only an individual defeat but a collective one. When the family says, “He seems like a nice young man, and we don’t know why you would leave him,” the abused spouse is often left defenseless. Her reply could state that he’s a philander, liar, cheat, unchurched, and not a good provider, but if the family says, that’s true for many men and no reason to leave, how do you respond.

We often get stuck in patterns from which it is hard to disentangle ourselves. However, speaking honestly, assertively, diplomatically can set healthy boundaries. Then it is up to others to change or not. It is not easy to say to family members that the relationship is not working. Yet, if the relationship is not healthy, it is important to detach from it. Taking the first step is always difficult, but saying honestly and assertively that the decision to marry was based on a false premise is a first step. Explaining that the person pretended to be what he was not and how he used “sweet talk” to gain your confidence and trust. However, this may or may not be enough to convince family members that a divorce is necessary. As you reveal your true feelings, you may discover that there are family members who agree with you even though they are unwilling to reveal their feelings. While these “supporting” family members have not developed the courage to speak out, they are the ones you need to continue in conversation. When the dysfunctional marriage partner exhibits the same patterns of behavior you described, this is an occasion to ask, “Do you see what I mean?” If the family members who agree with you say, “Yes, I do;” hopefully, other members of the family also will see those same aspects and quietly come to support your resolve to leave. No one wants to stand alone. We all want company in our decision making since it reassures us that we are doing the right thing. We do not want to separate ourselves from our family and friends. We are social animals and wish to live in a degree of harmony with those around us. The practice of ostracism was used in ancient Greece and among some American Indian tribes. The practice was a form of banishment used as an ultimate punishment to separate the offending individual from the group. This practice of separation was a kind of social death which profoundly affected those who experienced it. While we do not wish to be socially separated from our family, social group, church, or neighbors, we can begin to speak up when things are not right. Sharing our convictions will allow our voice to become stronger. It may come as a surprise that we are not alone. At the 1960 Greensboro, North Carolina sit-in at the Woolworth lunch counter, four African American young men who originally sat down had no idea that an older white women would come up to them and whisper, “You should have done this years ago.” We are provided guidance from 2 Timothy 1:7; For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.

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