« THE RELATIONSHIP HIPPOCRATIC OATH: DO NO HARM…PERIOD! | Main | STICKS AND STONES MAY BREAK MY BONES BUT WORDS WILL NEVER HURT ME: THE POWER OF WORDS IN RELATIONSHIPS »

March 11, 2009

RELATIONSHIPS AND THE CRAZY GAMES WE PLAY IN AN ATTEMPT TO KEEP THINGS SMOOTH

Recently, while at a workshop with my long time mentor Terry Real, I was struck by his comment:  “It is co-dependant when you back away from functional behaviors because of fear of your partner’s dysfunctional behavior.”  I immediately started to chuckle when I heard this because I know so many of us do it.

 

We are constantly making decisions on how to approach our partners based on how we believe our partners will respond versus what the most relationally healthy move would be.  Here are several real life examples of this (the names have been changed to protect the innocentJ):

 

  • Karen has been angry for weeks about her husband’s affair but has chosen to stop talking to him about it because she knows he will continue to get defensive and tell her to just get over it.  She wants to ask him to go into counseling with her, however has chosen to not ask him because she is certain he will refuse.   
  • Ted has chosen to stay quiet about his wife’s rage because he knows if he tries to discuss it with her she’ll rage and get out of control.
  • Sally continues to clean the house, wash the dishes, cook, do the laundry etc., because she’s concerned that if she speaks to her husband about it, he’ll become angry and defensive.
  • Tom does not address his wife’s drinking because he’s concerned that she will dismiss him and tell him she only drinks so she doesn’t have to deal with him.

 

We back away from functional behaviors all the time because of our partner’s “potential” response.  We believe backing away is the better of two evils, (at least I’ll have a moment’s peace if I don’t say anything).  Unfortunately, the peace is short-lived and often leads to more hardships in the long run.  

 

The more we back away, the more ingrained the problems become.  When we back off because of our partner’s dysfunctional behavior, we reinforce that dysfunctional behavior.  We also shut down a part of ourselves. 

 

If there’s something bothering you in your relationship, speak it.  Deal with the issue directly, in a calm manner, and don’t alter your behavior because of how you imagine your partner will respond.  Choose your behavior based on what is the healthiest, most functional, relational move you can make and then respond to what you get in an equally, relationally healthy way.

 

CHALLENGE:  If there is an issue in your relationship you have been tip-toeing around due to fear of your partner’s response, then pretend s/he will have a different response and stop the tip-toeing.   

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I find a problem with this. Pretending that the outcome will be different does not necessarily make it so. My mom and I were just having this conversation about an hour ago. My father has a terrible way of communicating and it has ruined our family. He yells all the time, even in casual conversation, it is like at any moment he will just burst into flames. We do not know how to deal with him except to stay away and that is not fair to my mom. I think we should tape him for a few days and play it back to him. She says it will just make him mad. Got any advice?

DEAR SUZIE: I'm not recommending that you pretend the outcome will be different, I'm stressing the importance of not allowing your fears of the outcome stop you from dealing with it. If your father is constantly erupting and you choose to not address it due to your fear that he will erupt, then you teach him that his actions are effective. His anger results in you and your mother leaving him alone and getting off his back.
Instead, you both need to directly deal with his anger. Every time you speak to him and he responds in an angry way, you state in a firm, calm tone, "Dad, lower your tone when you're speaking to me". If he refuses then you state, "I won't listen to you speak in that tone. When you're ready to speak respectfully I'd be happy to listen; until then I'm going (then go)." Do this every time. If his anger continues, you will need to ramp the consequences up more by refusing to visit until he can be respectful or stopping visits with his grandkids (if you have children) or only going out with your mother until he can control himself around you. This will also role model for your mother how to set limits.

The bottom line is: you and your mother deserve to be treated well, at all times, by all people. Period. If people don't treat you well, then it's up to you to set a limit and take care of yourself...not avoid. Your silence enables his anger. It's as though you're telling him every day that his anger is okay. Is that your message?
Take care-Lisa

Hi Lisa. I really like your site. You have an award here - http://sandyatyourservice.wordpress.com/2009/03/13/honest-scrap-award-thanks-rick/

DEAR SANDY: Thank you very much for the award; I'm honored.
Warm regards, Lisa

Yep, this has me and my ex written all over it. I chose to ignore his alcoholism and increasing abusive behavior because discussing it was like talking to a brick. It finally came to a head and he just left. I would pour his alcohol down the sink when I found where he had hidden it. He told me he drank in order to deal with me (!!!)

Wow, I do this! Where was this blog post 10 years ago?? :)

Thanks as always Lisa!!

The comments to this entry are closed.

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
https://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341cc5df53ef0112794d1a8128a4

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference RELATIONSHIPS AND THE CRAZY GAMES WE PLAY IN AN ATTEMPT TO KEEP THINGS SMOOTH:

Connect with Lisa

Icon Email

Icon Twitter

Icon Facebook

Icon Linkedin

Icon YouTube

Icon Blog Feed

Subscribe to Straight Talk 4 Women

Enter your email address to receive
updates every time I post


Powered by FeedBlitz

Listen to Podcasts

Purchase Products

Attend an Event

Training for Therapists