This is especially true if we live together, have children together, share pets or have stressful jobs. The activities of life can overshadow the interactions of the relationship.
But there are clear signs when the relationship isn’t working. It’s just that these signs may have existed in our parents’ relationship—and in relationships we saw all around us. So we may have taken these symptoms of a dysfunctional relationship as just the way a normal relationship acts.
These symptoms aren’t normal and we shouldn’t take them as normal.
So here are the signs:
1. Relationships let you relax. If your relationship isn’t letting you relax, the relationship isn’t working. Relationships exist because they let us relax. A lone Neanderthal is going to be just a bit more nervous than one in a trusting relationship. In other words, if the presence of your partner doesn’t soothe you, doesn’t provide some comfort, it isn’t serving the purpose of a relationship. It may be serving a different purpose and that may be something you need to look at.
2. As one of my teachers once said, “Once you are walking on eggshells, the relationship is over.” If you can’t comfortably communicate with your partner, about most things, and you can’t find some way to talk about some things, you aren’t in a relationship. Again, you might be in an economic arrangement or a living arrangement or a co-parenting arrangement but you are not in a relationship.
3.One or both of you does not keep agreements.
An agreement can be as simple as what time you are both going to leave the house to as complicated as a financial agreement or an agreement to be sexually exclusive. The first task is to actually create an agreement. This requires that someone put forth a verbal agreement and the other person agrees, verbally, to that agreement. Alternatively, the next step may be to put the agreement in writing. Whether the agreement gets committed to writing or not, the agreement must be articulated and then agreed upon and then, of course, kept by both parties. If one person does not keep the agreement, and either the agreement is important to one or both parties or a less important agreement is repeatedly disregarded, the relationship will be jeopardized.
4.One of you (both of you?) uses the silent treatment.
The silent treatment is when one person in a relationship refuses to recognize, acknowledge or speak to the other. Of course, sometimes we can be so hurt or so angry that we can barely look at the person who hurt or angered us. But, in order to show up as a mature person with functional relationships skills, we need to use the tool of the Time Out rather than the silent treatment.
Time Out is when we ask for time out from interacting in the relationship. Time Out is structured. It involves one person declaring a Time Out either by saying they want a Time Out or by crossing one index finger over the other to form the letter “t.” All involvement must stop at that point. No one speaks or gestures or in any way attempts to communication.
The difference between a Time Out and the silent treatment in an intimate relationship is that you both agree—ahead of time—to allow the Time Out to not go more than 24 hours. You agree to meet after 24 hours to talk. If you really can’t resume a dialogue at 24 hours, you at least must meet to say that. And then agree upon a time to meet again within 24 hours. It is important that the Time Out NOT be open-ended but, instead, last for an agreed upon length of time.
5.One or both of you is unable to soothe themselves.
The Time Out requires that you both—but especially the person who must wait out the Time Out at the behest of the other—be able to soothe themselves. Another way to say this is that when we are in a relationship, we need to meet our own needs when our partner is, for any reason, unable to meet our needs, and by meeting our needs, calm ourselves to at least some extent.
6.One of you or both of you is unable to accept “No” for an answer.
7.One of you or both of you is "showing up needless and wantless."
Another way to say this is that at least one of you is not showing up representing some or all of a normal range of wants and needs.
Pia Mellody has defined codependency as "showing up needless and wantless." One way this might look is that someone may not be honestly representing their needs. For instance, they might turn down dessert and then be sneaking food, eating powdered sugar doughnuts at 3 A.M. when no one is around. Another example might be one or both people are no longer showing up representing their sexual needs and then surreptitiously fulfilling their needs on their own or with someone outside the relationship.
8.You treat your partner—or your partner treats you—in ways that are impolite, disrespectful or downright abusive.
Do you recognize any of these signs? You have probably seen a few of them in the relationships of your parents or people in your sphere. Do you recognize any of them in your relationship? Do you recognize more than a few of them in your relationship? If you do, you need to consider rethinking—even reclassifying—your relationship. It may simply be an arrangement. You might want to think about just what the arrangement is, what needs it is fulfilling and what needs it is not fulfilling, and whether or not you want to continue with it.
The “biological imperative”
Relationship has been called a “biological imperative.” What that means is that we are biologically compelled to meet, mate and reproduce. But it may also mean that we are tribal and we are compelled to pair up, form partnerships and, eventually, tribes. These partnerships are meant to satisfy needs, the most important among those needs being the first one, the need to relax.
So, ask yourself, when you are with your partner, or when you think of your partner’s presence in your life, how relaxed are you able to be?