All relationships have a system. Some systems work well and some are dysfunctional.
We have only to look at the divorce rate — 41% for first marriages, 60% for second and 73% for third — to know that many couples have systems that don't work. When someone leaves one dysfunctional relationship, odds are they take their issues with them to their next coupling, creating a cycle of broken partnerships.
Almost all couples can find themselves exhibiting dysfunctional patterns at some point in their relationship. There are common types of dysfunctional systems I often see:
- Control-compliance: One partner controls with anger or disapproval and the other controls with compliance (giving themselves up). This is the common taker-caretaker system.
- Control-resistance: One partner is frequently angry, blaming, judgmental and critical, and the other resists being controlled with denial, defending, procrastination, rebellion, irresponsibility or incompetence. There may be many power struggles in this relationship.
- Control-indifference/withdrawal: One partner is controlling and the other is shut down.
- Control-control: Both partners are overtly controlling with anger, blame and judgments, generally leading to a lot of fighting.
- Compliance-compliance: Both partners give themselves up to take care of the other. This relationship often lacks the juice and spark that's needed for passion. This is not the same thing as sharing love because it involves giving themselves up rather than loving themselves and sharing that love.
- Indifference-indifference: In this relationship, both partners have cut their losses and become indifferent. They are numb and withdrawn, rarely fighting because there is no passion and they've settled for what seems safe.
- Resistance-resistance: Both partners find many ways to resist being controlled by the other, resulting in the relationship feeling very stuck.
Do any of these sound like the relationship you're in? Before admitting defeat, remember that all relationships require work — from the easy, loving and carefree ones to those that are rockier. This does NOT mean that you should stay in an abusive relationship. It's vitally important that you find a way to leave if there is physical abuse or frequent intense verbal abuse. You cannot learn, grow and heal in a scary environment.
If you believe the partnership you're in is healthy and worth developing and saving, here are 9 ways to radically improve your relationship:
1. Define your relationship system.
Look at the above list and see what you most identify with. What is your end of the system?
2. Decide that you want to learn how to love yourself and take responsibility for your feelings.
A loving relationship is one in which both partners take responsibility for their feelings rather than blaming each other. Even if your partner isn't interested in learning to love himself or herself, you can have a hugely positive impact on your relationship by learning to love yourself and take responsibility for your feelings.
3. Learn to define your own worth.
Once you learn to define your own self-worth, you don't need to get your partner to make you feel worthy. In order to define your own worth, you need to learn to see yourself through the eyes of your higher self rather than the eyes of your ego wounded self.
4. Learn to fill yourself with love.
When partners learn to fill themselves with love, define their own worth and make themselves feel safe inside, they receive great joy in giving to each other, supporting each other's highest good and sharing their love with each other. But even if you are the only one doing this, you can create great improvements in your relationship.
Filling yourself with love means that you've learned to connect with your source of love. Whether it's your higher self, a spiritual guide or a guardian angel, making that connection is key. With practice, you can learn to bring that self-love into your own heart and soul so that you have love to share with others.
When you abandon yourself rather than love yourself, you're empty inside and are trying to get love rather than share it. Being able to share love can radically improve your relationship.
5. Learn to speak your truth with an intent to learn rather than blame.
When your partner behaves in a way that feels unloving and hurtful to you, it's important to speak up for yourself with an intent to learn rather than to blame. For example, if your partner is harsh with you, you might want to say, "I feel hurt inside when you use that harsh tone of voice, and I'd like to understand the good reasons you have for speaking to me like that."
6. Learn to speak your truth and lovingly disengage.
If your partner is not open to learning with you, you need to speak your truth and lovingly disengage — leaving the interaction without anger or blame — while still keeping your heart open.
You are leaving to take care of yourself, not to punish your partner. You can say something like, "I feel hurt inside when you use that harsh tone of voice, so I'm going to go for a walk to take care of my feelings."
7. Let go of processing with your partner.
If there's a conflict and one or both of you are not open, explore the conflict within yourself rather than openly with your partner. You can share your awarenesses with your partner afterwards, only opening the door to co-learning once both of you are ready for it. You won't make any progress towards resolving a conflict when one or both of you are closed off to learning.
8. Let go of trying to change your partner.
It's vital for all of us to learn to accept our helplessness over others and change the the thing we have control over: ourselves.
9. Spend time together only when you are both open.
Spending time together when one or both of you are closed can erode a relationship. Make a decision that you will only spend time with your partner when both of you are open and loving.
Sex, playtime or just hanging out is fun and fulfilling when two people are both open, but not fun or fulfilling when there are walls up. Learn to recognize what it feels like when you are open and what it feels like when you're closed. Learn to trust the energy you pick up from your partner regarding whether he or she is open vs. closed.
I hope you enjoy radically improving your relationship!