I think back to my early days as a relationship coach often where everything seemed simpler. I was focused on helping individuals in the worst relationships survive and thrive. Lately, I’ve been pondering just how universal “good advice” really is. Because managing the interactions in a secure and healthy relationship doesn’t need any kind of mastery. Those relationships are that way because they are solvable. They include two partners that ultimately care and want what is best. This doesn’t mean they are conflict-free; it means they are firm in their foundation.
Almost all of the advice I give and write about is designed for the individual in a really tough spot. They are unheard, unnoticed, and it seems that their feelings not only don’t matter but may even be a problem for their partner. It is then that I often think back to research published on male erectile dysfunction that analogously clears this distinction up. Males with anxiety operate oppositely than does the non-anxious male. And we can use this understanding to apply to healthy and unhealthy relationships.
The unhealthy relationship is one that promises conflict, an absence of empathy and sympathy, and lacks validation. The unhealthy relationship is a seemingly non-stop train to an abyss. It is this underlying sentiment that breaks the powerless partner: knowing that there is no hope. We are flooded with relationship advice all over the internet and on Youtube, but is any of it any good for this person? Usually not.
An unhealthy relationship is characterized by bending the laws of reality, where using good advice can actually be an act worthy of punishment. One can read one of John Gottman’s books, apply the advice perfectly, and come out the other side “knowing” that somehow they wronged their authoritarian partner. That partner can’t come to terms with the constant psychological abuse that they cause. If they deny it and force the abused partner to take all of the blame, then their conscience will remain in a state of harmony.
Saving people in bad relationships is an art form, and sometimes it is an art of war. We have to inject reality and rules, and alter the power structure. The authoritarian partner usually has to be dragged kicking and screaming to the negotiating table. Sometimes this has the potential to invite physical harm to their partner, requiring (usually) an exit strategy instead. This is one of the worst case scenarios for the abuser: realizing the harm they have done, having to accept blame, apologizing, and losing power permanently.
Now, many people only get themselves in bad relationships. Why is easy to explain with psychology. Yes, I am serious that it is an easy explanation. However, the aftermath of this cycle is not pretty. The ever-abused partner doesn’t even know what normal looks like. They don’t know how to safely express themselves. They don’t know how to avoid potential abusers when competing in the ocean for mate selection. What I can do is explain it from my perspective.
As a relationship coach, I better practice what I preach. And I better know a lot about Psychology and relationships so that my “preaching” is well-founded. A healthy relationship is something that I can always offer and uphold that promise. I go out of my way to ensure my gal is happy. This means that I spend a lot of time and energy making sure that what I am about to do won’t do harm. If my gal lobbies a complaint, it is heard, understood, considered, and always validated. She will never be met with a “you’re just wrong.”
So, if you think you’re in a relationship that seems to bend the laws of reality, most likely your relationship is relatively unhealthy. If you feel like your partner doesn’t care, then your feelings are probably not the first thing that matters to them. And healthy relationships make each other’s feelings a priority. I say all of this because of how big a difference there is between healthy and unhealthy relationships. They can manipulate you into thinking that it is not as bad as it really is. Heck, the abusive partner rarely has a clue as to just how much damage they are causing. Sometimes they never come to terms with reality, thinking that they were the victim.
This doesn’t mean there is no hope; this means that it calls for a change in your strategy. Bad relationships might have to end, but there is hope that there has to be positive change or an end to the relationship. I think it is terrible that individuals choose to stay in awful relationships and put their well-being last. If it helps, your feelings matter to me.