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How To Lose Your Addiction To Unhealthy Relationships

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Unhealthy relationships

How To Lose Your Addiction To Unhealthy Relationships

Finding a good mate is only half the battle in conquering your addiction to unhealthy relationships.

If you’ve decided—after a series of unhealthy relationships—to listen to your exasperated therapist and try getting involved with a remotely healthy person, you just might be in for the struggle of a lifetime. Why? Patterns of abuse and deprivation are generally imprinted in your youth and reinforced in subsequent relationships. Nothing less than a revolutionary act of defiance against your family-of-origin is therefore required to avoid replication. That’s right, just because you’ve finally gotten tired of all the control freaks, substance abusers, and cheaters doesn’t mean that you can tolerate a different life. Your conscious self might want a break, but your unconscious might be quite satisfied with the way things are.

This theoretical stance may strike you as somewhat Kafkaesque, but there is hope. With enough effort I believe you can wrestle control away from your unconscious and have a say in your selection process. But major change is extremely difficult. You’ll no doubt have to hate your old life (or certain aspects of it) to hold onto your new and improved one. Mild annoyance or moderate disappointment won’t do the trick; nor will intermittent excruciation. You’re going to have to downright embrace the good-life. Here’s what I’m talking about:

After escaping an abusive marriage, Sally, the daughter of a mean alcoholic father, reported that with the help of therapy she had finally found a man who treated her with love and respect. But she had trouble adjusting: “I know I should be happy,” she said, “but I’m miserable. I don’t feel as if I’m living in the real world. It seems to me I’m in some sort of dream state. It’s all too good to be true and I’m not sure I can handle it.”

Jan, the daughter of self-absorbed parents claimed she wanted to marry but dated an array of ineligible men: some didn’t function; a couple of them turned out to be gay; others were committed to bachelorhood. When she did find a guy who could commit, she admittedly sabotaged the relationship by dousing him with heavy doses of criticism.

Tom, the son of an openly philandering mother and cuckolded father reported that his former fiancée was perfect: lovely, smart, funny, educated, and from a fine family. He almost made it to the altar but at the last minute his former girlfriend—who consistently cheated on him—showed up and reclaimed him. Tom’s fiancée was shocked by Tom’s magnetic attraction to his unscrupulous ex. Even Tom couldn’t explain himself.

Sally, Jan, and Tom all were able to find suitably healthy partners only to get rid of them. You can’t change your past, but once you’re able to rid your addiction to the unhealthy, you must then learn how to accept the goodness a suitable mate can bring to your life. Below are five mantras you may want to etch into your brain to help you embrace an appropriate mate, despite your history. Repeat them to yourself often.

1. I’ve paid my dues: You’ve already given many of your best years to your family of origin–you’ve sacrificed enough. Stay away from anyone who can’t or won’t meet your needs.

2. I must be vigilant about choosing a new partner: You’re programmed to choose someone that fits with the kind of life you’ve led to this point. Be cautious and careful when selecting someone to commit to. Pay attention to any red flags that remind you of your past relationship issues. You can’t afford to replicate.

3. Being treated well is normal: You might be so unfamiliar with getting your needs met that any other way of being treated feels very uncomfortable. Hang in there and give your new partner a chance to meet your needs and for you to get used to it. Your new life will eventually become second nature or normal.

4. The partner who treats me well is normal: Many people who’ve suffered abuse tend to make the mistake of viewing those who treat them with respect as boring, weird, or wimpy. Groucho Marx once said: “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” This is a defense to support relationship dysfunction. Join the club and enjoy and all the rights and privileges it affords.

5. I must nurture my new partner: You will most likely be tempted to sabotage your new life. One way to do so is to take for granted your partner’s respectful treatment of you. Remember to reciprocate your partner’s treatment in kind. Your partner has to believe that treating you well will pay some dividends, as it should.

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Dr. Stephen J. Betchen is a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sex therapist, as well as a critically acclaimed author and regular contributor to the popular Ladies’ Home Journal column, “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” He currently serves as Clinical Assistant Professor at Thomas Jefferson University.
For more than 25 years, Dr. Betchen has helped couples repair their relationships and reach new levels of happiness, whether they’re battling about in-laws, sex, parenting, infidelity, money, careers—or anything in between. (Case in point: He once treated folks who were at odds over the wife’s weight and the husband’s constant criticisms!)
Dr. Betchen’s approach to couples therapy is refreshingly simple: He offers no gimmicks, slogans or quick fixes to nagging problems. Instead, Dr. Betchen believes that individuals change only when they discover what’s really driving their behavior—and that relationships change only when couples develop empathy for their partners and understand what really drew them together. (Turns out that physical attraction is just part of it.)
Dr. Betchen provides in-depth analysis of couples’ attitudes and behavior, enabling them to see themselves and each other in a new light. And from there, he delivers real-world advice that teaches couples how to change themselves—and their relationship.
Dr. Betchen is the author of numerous professional articles on relationships and makes frequent media appearances. His expert opinions often appear in national publications, including Family Circle and Men’s Health. In addition to Magnetic Partners, Dr. Betchen is the author of Intrusive Partners-Elusive Mates.

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