When a relationship ends, husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, parents and children are all impacted by the toxicity that has developed within the relationship. It seems that everyone (even the individual wanting to end the relationship) is overcome with feelings of sadness, anger, guilt and confusion. After all, we commit to one another in a loving relationship, without thinking it will end in separation or divorce.
There are a variety of reasons for why people “break-up.” In their book, Rescue Your Love Life: Changing Those Dumb Attitudes and Behaviors That Will Sink Your Marriage, (Integrity Publishers, 2005), Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend discuss how the immature relationship can lead to frustration, unhappiness, and possible dissolution. Doctors Cloud and Townsend point to four signs of immaturity:
1. Detachment: a partner in the relationship is physically, but not emotionally present. He or she has become so distant that there is no possibility for a deep, emotional connection. This person may be incapable of loving and fully connecting in the first place.
2. Control: occurs when one partner violates the rights of the other partner. The immature partner uses aggression, manipulation, intimidation and guilt to control his/her partner.
3. Irresponsibility: a partner in the relationship is in denial about his/her inappropriate behavior, plays the “blame game” (it’s the other person’s fault), and minimizes the other person’s thoughts and feelings. This person is unreliable and refuses to act as a mature, responsible adult.
4. Self-centeredness: another word for self-absorption. The immature partner is only concerned about his/her needs, and places the needs of friends and family before the needs of his/her partner.
As we progress through life, we change from the people we were at the beginning of our relationships. As such, we will either grow together or grow apart. Some people are stuck in the past, with baggage from their childhood (“family of origin” issues), or have suffered disillusionment from previous, abusive relationships (and in severe cases, may suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Professional help is necessary for learning improved relationship skills, whether by counseling, seminars, classes or some other form of education. People need to commit to their relationship and get out of “stinkin thinkin.” It is too easy to blame someone else. A self-inventory should be conducted and people should take personal responsibility. Consequently, if people refuse to change, refuse to engage in, or even seek help, withdraw or avoid resolution, the same, dysfunctional relationship will continue.
In the mature relationship, Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend point out the following:
1. Mature partners are fully there for one another. They do not judge or condemn. They work together in partnership. “Mature couples support and enjoy each other’s freedom and choices.”
2. Mature partners demonstrate trust, support and respect for one another.
3. Mature partners are responsible and faithful, admitting when they make a mistake, working together as partners to solve problems, and are accountable for their respective behaviors.
4. Mature partners work for the good of the relationship.
It is not about “me” or “you.” It is about “us” and what is best for “us.” By behaving assertively with each other, our respective (reasonable) needs can be fulfilled. These needs should contribute to self-improvement and not detract from the good health of the relationship.
It is a sign of maturity when couples are able to discuss their disagreements without fear of being maligned, ignored, or manipulated. To move from dysfunctional to thriving relationships, individuals must let go of the past and focus on the “here and now.” The past is over and cannot be changed, but we can change the present to promote happiness now, and in the future!