Detaching from Dysfunctional Relationships to Make Room for True Love

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dysfunctional relationships

Thomas G. Fiffer, Executive Editor at The Good Men Project, is a graduate of Yale University and holds an M.A. in creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is a professional writer, speaker, and storyteller with a focus on diagnosing and healing dysfunctional relationships. His books, Why It Can’t Work: Detaching from Dysfunctional Relationships to Make room for True Love and What Is Love? A Guide for the Perplexed to Matters of the Heart are available on Amazon. He lives in Connecticut and is working on his first novel. Following are loosely transcribed highlights of our radio interview on Detaching from Dysfunctional Relationships to Make room for True Love.

Detaching from Dysfunctional Relationships to Make room for True Love

How do you define a dysfunctional relationship?

All of our relationships are probably a little bit dysfunctional. Full blown dysfunctional relationships are fairly easy to fall into. The hallmark is you’re unhappy, your needs are not being met, and you’re trying to communicate with your partner about that. The problems are not getting resolved in any constructive way.


7 deadly signs of a dysfunctional relationship

  1. Tedium
  2. Blame 
  3. Guilt
  4. Tension
  5. Uncertainty
  6. Frustration
  7. Hopelessness


Why might someone stay in a dysfunctional relationship?

If you’re staying, it’s serving you in some way. What you’re getting out of it is unhealthy, but it’s filling a hole. There’s some payoff. There’s generally a controlling partner and a contributing partner. They enable the behaviors.

Or they don’t see a way out. They think it’s fixable. They’re not quitters. 


What are some causes of dysfunctional relationship dynamics?

Most people bring dysfunctional patterns from their past. Healthy conflict resolution doesn’t come naturally. Flying off the handle is more instinctive. 

Without judging people and their past traumas, the controlling partner often brings unhealthy patterns from a dysfunctional family dynamic. These tools don’t work in a romantic relationship. [For example, you might have walked away from your parent who screamed at you when you were little. That’s not a healthy way to deal with your partner when you disagree.]


How do you know when it’s time to leave a dysfunctional relationship?

Early signs are 1. when you start to feel emotionally unhealthy in how you’re interacting with your partner. 2. You feel that sense of hopelessness. You don’t see a way out and get stuck in a loop. 3. Your work/friendships suffer.

What can you do? Take control of your emotional health. Don’t blame your partner.  Get help. Realize that you’re engaged in these patterns. When you change yourself, your partner will either like it or not. [If they don’t respond well, and the relationship is still not working, it’s time to leave.]


How can you make sure you gravitate towards a healthy, loving relationship in the future?

The number one need in a relationship is respect. It all starts with respect. Everything flows from that. If a person is disrespectful even in a joking way, you can say, “When you say this, I feel disrespected.” Respect is honoring boundaries, not mocking, listening even if you don’t agree completely, not interrupting, respecting time, and it’s respecting the people who are dependent on you, your kids come first. 

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