Signs of a bad relationship - should I stay or go?

TEXT: KRISTIN HARALDSDÒTTIR ASPELUND, PSYCHOLOGIST AND COUPLE THERAPIST

There can be many reasons for a relationship to falter. 

Regardless of the reason for an ailing relationship, every relationship will be characterized by the way we relate to our own and the other's feelings and needs. The relationship will also be characterized by the extent to which we make our partner feel important. 

The way we handle emotions is individual and well-incorporated. Although there is an underlying shared need for contact and security in a relationship, the expression of this will be different for each individual. 

As a result, we can end up in dynamics that mean that we get the opposite of what we need - we end up with uncertainty rather than security.

This text will deal with some such interactions and common signs that can appear when uncertainty in the relationship arises:

We review this in the blog post: 

  • The relationship as an identity-creating mirror
  • Characteristics you fall for - a two-sided coin
  • When a breach in attachment creates attachment behaviour
  • Signs of a bad and unhealthy relationship
  • How increased emotional pressure and anxiety levels affect the relationship

At Psykologvirke, we have gathered some of Norway's leading couple therapists. You can read more about couples therapy with us here. Have you already decided to try couples therapy? Then you can easily order couples therapy here.

Uncertainty in the relationship

The relationship as an identity-creating mirror

A good relationship is in many ways an identity-creating mirror. Then you would like to have the inner experience that "with you it's a good feeling to be me«.

Knowing yourself as a caring, humorous and engaged person only becomes meaningful when we have relationships to live these sides out in. The secure relationship creates space to feel free and to develop aspects of oneself.

For example, I can feel interesting when someone is listening and responds with curiosity to what I have to offer. I can feel funny when someone laughs at me. I can feel cared for when someone shows gratitude and joy for what I offer.

When the person you have chosen as your closest person is to a lesser extent a source of healthy self-affirmation, we get different experiences. Then being in contact can give an experience of both losing yourself and the secure connection. 

We need others both to develop and confirm aspects of ourselves. In other words, uncertainty about the relationship can be about losing a type of attention that supports a good sense of self. 

Characteristics you fall for - a two-sided coin 

In many cases, the qualities you fell for in each other can also be considered a two-sided coin. The reverse side of the medal can appear as a torment, an allergic reaction in the heart and soul. 

The patient partner, so listening and good at everything you had to offer, has been transformed into the boring conversational partner with no opinions of his own. 

The energetic lover with optimism and will to stand up, now appears as a stressful Duracell rabbit who can never relax, or let you relax. 

The safe lover, who always had time and a good arm to crawl into, now seems to have settled into the sofa without the same urge for adventure as you. 

The ambitious partner, with whom you could dream in a two-seater, now spends all his time and capacity on his own projects. 

What once felt like your boyfriend now feels more like a family member than someone you want to sleep with. Then the relationship can be perceived as bad.

Basically, it is about the experience of losing a common connection in admiring each other, having coincidental desires for life together, feeling important or having an emotional function for each other. When uncertainty is in the driver's seat, it is as if a we has been replaced with a you and one me. We are together, but mentally alone.

When a breach in attachment creates attachment behaviour

When in various ways one begins to doubt one's own or one's partner's importance or function, uncertainty in the relationship will most certainly arise. There has been a break in the attachment to each other.

What characterizes a break in attachment? 

In emotion-focused couple therapy, breakdowns in attachment are summarized as the "holy three". This is characterized by the fact that you no longer experience your partner as:

  • available for you
  • responsive on your thoughts, feelings, interests and needs
  • or emotional engaged in what you have to offer. 

The experience of a break in attachment does something to us. The loss of contact means that we initially try to get what was lost back. Therefore, in the wake of a break in attachment, what we can call will occur attachment behavior. These are ways of acting or being that aim to restore contact or security. 

This will look different for each of us. It may be that we become more persistent in various ways, but we may also become more evasive. We may begin to defend ourselves, attack or evade, while our innermost needs in many cases remain lonely. 

Shouting out "You're never home, you completely blow my mind!" is, as an example, quite a different message than saying "You mean so much to me, I miss spending time with you". 

Suddenly, we can find ourselves in a self-reinforcing spiral, where our way of expressing (or failing to express) feelings and attachment needs reinforces the problem.

Signs of a bad and unhealthy relationship 

A bad relationship can be widespread. From mild discomfort to excruciating pain. Simply put, a relationship is bad when you don't feel good about yourself for a large part of the time and you can link this to the relationship you are in. 

It could be that the relationship no longer constitutes a healthy source of self-definition or a place where you feel safe, engaged, wanted or accepted. 

If you often feel these experiences that we list here, then this in itself is a sign that your relationship may need a change:

  • walks with an overwhelming restlessness on the inside 
  • feeling trapped and suffocated
  • is lonely and sad even when you are together
  • Shame on you beyond measure
  • feel contempt and disgust towards the partner
  • have recurring anger or feel less valuable with your partner than with others

How increased emotional pressure and anxiety levels affect the relationship

Experiences of broken attachment activate strong emotions which can often manifest as stress and anxiety in the body. 

This can make the process of whether to stay or go more difficult. This is because a high level of anxiety activation makes it difficult to access emotions that can help you find out what needs and options you have for action.

Our brains are wired in such a way that we have difficulty thinking flexibly and multifacetedly, or being empathetic and open when we are at the same time overwhelmed by stress/anxiety/fear.

We tend to interpret black and white, often in accordance with our own fears. In the absence of reassuring signals from our partner, fear can become stronger than reality, and eventually constitute our perception of reality

The brain short-circuits and finds explanations that match the overwhelming experience of anxiety, captivity or loneliness inside. Examples of such explanations can be: 

She can't possibly be attracted to me, she never takes me on", "That stone face there has a total lack of empathy", "He doesn't take the initiative to be together, I mean nothing to him", "I am bombarded with questions, what a controlling person".

We see in the examples that the brain automatically equates the trigger for our insecurity (for example: an apathetic, silent face) and our own interpretation of the trigger (for example: the expressionless face is proof that I am like air to him/her ).

With such strong convictions, it is difficult to openly check out what is really going on inside with the partner, or even express longing and needs from a vulnerable place. 

For many, it is easier to remain silent, communicate indirectly or shout out what they see as shortcomings.

The partner may then be at risk of defending claims and interpretation, attacking back, withdrawing or remaining in a frozen state. The distance is increased and the relationship moves slowly but surely towards the cliff. 

What can you do yourself?

What you should do, if this has not already been done, is involve your partner in the uncertainty you feel. It is not uncommon for couples to come to therapy, where one person has been dealing with an insecurity for a long time, without involving their partner. 

Unfortunately, it may have gone so far that the decision has already been made emotionally without the other person having had the opportunity to understand and meet needs, where there might have been hope at an earlier stage. 

Other times couples arrive where one or both have, over time and in desperation, tried to express their wishes and needs, without managing to get closer to each other. 

If you are considering couples therapy, you can read our article about it 9 signs that couples therapy might be a good idea.

We have gathered a bunch of Norway's leading couple therapists. If you wish, you can read more about couples therapy with us here.

Our couple therapists are trained in emotion-focused couple therapy. If you or you are curious, you can read more about the method here.

For those who already want to book an appointment with us You can book an appointment here.

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