People want their relationships to last the test of time. Because of this, longevity is currently the measuring stick for whether a relationship is successful or not. People automatically think that if a relationship lasts, the people in that relationship must be doing something right. But the sad reality is that the overwhelming majority of long-term relationships don’t last because the individuals in those relationships are doing something right. Rather, they last because of dysfunction.
Humanity is in the dark ages regarding relationships. This is a sad reality to swallow, especially given that humans are a social species and relationship was not only central to our life experience, it was and is the key to our very survival. We are headed from unconscious relationships to conscious relationships and we are deep in the middle of navigating that journey. Currently, most people live in enough of an unconscious state that they don’t even spot dysfunction in their relationships. Instead, they tend to celebrate it. For now that is. This can be compared to so many things throughout human history. The female clitoris was not even fully mapped until 2005 and female sexuality is completely in the dark ages today, meaning that most of the information you have taken to be true regarding female sexuality is completely and totally wrong. The people of the 1940s and 50s used to believe that a really great treatment for psychiatric illness was to drill holes into a person’s skull and perform a lobotomy. The people of the sixteenth century used to think a perfectly healthy source entertainment for themselves and their children was to take them to see public executions. Numerous reasons were given as to why women shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Ready for some of the most prevalent ones? 1. The mental exertion of voting would cause infertility in women.2. Women’s brains were inferior to men’s, and so women were incapable of participating in politics.3. Women would neglect their home and family, causing society to unravel.4. Women were too good for the dirty nature of politics.
Human slavery used to be totally normal. People thought nothing more of it than they think of how they treat cows or pigs today. And because of this lack of recognition of dysfunction, how do you think they experienced the QUALITY of their relationships? The answer depends partially on what they have been trained to expect and what they have to compare it to doesn’t it? Welcome to the danger of normalization. If you’d like to understand more about normalization, you can watch my video titled: How Normalization is Hurting You and Hurting Society.
The mistake that every generation makes is that they point to the past as an example of dysfunction and wrongness without realizing that the people of the future will be pointing a finger back at them in the same way. The real work of a conscious life is to recognize and change that dysfunction as it exists in the here and now. Those of us that study relationships across history often look at relationships across history with disbelief and horror. But what if that is how the people of the future will view our relationships today? The things you currently think are normal and fine.
I’m going to hit you with a reality that people of the future see about us, but that the people of today don’t see about themselves… The current way that people make their relationship last is by adopting dysfunction and adapting to dysfunction. Are there some people whose relationships last because they have a truly mutually beneficial dynamic? Yes. But they are by far the few and far between.
So that you can see this picture of human relationships clearly, let’s first define dysfunction as it applies to relationships. Dysfunction in a relationship is when the way a person functions (what they are thinking, saying and doing) is detrimental to themselves and/or to others. Usually to one or both people in the relationship. When a person uses dysfunction as a way to create longevity in a relationship, what it means is that they have adopted detrimental strategies to maintain that relationship. So that you can understand this, I will give you some examples.
- A woman is married to an emotionally unavailable man who is not there for her. So, she leans on her oldest son to meet the needs that her husband should have met. Things like comfort, encouragement, love, advice, support and companionship. This is covert incest. And the result is her husband gets to continue his dysfunctional behavior by being disengaged from the marriage. And her son is now threatened by intimacy and expectations in his adult relationships to the degree that he ruins every relationship he gets into with passive aggressive behavior, is a people pleaser, has no sense of personal identity, and has an eating disorder. But last month this mother and this father had their 40th wedding anniversary. And everyone congratulated them on how many years they’ve “made it work”. Both gave a little speech about how they did it.
- Ben and Oliver have been in a relationship for over 20 years. They have built an impressive real estate investment portfolio, own several places around the world and have traveled extensively. The thing is, they rarely ever see each other. Ben is always taking care of remodel projects in one place while Oliver is taking care of them in another. When they get together, they exchange surface conversation and go out to clubs to pick up younger guys. Oliver feels lonely. For a while, he tried to get Ben to engage in a more emotionally intimate relationship, to see a therapist and go to couple’s retreats. But Ben was not interested. He refuses to expose any vulnerability to others, which is one reason why he loves wining and dining much younger men. Oliver is so afraid that his financial security depends on his relationship with Ben, that he simply chose to adapt. He gave up on trying to have emotional connection with Ben and simply made himself busy with projects and travel. He uses distraction as a way to be able to live with his relationship the way it is. Now, whenever he doesn’t have a project, he panics and has to create a new one for himself. People often congratulate Ben and Oliver on how rare it is, especially in the gay community, to have a long-term life partner. And Oliver’s best friend, who has an insecure attachment, is envious of their ability to be away from each other for months on end and act like everything is ok with each other. She mistakes this for a secure attachment.
- Howard is a tyrannical dictator in his home. Everything is his way or the highway. He wants everything predictable and the same. This is how he manages his anxiety. His wife, Barbara has a very different personality. She is easy going, loves different ideas and has always dreamed of travel. But Howard flies into a rage fit when anything disrupts his routine. Barbara is conflict avoidant. So, she adapted to Howard’s dysfunction and enabled it. She has given herself up for the sake of the relationship. She cooks him a predictable meal on every day of the week. She makes sure the kids behave the way that will keep Howard placated. When he is busy reading the paper, she sneaks to watch national geographic channel. When he disowns his youngest daughter for joining a political party that opposes his own, Barbara does not oppose Howard. Instead, she sneaks out to call her daughter sometimes in secret. Barbara had a heart attack one day while she was sitting in her arm chair. The furthest she ever traveled in her life, was to Florida. Her obituary reads: Howard and Barbara were able to share a wonderful 53-year marriage.
- Khloe has been in a relationship with Kenneth for 13 years now. At first, everything in the relationship went really good. But after Kenneth was fired from his job, the polarity in the relationship started to flip. Kenneth became consumed by self-doubt, started acting passive and he dropped more and more household responsibilities on Khloe. He seemed to need more and more time to relax and be left alone. In turn, Khloe found that all her time in the relationship was spent prodding Kenneth into action. Her ambition and anxiety ramped up. And the resentment she feels towards him makes it so that he disgusts her sexually. Their relationship is clouded by a feeling that something isn’t right. But both of them have no one else to live their live with. They are terrified of ending the relationship and ending up truly alone in life. So, Khloe and Kenneth have adopted a pattern. Every month or so, When Kenneth inevitably breaks his word regarding a responsibility he agreed to take on, she kicks him out of the house. She feels amazing for a day or so. And then, she starts to miss the things she does like about him. The same thing happens with Kenneth. He goes camping or sleeps in his car. Rather than changing his behavior or realizing that he is at the mercy of her wanting him around or not, and seeing how unhealthy the relationship is, he starts to miss her too and resolve that he will come back and act differently. So, Kenneth asks to come back home. When he does, he behaves active and responsible for a week or two. They make passionate love every day. After all, they both love makeup sex. Then, he slips right back into his previous behavior. And the cycle repeats. They have been doing this for eleven years now. But they both take pride in the fact that almost everyone else they know has broken up or is divorced.
- Gwen is married to Hilton. They have been together for 19 years now and they have four children. Well, Gwen might be married to Hilton. But Hilton is married to his job. He imports chemicals from India to sell to pharmaceutical companies. He is a superbly wealthy man. He has given his family unlimited credit cards so they can help themselves to every luxury they could ever want. Hilton is not present in his wife’s life or in his children’s lives. He has extremely high standards regarding his son’s conduct and achievements because he sees them as extensions of himself. Gwen often has to deal with their meltdowns when Hilton is around, because they feel so ‘not good enough’ in his eyes. Gwen feels enormous pressure to keep herself looking good because it is clear that she is expected to be an example of a perfect, successful family. Gwen copes with what truly doesn’t work about her relationship and life with denial. If you confront her on her unhappiness in her life, she will look at you like you are crazy. Her truth is that she is genuinely blessed and genuinely happy. Gwen’s friend from college feels like either she or Gwen is going insane because she has personally watched Hilton berate one of their sons to tears and storm out of the house in his Porcha, only to watch Gwen talk about how good of a father he is and how lucky she feels about his dedication to family a half an hour later. She tells herself the story that Hilton is hard on his kids because he cares so much. She tells herself that the reason he is never at home is because he cares so much about her security, that he is working hard for her and the kids. Everything that causes her pain about her relationship with Hilton gets explained away and turned into something else and everyone around her feels gaslit because of it. She goes out into society and to church as the example of a perfect wife with the perfect husband and perfect kids.
- Bonnie has serious insecurity issues, especially regarding other women. When she first got into a relationship with Landon, she acted super open minded and presented herself like she was not a jealous type. But over time, that changed. She felt like their relationship was so insecure that she deliberately tried to get pregnant by Landon. Subconsciously, she saw this as her ticket to his commitment. But when that didn’t happen, and he still put his attention on other women, she flipped out. She even enrolled her doctor in the game by having the obstetrician confront him on how important it was to not do things that elicit stress in her during the pregnancy. Codependently, Landon stopped attending parties. When the baby was born, and Landon unexpectedly found himself attached to his unexpected son, Bonnie used the child as leverage. She threatened that if Landon didn’t cut off his relationship with a few women who Bonnie felt insecurity around, women that meant a great deal to Landon, that she would fight for full custody and move away with their son. Terrified by the idea of losing his son, he did exactly what Bonnie wanted and cut himself off from every person she was threatened by. He became socially isolated to only Bonnie and her friends and family. Down deep, he has a nagging feeling of being controlled and consumed by Bonnie. He feels empowered when he does things like come home a half an hour late or eat things in secret that he knows she would not approve of. But Landon just wrote a Christmas card that said “I was lost before I found you. You were the best thing that ever happened to me.” This month is their 8-year anniversary.
If you want to learn more about this concept, you can watch my video titled: Longevity is Not Necessarily a Measure of Success or Health in a Relationship. But before you do that, I want you to consider the following: You may be able to recognize how these relationships are dysfunctional. But guess who can’t? The people who are in them. And this has serious implication because it means that if you are in a dysfunctional dynamic in a relationship, the likelihood is that you do not see it.
When you are looking at someone else’s relationship, the first thing to know is that there is a whole lot that you don’t see. On top of this, we are often not brave enough to see the reality of relationships because of what it would mean for us to acknowledge the dysfunction. Many of you who know your parents have a horribly dysfunctional relationship may have experienced this with siblings of yours idolizing their relationship and defending it. Many of you know that when a Hollywood relationship breaks up, fans go into crisis. If we are dedicated to a conscious life, we need to be brave enough to look at what does work in a relationship and what doesn’t work in a relationship. And believe me, this is a serious topic of debate.
But it is critical that you accept that as of right now, the vast majority of people achieve longevity in relationships via dysfunctional strategy. They keep the relationship together and maintain it with behavior that is detrimental to themselves, detrimental to the other person, detrimental to other people involved in their social system or to all of the above. And we will only be able to change that fact, if we are willing to see this reality in the first place. Creating conscious, beneficial relationships will only be possible if we are willing to face the current state of dysfunction that we currently label as a working relationship.