It’s a term we throw around a whole lot these days, but what does it actually mean?
Here is the simplest definition I could find:
“Dysfunctional relationships are relationships that do not perform their appropriate function; that is, they do not emotionally support the participants, foster communication among them, appropriately challenge them, or prepare or fortify them for life in the larger world.” ~ Tina B. Tessina, PhD.
Another comparatively concise description was this:
In a dysfunctional relationship…
“You feel that you have to fit into someone else’s perception of what is right or wrong in order to be loved.
You feel confined.
There is always something to fix.
You feel like you’re settling.
Who you are is diminished.
Your needs are not met in one way or another.
You feel like you’re never going to be good enough.
You feel trapped.
You’re afraid to leave, but you don’t want to stay.
When it’s good, it’s really good, but when it’s bad it’s horrible.” ~ Lania Desmond
I spent over five years with a man about whom I could check off every single one of those boxes—and then some. It was good for maybe two months. After that, it was hell.
While I knew there was something desperately wrong, I never thought of us as having a, “dysfunctional relationship.”
Why? Because dysfunction, though so clear and obvious from the outside, feels a lot more confusing when we’re in the thick of it.
It still feels like love—or our warped interpretation, anyway.
Leaving still feels like betrayal—though we’ve already been betrayed countless times.
And we still long to recapture the original magic, despite any good times being so far distant that they feel like someone else’s dream.
Also, I secretly believed that every relationship that I (or anyone) could ever have would ultimately be dysfunctional. I thought the reality of a truly loving partnership was like a myth, or some ancient lore.
I had never, to my knowledge, seen one single example of a couple in a healthy relationship. Truthfully, I still haven’t seen many.
And while that news may seem bleak, I now know something pretty important: Healthy relationships are no Sasquatch. They are real, and we can find them—but we have to get ourselves out of the unhealthy ones first.
If I had one regret (though honestly I don’t, because somehow all my mistakes led me to the place I am now, which is exactly where I want to be) it would be that I wasted so much time on crappy relationships.
I would love to have a major sit down with 16-year-old me, 20-year-old me, 23, 25 and 28-year-old me and say—somehow convincingly enough to make a difference—life, and love, should be better than this.
Stop settling for scraps.
Finding someone to love should not be your number one priority. Falling in love with yourself should.
Well, sure, I would have answered, but what does that even mean? “Falling in love with yourself?” Are you serious?
Yes! Cook yourself lovely food, shower yourself with compliments, smile when you look in the mirror, sleep in clean sheets, walk barefoot or put on fancy heels, do something to help others every day, move your body joyfully, write letters to faraway friends, keep nearby friends close to your heart, get still and pay attention, feel your sadness and rejoice in your happiness.
If we learn how to do these things for ourselves, we will realize that being with someone else who doesn’t is just more trouble than it’s worth.
Somehow, many of us are still under the misapprehension that being with someone—anyone—is better than being alone.
And, admittedly, being alone is hard. It takes a certain kind of resolve to be completely independent.
But if we dig in our heels and refuse to accept anything less than what we truly deserve (knowing that we all deserve to be authentically loved), we will make space for someone who can add to, rather than diminish, our lives.
Author: Erica Leibrandt
Editor: Toby Israel
Photo: Andra MIhali at Flickr