What Is A Dysfunctional Relationship?

By

What Is A Dysfunctional Relationship?
Dysfunctional Relationships are relationships that do not perform their appropriate function.

Unless you're completely out of touch with any media, written, audio or video, you have been bombarded with words like "dysfunctional relationship", "codependency" and "toxic family system". You may have noticed that there's a lot of information available about these relationships, but not too much about what to do about them. This month, I thought I'd give a brief overview of the various terms and what they mean, plus a guide about the difference between these relationships and healthy ones.

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.

Codependency means that one or both people in a relationship are making the relationship more important than they are to themselves. A classic codependent is hopelessly entangled with a partner who is out of control through alcoholism, addiction or violent behavior; but the term has been more recently used to mean anyone who feel dependent, helpless and out of control in a relationship; or unable to leave an unsatisfying or abusive one.

Toxic Family Systems are relationships (beginning with childhood families, and carried into adulthood) that are mentally, emotionally or physically harmful to some or all of the participants. Codependent relationships can also be toxic relationships, although the term "toxic" is usually used to mean the more abusive varieties.

In short, all three of these terms refer to relationships that contain unhealthy interaction, and do not effectively enhance the lives of the people involved. People in these relationships are not taking responsibility for making their own lives or the relationship work.

The degree of dysfunction, codependency or toxicity in relationships can vary. Most of us get a little dependent, and therefore dysfunctional, from time to time -- especially when we're tired, stressed, or otherwise overloaded. What makes the difference between this normal, occasional human frailty and true clinical dysfunction is our ability to recognize, confront and correct dysfunction when it happens in our relationships.

The question to keep in mind is: what is not working, and how can we make it work? Most people, when faced with a relationship problem or disagreement, reflexively begin to look for a villain; that is, they want to know who's at fault. Responding to a problem by looking for someone to blame (even if it's yourself) is a dysfunctional response. The functional question is not, "Whose fault is it?" but "What can we do to solve the problem?"

When you try it, you'll see that refusing to focus on blaming anyone (yourself or your partner), and instead insisting on solving the problem, will make a huge difference in all your relationships. Families who sit down together, in a family meeting, where everyone, including small children, gets to discuss the problem from their point of view, and everyone works together to solve the problem, become functional rapidly.

Couples who can sit down together and discuss problems calmly, without blaming, criticizing and accusing, find that looking for a mutual solution to their problems increases their commitment, their intimacy and bonds them together. Nothing binds you in relationship more powerfully than the awareness that by working together, you can solve whatever problems arise. Keep Reading...

More relationship advice from YourTango

This article was originally published at Tina B. Tessina. Reprinted with permission.
Article contributed by
Advanced Member

Dr. Tina Tessina

Author

Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D.
http://www.tinatessina.com
tina@tinatessina.com
562-438-8077
Dr. Romance Blog: http://drromance.typepad.com/dr_romance_blog/
http://www.twitter.com/tinatessina
http://www.facebook.com/#!/DrRomanceBlog
Amazon author page http://amzn.to/rar7RC
 

Location: Long Beach, CA
Credentials: LMFT, MFT, PhD
Other Articles/News by Dr. Tina Tessina:

Dear Dr. Romance: I Would Like To Get Out Of This Anxiety

By

Dear Dr. Romance: I'm a 70-year-old man who has been married more than 40 years.  I read your article "Autonomy and Dependency" I feel like I've been in a codependency relationship the last fifteen years and have developed anxiety & depression. My wife is a strong person and I'm a 'pleaser.' I've been on ... Read more

Live Outside The Box

By

I was speaking with a client today about how he is burn-out in his career. This is a man who's been very successful, earned a lot of money, and worked hard for a big, national corporation. I told him he was burned-out, and on strike, because he had put himself in a box about work. The box consisted of four walls: Wall #1: I have to make $$$$ amount ... Read more

What To Do When You (Literally) Can't Afford To Be Let Down Again

By

Dear Dr. Romance: My partner, with whom I have been in a relationship for the past year, has changed and let me down twice. We were first friends for several years, and became a couple a year ago. We both fell in love instantly and desired to live together to build a good future, financially, with family. We both have children from past relationships and ... Read more

See More

Ask The Experts

Have a dating or relationship question?
Visit Ask YourTango and let our experts and community answer.