It’s mostly about fear, which makes us turn reality, says the couple therapist Anika Bökenhauer. But how do you get out of there? In the video, you see the surest signals that your relationship can not go on like this.
Why do people stick to connections that are not good for them?
Anika Bökenhauer: Often it is hoped that holds them together – that it will someday be the same again as at the beginning. That he still changes, loves me as I wish. In particular, women sometimes develop a tremendous ambition to crack the nut still. Unfounded hope can defy decades of reality.
Which mutual dependencies play a role?
There are individual reasons why people stick to such a relationship. Low self-confidence plays a major role, and with it, anxiety. They do not dare to start alone again, to look for an apartment, to be financially on their own. They tell themselves: this is still better than separating. He may not be nice to me sometimes, but he helps in the household, is good with the kids, he is not that bad, I should be grateful for what I have.
Is it really only the fear of being alone? After all, there are also those couples who always convey that they can not live without or with each other …
Yes. Recently, for example, I had a couple in the office where the woman was so angry about her husband that I eventually asked her why she would not leave him. Finally, we worked out that the fact that he behaves so weak makes them strong. She needs someone like him at her side because she feels comfortable in her role as a strong head of the family. Besides, it is, of course, handy to have someone who gives in when in doubt. However, when at some point the supposedly weak man separates, it happens more often than the women literally fold up.
Is there a difference between an unhappy relationship and a destructive one?
In every respect, there are destructive elements. It starts with spreading small tips or when the woman asks her partner for the third time in an hour whether he has actually put away his things, even though she knows the answer. We each have the potential to be destructive or mean, especially when we feel approaching. It becomes questionable only when no appreciation at all takes place in the partnership, no nice experience shared, everything is misinterpreted and one only fights each other.
Which pairs are particularly vulnerable to such mechanisms?
Those who can not really talk to each other. Quarrels are everywhere, but if you do not have the competence to apologize and come together, it will be difficult. There is often a lack of knowledge about one’s own needs and limits – and the ability to articulate them. If you do not know yourself, you can not read others well. In a relationship, both should learn to interpret each other’s signals correctly: Is my partner just out of helplessness only defending himself with his hands and feet? Does he now need my sympathy instead of a reproach? Is he just cornering and biting back? How can I help him out?
Some couples have the impression that they need constant friction.
Someone who always starts drama may be distracting from other important things. For example, not getting along in the role of mother or having the feeling that you are not achieving your own goals. If there are conflicts in the relationship, I do not have to deal with my own problem like that.
When did the moment come for a therapy?
The earlier the better. The pressure of suffering must often have reached a certain level for this step. I advise couples to just go to a first therapy session and not to hang it that high. The sooner one reveals bad patterns, the better the long-term forecast for the partnership. It helps if one of them dares to face his problems.
What do you advise a couple that expects help from you?
First of all, it’s about working out why the two cling to each other despite all the grief. Is there still enough positive things to bury? Then together we try to better understand each other, to rebuild compassion for each other. It is also important to take the focus away from the partner. Away from: “You have to change to make me feel good.” Towards more personal responsibility: “I myself am responsible for my well-being.”
Are typical patterns of a man in destructive relationships really different from those of a woman?
There are destructive behaviors that occur more frequently in men: the complete withdrawal, the refusal to talk about feelings. Men, unlike women, are rarely used to communicating with friends at this level. Disputes are therefore more challenging for him. Therefore, if a dispute is unproductive, and this is readily apparent, it would be helpful for anyone involved to break off the conversation and make an appointment later, when both are calmer.
How are children who grow up in destructive relationships?
They also suffer from unhealthy structures and learn by the way: That’s the partnership. They then take all kinds of things for their future relationship life. Also in the interest of children should, therefore, tackle the difficulties. This is of course especially true in extreme cases where violence occurs.
Why do people often find it so difficult to break away from such extremely unhealthy relationships?
We know that people who have experienced violence as a child will find it easier to get back into such a relationship later. People often seek the familiar in their partner, which provides security – even if that may seem absurd in this context. The idea of a separation can be very anxious.
What are the first warning signs of such a dependency relationship?
Such a relationship often begins with a strong idealization. If a friend tells her that her new boyfriend is absolute madness and there is nothing problematic at all, then you should be alert. The fact that the partner constantly exceeds their limits, they accept, because the longing for love and confirmation is greater.
How can affected women get rid of the victim role?
Besides what the partner has done to you, it is important to look at it: what have I done to myself? Where did I treat myself badly? Often sufferers are used to it from their childhood that their borders are not respected. Therefore, their early warning system does not work. These patterns are to be discovered. Because after the end of a destructive relationship, something does not automatically change the needs that have driven me into such. So I have to ask myself: What can be inside me, what leads to this? This does not release the offender from his role as a perpetrator. But the victim can learn to protect himself.
“Failed relationships hold the chance to expose childhood injuries”
If we recognize destructive elements in the relationship between friendly couples, should we intervene?
It is hard to watch when someone dear to you runs into misfortune. Instead of giving advice, you could signal the affected friend value-free: I’m curious why this connection makes sense for you. Why are you with this man? Thus, the person concerned receives a confident and may manage to open up to her. For people in such pair, constellations isolate themselves and no longer dare to reveal anything. But there is also a point where relatives and friends need to look at themselves. When they suffer massively, they should set limits and say: Come back, if you really want help – and do not just moan and still stay with him.
Is there anything positive that you can take away from a destructive relationship?
Only in relationships with others can we learn and grow. Even in failed relationships. Sometimes they even give us the chance to uncover and heal childhood injuries. You learn a lot about yourself – and that, despite all the grief, is important for our development.