Lesson 4 of 7 - optimize your relationships

Q&A about Healthy

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

Member NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/qa/relate.htm

Updated 02-17-2015

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       This is one of a series of articles on Lesson 4 - optimize your relationships. These articles build on Lessons 1-3, and prepare you for Lessons 5-7.

      This YouTube video asks 20 questions about "relationships":

       All adults and want healthy, satisfying relationships for their and their kids' sakes. The questions and answers below focus on key things adults need to know to attain that prize. Note these other Q&A articles.

       These Q&A articles seek to raise your awareness, not preach absolute truths. The items apply to relationships between personality subselves (your inner family) as well as to you and other people.

      These article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this nonprofit Web site, and the premises underlying it

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 to 4,

  • these premises and this quiz about relationships.

      Choose an undistracted time and place to study these items, and consider journaling about any reactions you have. Decide if your true Self is guiding your personality before you read this.

  Questions you should ask about relationships

1)  I already know enough about relationships. Why should I read this?

2)  When does "a relationship" exist between two people?

3)  What is a "functional" or "healthy" relationship? A pseudo relationship? A toxic relationship?

4)  What are the essential ingredients for a satisfying (functional) relationship?

5)  Why are some relationships more satisfying and enduring than others?

6)  What's the difference between co/dependent, interdependent, and independent relationships, and why do I need to know the difference?

7)  What's needed to repair a relationship cutoff?

8)  How can I avoid or resolve having to choose between two or more people I care about? See these options.

9)  I have few or no real friendships and seldom enjoy socializing. Is something wrong?

10)  What is codependence (relationship addiction), and how can I tell if someone has that condition? If they do, what are my and their options? See this.

11)  What is enmeshment, and why should adults be aware of it?

12)  What is enabling, and how can adults avoid and/or reduce it?

13)  What is intimacy in a relationship?

14)  What is love, and what promotes and bocks it?

15)  Can toxic (unhealthy) relationships be improved? Yes, within limits.

16)  What options do I have for improving relationships at work?

17)  Is there a best way to analyze and solve typical relationship "problems"? Yes! Follow the  links.

18)  What is an ''approach-avoid'' relationship?

If you're in a divorcing family or stepfamily - or may be - continue with these Q&A items.

  If you don't see your question here, please ask!


Q1)  Why should I read this? 

      From decades of living, you know a lot about interpersonal relationships. Do you know enough? Paradoxically, until you study this article and Lesson 4, you can't answer that. If your curious, take this relationship quiz and return here.

       If you have no trouble forming and maintaining social relationships with adults and kids of both genders, then review these Q&A items to validate what you already know. If you do have trouble, reading these Q&A items may begin to help you improve that. This is specially true if you have divorced or never married.


Q2)  When does "a relationship" exist between two people?  

      It exists when the presence or absence and the behavior of one or both persons have a "significant" mental-emotional-spiritual-physical affect on the other - face-to-face and apart. Significant is a subjective judgment. The importance of a relationship to each person is proportional to...

  • the wholistic health and maturity of each person,

  • the priority of what each person needs (Q4) from the other, and...

  • the degree of satisfaction or stress the relationship causes each person.

      For example, do you have an important relationship with your mother? Your favorite TV newsperson? The mayor of Philadelphia? Your postmaster? Your doctor? Your plumber? Your favorite author? Your Higher Power? Some people feel all living things "relate" because we all affect each other. Do you agree?


Q3)  What is a functional or healthy relationship? A pseudo relationship? A toxic relationship?

      Premise - relationships exist to fill a mix of each person's local and long-term needs. A healthy (functional) relationship promotes the wellbeing, satisfaction, and growth of both people over time. So relationships vary between "very nurturing" (need-satisfying) and "very stressful.''

      This is also true with each relationship among the dynamic subselves that make up your personality. The nurturance level (low > moderate > high) of a relationship or group is determined by how well each person feels their needs are satisfied over time (Q4 below).

      In a pseudo (strategic) relationship, one or both people pretend to feel interest, concern, and caring which they don't really feel. Usually this happens when person B has something that person A needs and values, and may withhold; or when person A fears something about person B. It can also happen if either person is psychologically wounded and can't bond with other people.

      Pseudo relationships can also occur because a person's subselves need to deny something painful ("I really don't love my mate.") or they feel guilty and/or ashamed to reveal something that will cause one or both of them discomfort. ("I am often really bored by you.")

      A toxic relationship is one that "significantly" (a) hinders filling needs and recovery from psychological wounds, (b) increases the wounds, and/or (c) promotes wounds in vulnerable others, like minor kids. This brief YouTube video expands on this:


Q4)  What are essential ingredients for a satisfying (functional) relationship?

      My research and experience suggest these are essential..

  • personal awareness and knowledge; and...

  • each partner's true Self directing their other personality subselves, and...

  • a shared ability to bond (form genuine emotional-spiritual attachments), and...

  • a genuine (vs. strategic) shared mutual-respect attitude, and...

  • effective communication skills, and...

  • mutually-compatible interests, lifestyles, friends, and values, including spirituality .

      To build or improve relationships among your subselves and other people, start by defining your version of these key relationship ingredients. Then take responsibility for learning how to acquire them with important adults and kids. Use this proposal to expand your perspective and promote constructive discussion.


Q5)  Why are some relationships more satisfying and enduring than others?  

      Think of the most satisfying relationships you've had. Now think of several that were notably "unsatisfying." What has made the difference? Premise: relationships exist to fill each partners' unique mix of primary needs.

      Four key factors in most relationships are whether each partner or subself...

  • values their respective worth and needs equally (feels genuine mutual respect), and each

  • can assert and negotiate their needs, values, and boundaries effectively; and...

  • each person stays equally aware of their and their partner's needs in calm times and conflicts; and each .

  • can empathize and bond with the other.

These factors depend on whether each person is guided by their true Self locally and over time. Can you tell when your Self (capital "S") is guiding your other subselves? If your Self isn't leading, do you know who is?


Q6)  What's the difference between dependent, codependent. interdependent, and independent relationships, and why do I need to know this difference?

      Try saying your definition of "dependence" out loud. If you accept that all relationships exist to fill a set of personal needs, then a "dependent' relationship is one where one or both partners needs help from the other to fill some key needs they feel they can't fill otherwise. By definition, all child-adult relationships are dependent, until kids become self-sufficient young adults.

      A codependent relationship is an extreme case of this, where a person's dominant false self loses their personal identity and boundaries, and compulsively focuses on the welfare, needs, and behaviors of  another person. Many people feel that the psychological condition (vs. "disease") of codependence is a form of relationship addiction. See this and this for more perspective and options.

      This brief YouTube video provides more perspective on codependence:

      An interdependent relationship exists when both people (a) are usually guided by their true Selves, and (b) genuinely feel something like "I want to (vs. need to) be with you, and I can live well enough without you if I have to."

      An independent relationship exists when one or both people (a) want to spend time and energy together, and (b don't really depend on their partner to fill key personal needs. This is common when one or both people are significantly wounded and can't form genuine bonds with other people or living things.

      Until choosing personal awareness and wound-reduction, kids and adults will repeatedly seek and/or accept one of these relationship types - even if it's dissatisfying.

      Relationship satisfaction depends partly on how each partner's preferred type matches the other's preference. The most stressful mix occurs when a dependent person chooses an independent ("unavailable") person. The least stressful is with partners who are both minimally wounded, mutually aware, and interdependent. Have you experienced that?

       Aware adults and older kids can use this distinction to understand and avoid significant relationship frustrations, and make more informed relationship choices - specially during courtship.


Q7 What's needed to repair a relationship cutoff?

      A cut-off occurs when an adult or child decides to avoid contact with another person because they expect it to be painful and frustrating. Usually the core problems are a mix of these barriers. Each barrier can be improved, if and when each person wants to do so - starting with putting their true Self in charge (Lesson 1) and learning to communicate effectively (Lesson 2).

      This YouTube video summarizes key ideas about cutoffs:

      For more perspective and options, study this article.


Q9)  I have few or no real friends, and seldom enjoy socializing. Is something wrong?

      Probably. Some clinicians call this Asperger's Syndrome. Others call it "Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)." The latter is usually associated with young trauma-survivors. Option: search the Web with these terms for perspective and current resources.

       I suspect that having few or no genuine friends is caused by inherited  psychological wounds: excessive shame + fears + distrusts. These can combine to promote an inability to need and bond with (care about) other people. These wounds can be reduced over time by self-motivated personal recovery after hitting true bottom - which may happen in mid-life or later. See Lesson 1.


Q11)  What is enmeshment, and why should our family adults care about it?

      Every relationship is shaped by the clarity and stability of each person's identity and boundaries ("I am me, you are you, and we're separate, worthy persons with unique talents, values, and limits, and some common interests and friends.")

      Many survivors of early-childhood abandonment, neglect, and abuse ("trauma") are ruled by a protective false self without knowing it. One effect of that can be that their personal identity and boundaries are fuzzy, weak, or unstable. That can promote relationships where one or both people can't distinguish their own needs, feelings, values, and perceptions from their partner's. ("What do you want for dinner? Oh, I don't know - what do you want?") Clinicians describe such relationships as enmeshed or fused.

      Enmeshment is a symptom of psychological wounds, It can be mild to extreme, and one way or reciprocal. See this article on codependence for more perspective and options.


Q12)  What is enabling, and how can our family adults avoid and/or reduce it?

      Since public awareness of co-addiction  and codependence bloomed in the 1980s, the word enabling has grown an additional meaning. It refers to behavior which unintentionally encourages unhealthy attitudes and choices in another person - often some kind of addiction ("Marta enables Sal's addiction to stock-market excitement by not confronting him on his losses and denials.") 

      A common type of enabling occurs when a family member or friend avoids confronting a person who is unaware of or denying significant psychological wounds. This is widespread now, because...

  • most isolated, addicted, and troubled US adults and kids seem to be significantly wounded, psychologically, and...

  • few people understand...

    • the symptoms of such wounds,

    • what the wounds are, and what they mean, and...

    • what to do about them.

      In my professional opinion, significant enabling is a symptom of the real problems: psychological wounds + unawareness.

      To lower the risk that you're unintentionally enabling psychological wounds and/or unhealthy behavior, work patiently at Lessons 1 and 2. For more perspective, read this outline of intervening with (confronting) an unrecovering addict, which is the opposite of enabling.


Q13) What is intimacy in a relationship?

      Try answering this out loud. Then compare your answer to this: Intimacy between two people occurs when they mutually focus on - and may reveal honestly - their deepest feelings and needs about themselves, their partner, and their relationship. "Feelings" can include needs, fears, desires, emotions, delights, fantasies, disappointments, love, admiration, confrontation, shared memories, guilts, fears, frustrations, hurts, and dreams.

      True intimacy usually (always?) involves vulnerability to indifference, scorn, misunderstanding, and rejection, Intimacy can be expressed verbally and/or nonverbally, and may be spiritual, emotional, and/or physical. It may exist for a moment or for hours. Sexual interaction may or may not cause or be part of intimacy. Many associate intimacy with "private" thoughts and feelings - things that would not ordinarily be shared with other people.

      Five requisites for true (vs. pretended, or pseudo) intimacy are

  • freedom from internal and environmental distractions;

  • the shared abilities to bond with and trust selected other people, and to...

  • maintain a steady two-person awareness bubble; and...

  • mutual willingness to risk total present-moment honesty with yourself and your partner.

Psychological wounds can cripple or block these requisites - specially excessive shame, guilts, fears, distrusts, and distortions. Lesson 1 here offers a way to reduce these (and increase shared intimacy). For options on improving marital intimacy, see this.


Q15)  Can toxic (unhealthy) relationships be improved?  Yes - within limits.

      If you're in a consistently-stressful relationship, shift it toward "more nurturing" by doing things like these...

  • Work to free your Self (capital "S") to lead your personality - i.e. work at self-improvement Lesson 1. Otherwise, the following options probably won't fill your needs:

  • clarify and validate your human rights and long-term priorities; and...

  • view the other person as wounded and unaware, rather than bad, stupid, insensitive, selfish, egotistical, deceitful, dishonest, etc; and...

  • learn to use the seven effective-communication skills, and experiment with these options;

  • dig down to identify specifically what you need to improve the toxic relationship. Usually they will be to reduce one or more of these common barriers;  and...

  • stay aware of the things you can change and things you can't, and then...

  • assert your needs respectfully, and use empathic listening to neutralize expected resistances; and...

  • decide if the benefits (need-satisfactions) outweigh the discomforts of remaining in the relationship.

  • if you choose to reduce or end the relationship - including ones with parents, a mate, toxic children, or a punitive Higher Power - then grieve your losses (broken bonds) and forgive yourself and the other person/s;

  • seek your life purpose, and move toward manifesting and enjoying it a day at a time.

      These steps are most apt to work if your Self (capital; "S") puts your wholistic health and integrity at the top of your life-priority list. Is that true for you now?

      For more perspective, see these options for relating well enough to significantly-wounded adults and kids.


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