Like an unhealthy body, an unhealthy relationship shows signs and symptoms of a relationship disorder, and often times it relates to the behavior of one, or both partners.
The causes of relationship disorders can vary from childhood problems to learned patterns of behavior from adulthood. Childhood patterns of relationship problems are difficult to unlearn, but awareness, acceptance, and therapy can help.
Here are some common behaviors that create relationship disorders:
1. Fear of dealing with problems
Avoiding difficult conversations is a pattern that can lead to resentment in a relationship. When one partner cannot openly express feelings to another, the problems that the relationship has cannot be brought to light and resolved. The pattern of avoidance becomes a symptom of a relationship disorder.
2. Distorted thinking
If everything your partner says seems to be hurtful, this tendency to self-harm through your interpretation of others’ words may be a destructive symptom of a relationship disorder. A counselor tells a story of a frustrated husband who was thinking of leaving his wife because he thought she was uncaring. The skillful therapist had the man change his perspective to describe the same uncaring actions of his wife and to reframe them so that her intentions were to show caring toward him.
3. Love addiction
Another harmful pattern of behavior in relationship disorders is love addiction. Your relationship revolves around the actions, behavior, thoughts, and words of your partner. You wait for your partner to tell you what they want to do and you watch your partner’s face for signs of emotion that indicate how they feel about you. Such intense focus on the other in a relationship is a giving, loving attitude, but because it ignores the wants of one person in favor of the other, this is a symptom of an underlying relationship disorder.
A partnership requires both people to devote time and energy to developing a strong bond that keeps you connected. Each person should have their own distinct lives, which they enjoy separately, but also enjoy more in the company of their partner. In other words, without your partner, what would you be doing? Do it anyway and invite your partner to participate.
4. Seeking perfection
Perfect almost certainly does not exist and yet, may of us are still seeking the perfect partner. No one can be perfect by meeting all of your expectations all the time, so you cannot assume that someone will. Continuing to focus on making things perfect or finding the perfect partner will be an unhealthy pattern that leads to continuously being disappointed in others. Acceptance of human flaws in ourselves and in others is important to establishing close relationships.
Physical signs and symptoms of relationship disorders
Communication problems and relationship disorders can cause physical symptoms in our bodies that are related to the stress that we feel.
Symptoms of stress-related relationship disorders include:
– Feeling hot or flushed
– Upset stomach
– Racing thoughts
– Bowel distress
– Changes in appetite
Researchers studying the neurotransmitter oxytocin and the role it plays in forming social bonds find that the loss of affectionate bonds between romantic partners “may contribute to emotional disequilibrium and confer elevated risk for the onset of stress-related disorders.”
When relationship problems are present and our bodies feel distress, we may seek to self-medicate if there is no improvement in the relationship. Researchers studying alcohol problems and relationship health find that “relationship problems and drinking often co-occur, with robust positive associations between heavy drinking and marital discord.”
Negative interpersonal events like those in an unhealthy relationship can predict drinking and alcohol-related problems. The researchers found that jealousy in a relationship led to low measures of relationship self-esteem, which was also related to alcohol drinking patterns. In contrast, the research shows that “relationship satisfaction, commitment, and closeness” were all found to moderate the association between jealousy and alcohol-related disorders in a relationship.