When your marriage or relationship is at risk, your security is threatened. Human beings are wired to pair bonds and rely on one special relationship for emotional support through the ups and downs of life. Unhappiness in your relationship affects your health significantly. It has a more significant impact on you than you might think.
Most of you have heard of PTSD. But did you know an unhappy relationship can cause PTSD? As anxiety, depression, increased cardiac problems, and a weakened immune system. That’s all part of how an unhappy relationship affects your health. Unhappy relationships or toxic relationships may be your biggest health threat.
You can do some things to improve your mental health and give the marriage a shot at survival.
Here are 5 ways to save yourself from a toxic relationship that’s making you sick:
1. Find an individual therapist who understands adult attachment
Unfortunately, most individual therapists are just that — therapists for individuals. If you’re in an unhappy relationship, you can find a therapist who understands adult attachment. Helping an individual bond with another person requires a deep understanding of attachment theory.
A good therapist will help you understand how you might project your problems and issues onto your partner. You will learn how you trigger your partner. Simply being told you need to set firmer boundaries will not work. It can backfire and make your relationship worse.
Throwing boundaries up and making everything your partner’s fault is dangerous. Soon, you’ll be blaming everything on your partner. They will feel more and more shut out and blamed. This will result in your partner becoming angrier with you. This was never the intention but is often the result. Your therapist must be skilled at helping you to own your insecurities and stop the blame game.
2. Take medication when necessary
Do you have a depression or anxiety disorder that is making it difficult to work and function in your day-to-day life? Then your biology probably needs some help. You do not need to feel afraid or ashamed of taking meds to help you break out of your biological dysregulation. You need to pay close attention to how an unhappy relationship affects your health.
If you had a thyroid problem or diabetes, both of which affect your mood, you would likely be open to taking meds. With medical supervision, medication can help you feel better more quickly than you could with therapy alone. If you ignore your need for medication, your emotional problems may cause your partner to feel emotionally distressed.
According to Sue Johnson’s book, Hold Me Tight, this can destabilize the marriage and throw you into a “Find the Bad Guy” pattern. You must remind yourself that you are not a bad guy if you need to take meds. But you will become one in your partner’s eyes if you do not take your meds when you need to.
3. Find a support group
There are support groups available for nearly every kind of problem. When an unhappy relationship affects your health, reach out for support. Do a Google search for support groups in your area.
If you are an overwhelmed mother, the spouse of an alcoholic, or a recovering alcoholic, some groups can help with stabilizing your emotions. If you struggle with your behaviors, there is a support group for you. Regardless of your struggle, you cannot carry the load alone.
Ideally, your partner would be your go-to person for social support. If they aren’t, you need to seek social support somewhere else. Once your relationship is happy and healthy enough, you can find the support you need within your relationship.
Family can be a positive or negative form of social support. Don’t count on a dysfunctional family to give emotionally healthy social support. They can’t give you what they do not have to give. If family members are healthy and emotionally supportive, great. However, if you struggle emotionally now, they likely weren’t healthy enough to give you what you needed when you were younger.
In most cases, you can’t get what you need now from the people who couldn’t give you what you needed in the past. Your journey to understanding how an unhappy relationship affects your health and how to protect yourself along the way comes with a warning.
4. Do not open your heart to needy people
The fast road to an emotional or physical affair is to find an emotionally needy relationship in which you can pour out your heart. This is so easy to do and can feel so great. There is nothing like feeling understood by someone wounded the same way you have. But here’s the problem. Your human need to pair bonds can be overwhelmingly powerful.
Emotional connection is the catalyst for pair bonding. A new close relationship will put your pair-bonding chemistry into motion with the release of dopamine. This will make you want more and more new love.
It doesn’t matter how good you think your boundaries are. You compromise them if dopamine gets the best of you. If you open your heart up with an unhealthy individual, they may threaten or shame you if you try to pull out of the relationship. Suddenly, the person you trusted as your healer can turn on you and become your worst nightmare. This happens a lot when people have a history of trauma bonding.
5. Educate yourself about what healthy lifetime love relationships look like
There are great (and some not-so-great) resources to learn more about how an unhappy or toxic relationship affects your health. There are a lot of great books, blogs, and articles with relationship advice to teach you to be a healthy lifetime lover. Do not presume you know how to do this.
Many people haven’t received modeling from their parents of a lifetime healthy relationship full of love. And you only know what you have been shown and taught, right? So it’s up to you to learn more. The social modeling research of Albert Bandura proved we influence others by what we show them, not by what we tell them.
Learning to be an emotionally stable lifetime lover takes a lifetime of commitment and practice. Believe it or not, in most cases, your partner is the best person to tell you whether you are becoming a safe and secure lifetime lover.
Being in a relationship that makes you unhappy is emotionally destabilizing. So much so that in the presence of your “dear one,” you become a monster, and so does your partner. An unhappy or toxic relationship causes a negative cycle of arguing that becomes a dangerous downward spiral, which is difficult to escape. Deep fear is at the root of all health problems in relationships. In the book Emotional Connection, which I co-authored with my wife, Paula, I tell the tragic story of a woman, Sonali Deraniyagala, who lost everything she held dear.
In her book, Wave, she narrates how a 100-foot wave tragically swept away her and her family. It was in an instant that Sonali lost every single person she had clung to for security. The physical and emotional trauma that Sonali experienced on that horrific day in December of 2004 had a profound effect on the following days, weeks, and years of her life. She felt the loss physically and emotionally.
Most of you will never experience a tsunami. You aren’t likely to witness your entire family being lost to such a tragic event. However, statistics show many of you will experience an unhappy or toxic relationship. An unhappy relationship affects your health like you experienced a tsunami. Without your own sensational tsunami story, you may discount or write off your symptoms. Defending, blaming, and withholding are ineffective.
Opening your deep heart and sharing your whole being with someone takes courage. If the one you’ve trusted with your “self” pulls away, you begin to break down emotionally. You feel betrayed and deeply hurt. That’s when you become defensive, blaming, and withholding. You cannot think your way out of marriage conflict. The most brilliant self-controlled people will find themselves feeling helpless and out of control in the presence of a partner who is threatening to leave an unhappy relationship.
No amount of reasoning will stop the arguments or heal the hurt. Your reasoning will just sound defensive and make matters worse.
- If you make demands, blame, and try to prove that your partner is at fault you’ll be met with those same behaviors coming back at you.
- If you try to take the “high road” by withholding and refusing to argue, your partner will feel rejected and abandoned.
- If you are in an unhappy marriage, you must understand the root of the problem — you don’t feel loved, cared for, and safe.
You might be losing hope your partner can provide the love and care you need. This creates a fear spiral, which will cause you to trust your partner less and less. Over time. the fear spiral becomes very emotionally destabilizing. Your view of yourself will become more negative. You tell yourself and believe that your partner doesn’t love you. And you will believe that your partner is unsafe to love. The best solution for an unstable relationship is couples therapy.
There is a great deal of scientific evidence to support that most couples who receive Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy can escape their cycle of conflict and have long-term relationship improvement. We often hear one member of an unhappy couple isn’t ready or willing to go for help. What if your partner doesn’t want to participate in couples therapy with you?
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It’s time to take charge of your health.
Is your partner with you on self and relationship improvement? If they are not, there is much you can do to improve yourself and your relationship. You owe it to yourself. Choosing to improve yourself is not being self-centered or co-dependent. It is quite the opposite. The best way not to become a victim is to do the right thing for yourself, even if the person you care about isn’t making the same choice.
With a better understanding now of how an unhappy relationship affects your health, it’s time to move forward.
Dr. Michael Regier is a clinical psychologist, marriage counselor, and executive coach with over 30 years of experience working to help couples repair unhappy marriages and create forever love. He and his wife Paula are authors of the book ‘Emotional Connection: The Story & Science of Preventing Conflict & Creating Lifetime Love.’
This article was originally published at michaelregier.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.