How To Tell If Your Partner Has Dysfunctional Relationship Beliefs
Everyone has their own beliefs of what a good relationship should be like. Some of these are healthier for relationships than others. If you're dating someone who has dysfunctional relationship beliefs, experts say it will affect your relationship in ways you may not even realize.
"Most of us learn how to act and relate to others by watching our parents (or those who are closest to us during childhood)," licensed clinical social worker, Meg Josephson, tells Bustle. "As a result, we pick up both the good and bad of what we witness, especially when it comes to relationship patterns."
When someone has dysfunctional relationship beliefs, Josephson says they have a "deeply ingrained" understanding or ways of acting that don't support the development and maintenance of a healthy relationship. "Oftentimes, these individuals don't even realize that their beliefs are maladaptive, and instead experience them as 'the way things are,'" she says.
Unfortunately, these beliefs have the ability to impact your relationship significantly. More often than not, these "deeply ingrained" thoughts are stubborn and difficult to shake. "They can distort the way a partner perceives you and make everyday relationship squabbles impossible to resolve," Josephson says. If you believe your partner's beliefs are affecting your relationship, it's time to talk about it with them.
You can't always tell what your partner's true beliefs about relationships are unless they outwardly express it. So here are some signs that your partner may have dysfunctional relationship beliefs, and what to do about it, according to experts.
1. Nothing Is Ever Their Fault
It's not always easy to take responsibility for your actions. But if your partner is the type to place blame on everyone else but themselves, Josephson says this is a major red flag. This could mean that they lack maturity and are very self-focused, neither of which will help your relationship last long-term.
Figuring out what to do in this situation can be tough since you can't really force someone to change how they think. So as Josephson suggests, try validating their frustrations in the situation and encourage them to consider what they can do next time to prevent something similar from happening. "That way, they aren't always at the 'mercy' of others," she says. "When you align yourself with them, you are in no danger of arousing their defenses and can then play the role of the 'proactive partner,' encouraging them to shift their perspective from blame to action." Again, since it's deeply ingrained, you can't make them take responsibility for their own actions. But you can encourage them to see a different point of view.
2. Your Relationship Is Everything To Them
There's a pretty fine line between prioritizing your relationship and making your relationship your entire universe. "You can't expect a relationship to fulfill you 100 percent," Benjamin Valencia II, partner and certified family law specialist, at Meyer, Olson, Lowy and Meyers, tells Bustle. "You need to have other interests, other friends and a life outside the relationship to make you a well rounded person."
If your partner expects you to be everything for them, you will have an unhealthy dynamic. So Valencia says giving your partner suggestions on what they can do to have a more well-rounded life can be helpful. For instance, you can suggest activities they can get involved in. You can even encourage them to get their friends together for a weekend away. "Once a person realizes they can have other interests it will be easier for them to make plans that are not solely based on you," he says.
3. They Judge How Well Your Relationship Is Doing By The Amount Of Sex You're Having
If your partner thinks that good sexual chemistry means everything else will fall into place, certified relationship coach Rosalind Sedacca tells Bustle, you're likely headed for a dysfunctional relationship. "Sex can't compensate for lack of respect, empathy, commitment and other beliefs in a love partnership," she says. While keeping the spark alive is important, it shouldn't be the only thing you work on in your relationship.
"If your partner believes that good sex is all that matters, remind them that behind good sex is a good sense of trust, security and expressions of love," Sedacca says. Ask for what you need and ask your partner what they need. Have a real conversation about the relationship and what you can do to contribute to its growth both in and out of the bedroom.
4. They Have A Specific Idea Of What "Love" Is Supposed To Look Like
If your partner gives you subtle ultimatums like, "If you really loved me, you'd do this," they likely have dysfunctional relationship beliefs. Even if this is said in a joking way, it can signal toxicity in the relationship. "A relationship is ultimately between two people and should reflect both parties views," Josephson says. "If someone is unable to be flexible in their beliefs or expectations, it's likely a reflection of deeply held beliefs about what something should or should not mean." Since this is about someone's inner beliefs, therapy may be the best option here. According to Josephson, a neutral third party can help them challenge their maladaptive beliefs.
5. They Shut Down When It Comes To Talking About The Uncomfortable Stuff
When it comes to any type of relationship in your life, communication is super important. If your partner can't effectively communicate their emotions, they may have dysfunctional beliefs about relationship. "Withholding communication of emotions could show they believe they can’t be vulnerable enough to express their emotions in the first place," Jordan Madison, licensed graduate marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "Or they may believe they don’t have to express how they feel, because you should already know."
Neither of these are conducive to a healthy relationship. If your partner has trouble opening up, it's important for you to try to understand why. Do they not feel safe? Are they just unsure of how to do it? If you know the reason behind why they have trouble opening up, it will help you figure out what you should do next. For instance, you may need to remind your partner that your relationship is a "safe place" and you care about what they have to say. "Model for them what expressing feelings looks like," Madison says. "You could also try writing out your feelings and sharing that way." Counseling can also be helpful in this case as it gives you a space to learn how to communicate with each other effectively.
6. They Think Only One Person Can Be "Right" At A Time
When you're in a healthy relationship, you should think of your partner as your teammate. There's no such thing as a "winner" or "loser." If you want to be in a healthy relationship, both you and your partner need to believe that compromise is necessary. "If someone doesn't believe in compromise or lack the ability to 'agree to disagree,' you most likely will run into roadblocks," Stef Safran, matchmaking and dating expert, tells Bustle.
Dealing with a partner like this can be frustrating. But if you truly care about your partner and you really want things to work, it's important to learn how to fight fairly. Discuss words that should be considered "off-limits" when you're in arguments. You can even try giving each other two minutes each to just talk and express your feelings while the other sits and listens. It's all about finding ways to incorporate more active listening into your relationship. If all else fails, therapy is another option. "I would recommend that if you find you can't agree to even disagree, that you look into improving your communication skills together," Safran says.
7. They Don't Believe In Therapy
If your partner has dysfunctional relationship beliefs, therapy may be necessary for them to see things in another way. But as Safran says, many people with these type of beliefs will be reluctant to go. "Some people think that therapy means you're weak," Safran says. "But therapy and talking about feelings has come down as something very normal and helpful in many relationships." Sometimes getting outside help can help you see things from a different perspective. If your partner thinks therapy is unnecessary and a total waste of time, they likely have dysfunctional beliefs about relationships. There's nothing wrong with asking for help.
The reality is, you can't control how your partner thinks, acts, or feels. If they have deeply ingrained thoughts about how things are "supposed" to be, getting them to change will take a lot of work on their part and patience on yours. If helping them move away from these thoughts isn't working, you may need to ask yourself if this is really the right relationship for you. If it's not, you may be better off finding someone who has healthier beliefs about what relationships should be like.