How An Unhappy Relationship Affects You: 5 Ways To Protect Your Health
When your marriage is at risk your most important base of security is threatened. Human beings are wired to pair bond and rely on one special relationship for emotional support. And that means through the ups – and the downs – of life. An unhappy relationship affects your health significantly. It truly does have a deeper impact on you than you might think.
In a recent article I explained how an unhappy marriage affects you – mentally and physically. It’s an important article that will help you understand how an unhappy relationship affects your health. Most of you have heard of PTSD. But did you know that PTSD can be brought on by an unhappy relationship? As can anxiety and depression, increased cardiac problems and a weakened immune system. That’s all part of how an unhappy relationship affects your health. Unhappy relationships just may be your biggest health threat.
How an unhappy relationship affects your health:
Unhappy relationships are emotionally destabilizing. So much so that in the presence of your “dear one” you become a monster, and so does your partner. An unhappy relationship causes a negative cycle of arguing. I talk more about this here. And that becomes a dangerous downward spiral, which is difficult to escape.
Deep fear is at the root of all relationship health problems. In our book Emotional Connection, I tell the tragic story of a woman, Sonali Deraniyagala who, in a tsunami, lost everything she held dear. In her book Wave she tells how she and her family were tragically swept away by the 100-foot wave. It was in an instant that Sonali lost every one 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 affect on the next 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 that many of you will experience an unhappy relationship. How an unhappy relationship affects your health can look and feel like you had experienced that tsunami. Without your own sensational tsunami story, you may discount or write off your symptoms.
Defending, blaming and withholding are ineffective.
Opening up 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 emotionally melt down. 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.
Understand the root of the problem.
If you are in an unhappy marriage the root of the problem is this… you are not feeling loved, cared for and safe. And you are probably losing hope that your partner can provide the love and care that you need. This creates a fear spiral, which will cause you to trust your partner less and less.
Over time this fear spiral becomes very emotionally destabilizing. Your view of yourself will become more and more negative. You’ll 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 are able to escape their cycle of conflict and have long term relationship improvement.
We often hear that one member of an unhappy couple isn’t ready or willing to go for help. What if you partner doesn’t want to participate in couples therapy with you? There are some things you can do to both improve your own mental health and give the marriage a shot at survival.
I hope you’re beginning to understand just how an unhappy relationship affects you and your well being. So what positive steps can you take?
Here are 5 ways to protect your health.
1. Find an individual therapist who understands adult attachment.
Unfortunately, most individual therapists are just that, therapists for individuals, who understand individuals. If you’re in an unhappy relationship, find a therapist who understands adult attachment. Helping an individual who is bonded with another person requires a deep understanding of attachment theory.
A good therapist will help you understand how you may be projecting your problems and issues onto your partner. You’ll come to understand how you trigger your partner. Simply being told that you need to set firmer boundaries will not work. That 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. He/she 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. And you do not need to feel afraid or ashamed of taking meds to help you break out of your biological dysregulation.
How an unhappy relationship affects your health is something you need to pay close attention to. 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 may help you to feel better more quickly than you could with therapy alone.
If you ignore your need for medication, your emotional problems will cause your partner to feel emotionally distressed. This can easily destabilize the marriage and throw you into a “Find the Bad Guy” pattern. From Sue Johnson’s book Hold Me Tight.
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, there are groups that can help with stabilizing your emotions. If you struggle with sexual addiction, overeating, or simply need to learn how to feel closer to God, there is a support group for you.
Regardless of what you’re struggling with, you cannot carry the load alone. Ideally your partner would be your go-to person for your social support. If he or she is not that person, 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 you 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, it’s likely that they weren’t healthy enough to give you what you needed when you were younger. In most cases you can’t get in the present from the people who were not able to give you what you needed in the past.
Your journey to a better understanding of how an unhappy relationship affects your health and how to protect yourself along the way comes with a big warning. And that’s my next point.
4. Do not open your heart to needy people of the opposite sex.
The fast road to an emotional or physical affair is to find a needy opposite-sex relationship that you can pour out your heart to. This is so easy to do and can feel so great. There is nothing like feeling understood by someone who has been wounded the same way that you have.
But here’s the problem. Your human need to pair bond 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 feel like a cocaine addict wanting more and more new love.
It doesn’t matter how good you think your boundaries are, you will compromise them if dopamine gets the best of you.
If you open your heart up with an unhealthy individual, he/she may threaten or shame you if you try to pull out of the relationship. Suddenly the person who you trusted to be 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.
I’ve scratched the surface of showing how an unhappy relationship affects your health. There are great (and some not-so-great) resources out there to learn more. There are a lot of great books, blogs and articles that will teach you how to be a healthy lifetime lover. Do not assume that you know how to do this.
Many people haven’t received modeling from their parents of a healthy lifetime love relationship. 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 that we influence others by what we show them, not by what we tell them.
Learning how 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.
Time to take charge of your health.
I hope your partner is with you on self and relationship improvement. If not, there is much you can do to improve yourself and your relationship. In fact, you owe it to yourself.
Choosing to improve your self is not being self-centered or co-dependent. It is quite the opposite. The best way not to become a victim is to choose 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. Will you choose health, and begin to implement the 5 things you can do to protect your health I just outlined?
To live a healthier life is the most powerful thing you can do to make your relationship happy and healthy. Let us know how we might be able to help with your journey.
I’m Michael W. Regier, Ph.D. I’m a clinical psychologist, Certified Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist and EFT Supervisor with offices in Visalia and San Luis Obispo, CA. I help couples heal from unhappy and unhealthy relationships. My wife Paula and I co-authored Emotional Connection: The Story & Science of Preventing Conflict & Creating Lifetime Love. Learn more about the services I offer here.