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How To Handle It When Healthy Relationships – And You – Start To Break Down

when healthy relationships break down

Good relationships turn bad. Why is that? Is it something you said or did? Do you wonder why friends are starting to avoid you? Or why you’re feeling negative about people you were once really close to? When healthy relationships cease to be healthy most of us want to know why. And even more so we want to know how to handle it when healthy relationships start to break down.

Are you no longer attending social gatherings that used to give you life? Have you lost the one friend who you could always open up to? How about your relationship with your partner? Are you arguing more than ever with your significant other for no apparent reason?

When healthy relationships start to break down there’s always a reason. So before you and your relationship are in grave danger, let’s take a closer look.

Your close relationships are the foundation for your physical and mental health. So when your healthy relationships begin to break down it may mean that you are breaking down.

A breakdown in our once healthy relationships is an important symptom that may mean something is happening inside of you. And that’s something that you need to take care of now.

I’m pretty sure you’ll agree that great relationships are big contributors to a great life. No one wants to be stuck in unhealthy relationships, right?

Knowing how to handle it when healthy relationships begin to break down is a topic we can’t ignore. And it’s one where you’ve likely heard many different perspectives. This article will look at it from a unique perspective.

Take the blinders off and see the light.

While you may consider yourself healthy, and believe you have healthy relationships, you may be surprised by what’s really going on. Let’s just say you might have some blind spots.

Have people you care about stopped engaging? What about people in your life that you used to rely on? Have they stopped calling? Or what about your involvement? Have you stopped reaching out to others?

If this rings true you’ll want to dig in to understand what’s happening and get back on track before there’s irreparable damage. When healthy relationships remain healthy over the long haul, it means there are no blind spots. So let’s take a deeper dive, with the blinders off.

Are you at risk?

People who often struggle with this blind spot are high performers who are used to achieving their goals. They often have a lot of energy. So they find it easy to make relationships. Life often goes well for them through their 20’s. During this period of time they have the energy to do fun things and go out with people on the spur of the moment.

Then they hit their 30’s. And change happens. Positive and negative. Life becomes much more demanding and complex.

Exciting opportunities and decisions push and pull on you. Job promotions place greater demands on you. Relationship challenges require you to transition from the freedom of peer bonding to the commitments of pair bonding. You may have pair bonded and it hasn’t worked out so well. Or you may have pair bonded and now have the challenge of the infinitely more difficult task of raising a child.

Then there are all of the other things in life that you didn’t plan for. Like illness, getting fired or having people you love get sick and die.

Good things can also be a challenge. Buying a house or finishing an advanced degree can be very positive changes. But they come with a significant cost.

You’ve got this…or do you?

You tell yourself that you’re more than ready and able to handle any one of these issues. Excitement and opportunity fills your atmosphere. You start to believe that your childhood dreams really will materialize. It is happening. Now. Fast. And you’ve got this, right?

And there’s the blind spot. You have no idea just how much stress these life events will cause you both by themselves and when they happen in combination.

I know as you read this there’s a good chance you’re thinking, “Nope, this isn’t stress for me. This is life. And I’ve got it.” Convincing you may be like my telling an 18 year-old girl who’s found her Romeo that the giddy feeling won’t last forever. “Oh for us it will” she’ll insist.

Trust me. Or humor me. Or just stay with me out of curiosity.

Every successful person needs to understand his or her stress breaking point. You cannot maintain success when stress gets the better of you. And assuredly, stress will destroy you and your most valuable relationships if not understood. When healthy relationships, and individuals for that matter, remain healthy it’s only because the blinders have come off. So you’re able to weigh the toll that stress takes on you and your relationship. And equally as important, you’ll know how to handle it when healthy relationships break down as a result of the damaging effects of stress.


How stress affects your relationships

A lot of people minimize the effect that stress has on their physical and relationship health. They go through major stressors thinking that they should easily bounce back and move on to the next thing. Not so!

Stress follows you into your personal relationships. And it absolutely will affect how close you feel toward others and how close they feel to you.

When you’re under stress you will likely become less present and affectionate. You’ll lose the motivation to enjoy the fun activities that you used to love. And this will cause relationship conflict. If not today, then in the future.

Stress can cause you to be more irritable, anxious and less communicative. You will become a less enjoyable person to be with – a grouch. We all know those people, right? Friends may gradually stop calling you because you’re just no fun to hang out with.

Your physical and mental energy will drop as a result of stress. And that will greatly impact your relationships. Going to parties and events where friends hang out may seem nearly impossible. Frankly, you just don’t have the energy.

Stressed people are often busy people. Doing too much is a catalyst for driving your stress levels up. A busy stressful schedule gives you little margin for spontaneous or even planned outings with friends or your partner.

Stress will cause you to look at the world through a lens of negativity. Over time you will blame your overwhelm on others and life in general. You’ll become less patient with and more judgmental of the people that you care about. You will be unable to overlook small issues, becoming irritable when they happen. This will cause conflict that could have been avoided if you weren’t so stressed.


A dangerous path

If any of this sounds familiar, you’re walking a dangerous path. All of this will take a toll on love relationships. Your beloved wants all of you. Giving him or her your depleted stressed-out self will make them feel un-cared for. They’ll feel like they’re getting your leftovers, which may not taste all that great.

Over time this can cause an injury to a relationship that, had it not been over-stressed, could have been perfectly happy.

Finding that you are having meaningless fights over small things is often a symptom that stress is the fly in the ointment.


How stress affects your physical health

Not taking the time for yourself to unwind, especially when you have a lot of stressful life events, is damaging not only to your relationships but also to your physical health.

Your body can only handle so much stress before your chemistry begins to change and you develop problems with your physical health. When you’re breaking down physically due to a stress overload it’s difficult to connect with people.


How’s your stress level?

Are you curious about your stress level? Want to know if you’re cool and calm or a stressed out accident waiting to happen? A great way to understand how stress affects physical health is by looking at, and taking, the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory. Based on extensive research they ranked 43 stressful life events from most to least stressful. You’ll be surprised by some of these.

The Holmes-Rahe Stress Index score is determined by getting the total value for stressful life events experienced over a 12-month period. People who have a score of 150 have a 30% chance of suffering from stress. They have a 50% chance of suffering from stress if their score is between 150 and 299. If their score is over 300 they have an 80% chance of suffering from a stress related illness.


Life’s most stressful events

What would you guess is the most stressful life event? If you would say a major medical illness, the death of a child, a car accident or even going to prison, well you would be wrong.

The Holmes and Rahe research found that death of a spouse is the most stressful life event, earning a stress score of 100. Divorce came in second with a stress score of 73, followed by marital separation scoring 65, imprisonment and death of a close family member at 63, and personal injury or illness 53. Marriage got a score of 50.

You probably never thought that finding and getting married to the love of your life would be the 7th most stressful life event. And that losing your spouse to death or divorce would top the stress charts.

Losing a spouse either way causes deep attachment loss and grief. It rips away what John Bowbly called your secure base of emotional grounding. It often results in major relationship and financial losses and deep fear about the future.


How to handle it when healthy relationships – and you – start to break down

The first thing to ask your self is this. Do I have a stress immunity blind spot? Have I been plowing ahead at breakneck speed telling myself that I can take on whatever life hands me? It’s time to get real with yourself and admit that you are not super-human. With a stress overload, eventually you will break, just like anybody or anything else.

Take some time to reflect on how many stressful events you have been through in the past year. You can find the Holmes Rahe-Stress inventory here to get your total stress score.


If your stress score is at a dangerous level ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Can I slow down and allow my body and emotions to recover from the stress?
  2. Do I need to reach out to my failing relationship and let them know that I value them and need them in my life?
  3. Am I already experiencing stress-related medical problems that I need to seek medical attention for?
  4. Do I have overwhelming emotions that I need the help of a therapist to process?

Seeking the help of a therapist is always a good idea if making the correction on your own isn’t an easy fix. Being humble enough to ask your partner or family members for help is also important. Your courage in doing so could save a relationship and potentially a life.

You are stressed and losing relationships for one simple reason. The pressure of life is greater than your capacity to lift it. This does not make you bad or weak. It does make you a human that from time to time needs a little help from your friends.


What if I am losing healthy relationship but am not suffering from the effects of stress?

There are other common problems – clinical depression, anxiety and trauma to name a few – that you may want to sort through with the help of a health care professional. Chances are, if you have any of these you will also have a high stress index score.

I’m so glad you hung in with me. No article will alleviate stress from your life. The words on the page will not fix disconnected relationships. And many physical health issues will require professional help.

That aside, I know this discussion is imperative to whole and healthy life and relationships. So how will you handle it when healthy relationships – and you – start to break down? I hope this article planted some seeds. So if or when you find yourself resonating with this, you won’t ignore the warning signs.


I’m Michael W. Regier, Ph.D. I’m a highly trained and experienced clinical psychologist and Certified Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist. I work with couples throughout California via a HIPAA compliant online teletherapy platform and in my office in San Luis Obispo, CA. I help individuals and couples when healthy relationships break down. With my wife Paula, I co-authored Emotional Connection: The Story & Science of Preventing Conflict & Creating Lifetime Love.






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