Relationships suffering from cumulative damage can reach a tipping point that spells disaster. This 7-day prescription stops the poisoning and helps restore your relationship’s health.
We do not realize that our lives are changing until they have already unalterably changed.
You know the scene in The Simpsons Movie when Homer dumps the silo of pig poop into Springfield’s lake? The seemingly clean water starts to bubble green and black, a skull and crossbones appears on the surface, and Homer trembles as it speaks the word, “Evil.” Homer’s careless polluting pushes the lake past its toxic tipping point, marking Springfield for quarantine and destruction. Just seconds before, however, everything seemed OK. The lake looked normal. And it is this illusion of normalcy that makes the change so shocking and deadly.
An affair prompted by crushing loneliness. A blow up with words one can never take back. Or the simple act of walking away …. The moment the event occurs is more than a moment. It is the sum total of a million moments in which things were silently going wrong.
We don’t realize it—or not until it’s too late—but relationships are like the lake. The winds are favorable and it’s smooth sailing, and then suddenly—WHAM! Out of nowhere, the ship capsizes and a couple is in crisis. An affair prompted by crushing loneliness. A blow up with words one can never take back. Or the simple act of walking away. What the f**k just happened? The moment the event occurs is more than a moment. It is the sum total of a million moments in which things were silently going wrong, pain went unacknowledged, feelings were not expressed, truths were not told, and unseen damage was ravaging the fabric that binds the relationship. My first marriage limped along for 15 years before the wounds, which I knew were crippling, revealed themselves as mortal. My second, which I entered before healing fully, lasted just 24 months. Use whatever metaphor you like—a rope fraying, moths eating holes in cloth, termites eroding a house from within, or slow and steady poisoning—they all describe the cumulative damage that builds and builds and eventually breaks up most dysfunctional partnerships.
To keep our bodies healthy, we exercise and diet, while our immune system does the rest of the work. Relationships are no different.
To keep our bodies healthy, we exercise and diet, while our immune system does the rest of the work. Relationships are no different. They require constant maintenance and a healthy regime. This means consuming what’s good for the relationship and avoiding what’s not. It’s the avoiding part I’m focusing on here. For each day of the week, I’ve identified a behavior to stop practicing, a belief to stop clinging to, a fantasy to stop indulging. Giving these things up isn’t easy, but in one week you will begin to see measurable results. You’ll feel happier, lighter, and more optimistic. Caveat: This won’t work for everyone. Some relationships are too far gone to be helped, but many can be saved from death and dissolution. And everyone does this stuff in healthy relationships, too, just a lot less of it.
Monday—Stop thinking things will get better by themselves. They won’t. If entropy fixes anything, it’s purely by accident. This is a convenient delusion, a hope-wish that absolves you of the uncomfortable responsibility to act. Be honest with yourself that your relationship is in trouble and acknowledge that serious work needs to be done. Share this realization with your partner. It could be the one thing you finally agree on.
Tuesday—Stop blaming everything on your partner. Sure, some things are your partner’s fault. But some things are yours. If it’s truly all one-sided, you might as well ditch the relationship. Why would you want to stay with someone who is 100% responsible for shattering your dreams? The truth is, self-righteousness is grossly unattractive and accountability is … sexy. If it’s hard for you to be accountable, start with something small. Apologize for it sincerely. And watch your partner’s shocked expression.
You may feel that you’re detoxifying by sharing the latest horrors with your posse, but you’re actually poisoning your own attitude with each drop of disrespect you spread.
Wednesday––Stop dissing your partner to your friends. You may feel that you’re detoxifying by sharing the latest horrors with your posse, but you’re actually poisoning your own attitude with each drop of disrespect you spread. Your complaints may all be valid, but they belong in a therapist or counselor’s office, where they can be examined objectively and discussed with your partner in a context of healing. It’s one thing to seek advice from a friend or confidant about a problem in your relationship. It’s another to seek validation of your grievances. The insults you sling when you’re away linger on your lips when you come home and permeate the air even if you don’t speak them.
Thursday—Stop holding grudges. Yes, I know. There’s stuff you just can’t let go of, things you can’t forgive. I could tell you things my ex said to me (and she has her own flash points), but I won’t do that here. But there’s a difference between returning to these in every conversation, lording them over your partner, and using them as leverage to get your needs met. Forgiveness means moving past the bump—or even crater—in the road and looking ahead towards the rest of the journey. Forgiveness means keeping your eyes on the prize.
Friday—Stop being the smaller person. If you lower your standard of behavior to your partner’s, let’s face it, you’re sunk. How will things ever improve? It’s ’til death do you part, not a fight unto death, so stop doing things or not doing things out of bitterness and spite. Someone has to be the bigger person, to take on a burden when the other refuses. The question is, will that person be you?
You’re not making anything better, because what you’re really doing is dumping your hurt feelings on your partner while simultaneously saying, you can’t help me.
Saturday—Stop sniping. Relationships founder over the little things. Tone of voice. Disrespectful comments. Jokes at your partner’s expense. No single instance of this stuff amounts to anything, but a constant barrage of negativity will bring the whole thing down after a while. You may feel better after getting your dig in, but you’re not making anything better, because what you’re really doing is dumping your hurt feelings on your partner while simultaneously saying, you can’t help me. If you actually want your partner to engage with what’s bothering you, learn to present it in a constructive way.
Sunday—Stop and take stock. On the seventh day, God rested. Relax and spend a few minutes thinking about your week. Ask yourself, and answer honestly. Did the diet make a difference? Do you feel like things are better or worse? Does your interaction with your partner feel less toxic and more … cleansed? Another week is starting tomorrow. A week can make a world of difference. Why not give it a try?
Originally published on The Good Men Project.
A collection of Thomas G. Fiffer's articles for The Good Men Project on dysfunctional relationships is available on Amazon in his book Why It Can’t Work: Detaching From Dysfunctional Relationships to Make Room for True Love.