I contend it only takes one…

Evidence shows that it only takes one person to ruin a relationship – one selfish person.

Now, I realize that everyone is selfish to one degree or another. The type of selfishness that ruins relationships is the one that freequently disregards the needs, wants, and desires of the other person.

It is the belief system of the offending partner that creates the unhealthy and untenable environment in the relationship that leads to its demise.

This is not to say that two people can’t, together, destroy a relationship, but that depends on the choices each individual makes with regards to their partner.

Everyone has choices. It only takes one partner to make unilateral choices to destroy his/her relationship. When the injured other party responds or reacts in kind (mirroring) does that mean it is a collaborative effort to destroy the relationship?  Are both equally culpable?

Marriage counselors often approach therapy wherein both parties in a couple’s session are responsible for “fixing the problem.” This can be very damaging when only one person in the couple is causing the problem. In a way, the violating party gets “off the hook,” if only partially.  This concept could result in “blame-shifting,” where the true culprit gets to spread the blame around and share it with the innocent party.

In essence, the therapist becomes a tool for the offending party to further damage his/her relationship. This in no way helps a relationship to heal and grow.

Here are some examples of things that ONE PARTNER alone can do to ruin a relationship:

  1. Treat his/her partner with contempt
  2. Cheat on his/her partner
  3. Habitually lie to his/her partner
  4. Not care about his/her partner’s feelings
  5. Have a double life
  6. Indulge an addiction, such as to substances, pornography, or gambling
  7. Abuse his/her partner either physically, emotionally, verbally, financially, sexually, etc.
  8. Never apologize

Here is a list of things that ONE PARTNER alone can do that will not ruin a relationship:

  1. Struggle with a mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, OCD, etc.
  2. Be habitually messy
  3. Make mistakes
  4. Be a terrible cook/housekeeper/organizer, or lack structure/organizational skills
  5. Have issues of appearance or attractiveness
  6. Be directionally challenged
  7. Gain or lose weight
  8. Be forgetful or absent minded (without manipulative motives)

There are more, but you get the point. What is the main difference found in each list?  Can you spot it?  There is a distinct difference between the types of features in a partner that destroy a relationship and those that don’t. It is a matter of CHARACTER.

Issues of character are those that affect how one connects emotionally with others. People lacking in empathy and integrity make lousy life partners. They do not possess the maturity and compassion to sustain long-term healthy relationships. They are incapable of validating other people’s feelings – an essential ingredient for positive connection.

It is never another person’s responsibility to affect their partner’s character. Character is a personal quality, developed over time, comprising one’s values, beliefs, and attitudes about oneself and others.

Couples therapy does not correct character flaws. The best type of therapy to use for people with characterological problems is cognitive behavior therapy. Why is this?  This is because the person with the problem needs to change his beliefs (cognitions) and behaviors (including attitudes.)  This is not to say that psycho-dynamic therapy cannot help as well, but it cannot be the only approach to helping a person who has character issues.

However, just because cognitive behavior therapy is the best approach, this does not mean that the person will apply it in his/her life. After all, part of the problem is that the person most likely believes he/she doesn’t have a problem in the first place. In addition to this, change requires effort and self-discipline – a trait often lacking in persons with character defects.

If you are the non-offending  or “innocent” partner, what should you do in this situation? The best advice I can offer is to recommend that you work on the following:

  • Remind yourself that it is not your fault
  • Practice personal care and self-development
  • Be honest with yourself and assess your contributions to the problems in the relationship
  • Set strong boundaries
  • Demand respect
  • Be honest and keep your own integrity
  • Surround yourself with supportive people

Yes, sometimes it just takes one person to destroy a relationship. No, it is not your fault if you are not that person. Just because other people have been manipulated by the offending partner or are reacting out of their own histories, believing that you somehow “brought out the worst in each other,” does not mean that you caused or even contributed to another person’s poor behavior.

The best thing you can do is accept reality and take responsibility for your own choices and behaviors.

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