How To Fix An Unhealthy Relationship With Counseling
Updated July 29, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Audrey Kelly, LMFT
How often do you and your partner fight? Whether it’s something little or something major, are you fighting every week? Every day? Multiple times per day? If that sounds like you, then you probably already have what’s considered an unhealthy relationship. But if you or your partner gets violent, emotionally abusive, or neglectful, your unhealthy relationship may have reached the point that serious intervention is needed. These are things that you and your partner can work on, but both of you need to be willing to put in the time and effort to fix an unhealthy relationship.
What Is an Unhealthy Relationship?
Well, the truth is there are a lot of things that can define an unhealthy relationship. The short answer is that if you or your partner are not happy in the relationship the way it is right now, it’s unhealthy. That does not mean that either one of you is doing anything wrong. The long answer is a bit more complicated because many things could make your relationship unhealthy. Some common factors include:
- Emotional, verbal, or physical abuse
- Neglect of the partner’s thoughts, feelings, or needs (lack of support)
- Name-calling, criticism, and playing the ‘blame game.’
- Lack of respect, communication, or equal treatment
- Stonewalling or one or both partners use the silent treatment
- Few positive aspects of the relationships still exist
- Arguments that don’t seem to end or recur frequently
- Little sense of security in the relationship
- You’re doing things that you end up regretting or feeling ashamed about
- Lying, cheating, or being dishonest in other ways is a struggle
- There is a lack of trust or healthy boundaries
- One or both partners feels trapped in the relationship
Keep in mind that couples do fight and argue. Talking and debating issues are something that happens in healthy relationships. Still, if you and your partner seem to get nowhere when it comes to resolving problems, that is an unhealthy aspect of your relationship. It is also something that you need to work on.
How to Fix an Unhealthy Relationship
Step One: Communicate with Your Partner
Many people tend to skip over this step. For one, the advice ‘communicate with your partner’ sounds like a cliché. Common responses to this suggestion include:
- I’ve tried, but they won’t listen!
- I’ve talked to them about this issue a million times!
- Speaking with them about it won’t do any good, so why bother?
There a couple of things wrong with the bullets above. For one, communication is not just about talking. A significant part of communicating involves listening.
When we are upset, angry, frustrated, sad, fill in the ______, it can be challenging to get our needs across. It is even harder to listen to our partner’s response. If they say something we don’t agree with, we tend to shut down.
But for unhealthy patterns to start, true communication must begin. Having someone trained in communication as a therapist can be a huge support in this stage. But there are ways to improve the way you communicate with your partner on your own. These include:
- Figuring out their communication style. If you talk to any salesman about building rapport, they will tell you that sales are all about figuring out what the customer needs and communicating so that the other person can relate to you. If your partner is not a ‘talker,’ a letter might work better than a two-hour phone call. On the other hand, a text probably isn’t the place to point out your partner’s flaws. It’s all about communicating in a way that gets your point across the best.
- Not playing the blame game. You can talk about issues, but don’t throw out accusations or point fingers. This will reset any progress you make when it comes to communicating your needs.
- Use touch as an icebreaker. Much of our communication is nonverbal. Sitting with your arms crossed and a scowl on your phase while talking to your partner will send a message. It probably won’t be the one you wanted to get across. Even if the conversation you are having is a difficult one, try to sit close, hold hands (if possible) and let them know that although things need to improve, you care.
- Remain open. Once you have expressed your feelings about any unhealthy aspects of the relationship, you’ll need to prepare yourself for your partner’s response. You may be pleasantly surprised. Or, it may not be what you were hoping to hear. Either way, remain open to their perspective. Understanding your partner’s point of view, even if it is one you don’t agree with, is a key part of fixing an unhealthy relationship.
It is important to note that some unhealthy behaviors are so damaging that merely talking about them would be unlikely to make a difference. If you are being abused in any way, whether it be physically, verbally, or emotionally, it is best to talk to someone you can trust and making a plan to separate from the relationship until you two can pinpoint the core issues/get professional help. Staying in a violent or toxic situation that is affecting you physically or mentally is never recommended.
Step Two: Pinpoint the Issues
The second step in figuring out how to fix a healthy relationship is pinpointing the core issues. Sometimes this happens during open, honest communication. Other times, you may not realize that what you’re doing is hurting your partner or where the behaviors are coming from. If you don’t know what the problem is, there’s no way that you can fix it, right? That’s true for your partner too.
Sometimes we incorrectly assume that every issue is ‘about us’ when it could be something much deeper. This was the case for Megan and Mike.
Megan and Mike’s Story:
Megan met mike three years ago at a local bar. They hit it off right away and started dating quickly. Just a few months in, the two were inseparable. It was like a fairy tale. About a year and a half into the relationship, things began to change. Megan was in her last year of college and working a lot more. She and Mike began to fight about the lack of quality time and weekend trips to the bar.
Although Mike had never given her any reason to believe that he was unfaithful, Megan became more and more jealous and controlling. This only pushed Mike further away. He used to enjoy spending time with Megan, but now it seemed like their fun evenings had morphed into constant accusations. The more she complained about him going to the bar with his friends, the more he wanted to be there! Finally, Megan suggested that they see a therapist. Mike agreed, and they started couple’s counseling through ReGain.
During their therapy sessions, the counselor helped Megan and Mike understand themselves better. Megan opened up about her childhood and how her father, an alcoholic, had frequently cheated on her mother with women he met at a bar. Unknowingly, Megan would project the feelings she had about her father and his affairs onto Mike.
Mike, an only child, was raised by his mother. He recounted stories of instances in which he had to be responsible for his mother’s feelings and how difficult this was for him at times. Megan’s constant accusations brought up that same helpless feeling from childhood. This caused him to detach from Megan instead of reassuring her.
Step Three: Seek Professional Help
Through therapy, the couple was able to pinpoint unhealthy relationship patterns. The counselor also helped Megan and Mike develop ways to deal with childhood triggers and communicate their needs more healthily. By getting counseling, you and your partner can figure out what you’re doing, and you can start working on fixing things more quickly.
Talking with a therapist or counselor can help both you and your partner feel a little more comfortable and safer. This idea may seem strange. You might be wondering how adding another person into your conversations would make it more comfortable to talk about personal problems in your relationship,
But keep in mind that therapists are trained in helping couples figure out how to fix an unhealthy relationship. They are also skilled communicators that can help keep you on topic and keep you from falling into an argument by encouraging healthy and meaningful discussion instead. This will help you understand what’s going wrong and what’s going right, as well as how to improve.
Counselors also have a ‘toolbox of skills that they can teach you to work on yourself and with your partner. Remember Megan from above? Her therapist taught her breathing techniques and a way to shift her perception when she started to worry about Mike cheating. The therapist also showed Mike how to reassure Megan and avoid arguments through the communication of needs.
Your Next Counselor
It is not always easy to find a great counselor for working on your problems, but it is possible. The important thing is making sure you’re exhausting all your options. You don’t want to settle on just anyone. If you and your partner don’t feel comfortable, you won’t be completely open, which will cause problems with your success. ReGain is one way that you can help that process because there are plenty of therapists and counselors available to help you, and they all talk to you online, in the comfort of your own home.
This is an especially good option if your partner is iffy on therapy or has a work schedule that would make getting to an office difficult. Putting your needs first and doing whatever it takes to get help is the only way to fix an unhealthy relationship truly. Therapy can be a key part of that.
“Sessions with Natalie are very insightful and give practical advice on implementing new habits and changes. Be prepared to engage and be challenged to think in a different way. I know that my partner and I can already see improvements in our relationship and feel more positive about working through our issues together.”
“Austa has been wonderful thus far. She has helped my partner and I during an unimaginably difficult time... She has also guided us in communicating effectively and setting appropriate boundaries in our relationship. I was hesitant to pursue counseling at the beginning, but I truly believe that it is making a difference for our relationship. Austa is easy to talk to and she is a great listener. I would wholeheartedly recommend her as a counselor.”
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