I am caught in a vicious and unhealthy relationship cycle

Tell Me About It: Because of my partner’s behaviour I’m crabby, a roaring banshee

PROBLEM: I am caught in a vicious and unhealthy relationship cycle. We have two children, but the relationship behaviours that I would deem abusive continue each cycle and I am not prepared to expose my children to this type of home life. With my partner, I became a person I did not recognise – crabby, a roaring banshee, all in response to unacceptable behaviours plus the stress of taking on most of the burden of the home.

I accept there are two involved: I now see insecurities I have that I was unaware of, but his rejection, dismissal, minimising and nastiness towards me has caused my love for him to shrink. I don’t have positive feelings towards him but there is still some sort of connection there as I can’t seem to let it go fully. He is now asking to reunite and turning on the charm – again. I feel myself weakening after being strong enough to break free from this.

I am in long-term counselling to understand why I keep going back into this dynamic. I know I have a choice but I feel powerless. Is change possible?

I am afraid if I give him another chance I am just giving him permission to walk all over me again, but I want our family to work.

Are we doomed?

ADVICE: “Is change possible?” is a great question and there is no doubt that of course it is but the force of habit, particularly in close relationships is very difficult to overcome and it requires intense commitment and discipline. You say that the effect of rejection and dismissal on you has created a person you don’t like. Can you take charge of this and change your responses, even in the face of provocation?

Unless one of you, at least, is able to maintain reasonableness and calm it would seem unfair on your children to subject them to explosions and repeated cycles of viciousness. It seems that for you two, the intensity in your relationship has been linked to fighting and picking at each other and in a way this has kept the focus strongly on the relationship with both of you again considering getting together. It will take a lot of help and guidance to shift this need for intensity to a more relaxed, loving engagement and you may unknowingly strive for the highs of a fight.

If you are to get together again, do you know what each of you needs to work on, and how to create motivation and support for this? Some success in changing habits would need to be evidenced before considering getting back together – this is because your relationship has now linked love and fighting.

A suggestion is that you learn how to manage your emotions, trust your judgement and become adept at discerning true thoughts from the consistent negative inner chat. AWARE has an on-line life skills course that would be very useful in this endeavour and this together with your long-term counselling, would give you a good chance of developing these skills. The outcome of this would be a growth in confidence and a capacity to make choices that are based on good judgement – this would aid your sense of power and strength and help you to follow your decisions with conviction.

Your partner stands to lose his family, and for any chance at reconnection he will need to become aware of and develop a capacity to exercise love in the face of reactionary dismissal. It may be that his own family history needs investigation in order to fully understand this reaction to intimacy but in any case he is unlikely to change without a willingness on his part to engage fully in personal and/or couples therapy. There is an opportunity for both of you now to engage in therapy as he wants the relationship back and you do not want to repeat the cycle you seem to have had for many years.

For relationships to be successful, we need fairness, loyalty and kindness as the basis. In your situation, you need work on all three and these are worth developing as any future relationship will also require these components. Your children also need to know that these form the basis of good friendships as well as romantic entanglements.

A sense of fairness is innate and we become irritated and annoyed if we sense the balance tilting widely, for example when one friend never calls and leaves all the work of the friendship to the other person. Loyalty is integral to a relationship: we need to know that the other person choses us as their most-important person and this is not measured in time spent together but in a kind of inner knowing. Kindness is rated as the most consistent important factor in relationships and this is shown in small things: attention, consideration, saying thank you and small connections.

Although, your current situation is extremely painful, it also holds opportunities for you both to develop and learn lifelong relationship skills.