May I tell you? (We’ve been waiting to tell you this).
We cover a lot of practical relationship problems on this blog. As much as we love to address the issues that you face on a daily basis, there’s an even more powerful way to uproot stubborn patterns within your marriage.
And that is to dive deep and consciously resolve the dysfunctional patterns that have persisted.
Be warned, this isn’t an easy process. In fact, you should only read on if you’ve already done some self-development work or are very dedicated to improving your relationship.
What we’re about to reveal to you can shift you and your partner’s lives forever. It is a fundamental change in how we problem solve and face future challenges. But it isn’t for everyone.
If you want some quick tips and tricks, then it’s better to visit our other material. If you’re ready to really get to know how relationships work and what the number one killer of relationships is then read on.
The Essential Guide
The #1 Reason Your Arguments Don’t Get Anywhere
- Break the cycle of perpetual hurt even if your partner doesn’t want to
- Find out how to fix misunderstandings in your marriage
Get Your FREE PDF Guide!
What Are Dysfunctional Patterns in Relationships?
Dysfunctional patterns are a set of behaviors that keep repeating and they do more harm than good. Such patterns can include:
- Addiction to drama or other addictions
- Not feeling worthy and behaviors that stem from this belief.
- Comparing yourself to others and then bringing you and your partner down.
- Nagging and criticism
- Shutting your partner out
The list could be very long because there are so many different patterns. However, they often have underlying issues such as:
- Insecurities and fear
- Negative beliefs about yourself
- Acting out past trauma
You can summarize dysfunctional patterns this way:
Is this behavior nurturing love or is it nurturing fear? If it’s nurturing fear, it’s a dysfunctional pattern.
Let’s make this practical by giving you some examples.
Tamy is 40 years old and has a habit of overeating. She feels bad about herself afterwards and restricts calories for the next few days. Through our work, she discovers that she doesn’t want to be attractive because she feels threatened by male attention. At the same time, she wants to be attractive because she feels worthy when men want to sleep with her.
Why is this a dysfunctional pattern?
- She keeps repeating the same behavior and reacting negatively to it.
- She’s fearful of male attention.
- She defines her worth by having men want to sleep with her.
- She’s torn between the two desires: 1. be attractive for validation and 2. not wanting to be attractive for safety.
John is obsessed with sex. His wife can’t keep up with his desire. He’s groping her all the time during the day. The more he gives her this kind of attention, the more she wants to withdraw from him. When she withdraws, he feels worthless.
Why is this a dysfunctional pattern?
- He’s obsessed with sex. Obsessions take over our life and spiral out of control.
- His behavior drives his wife away. People enter relationships to be closer with each other, not to push each other away.
- He feels worthless when he doesn’t get sex. Which means it’s not about the sex: it’s about being validated as a man.
In both examples, the behavior displayed has nothing to do with love.
Tamy is lost in her insecurity about her body and men. John is lost in his insecurities about himself as a man. Neither of them is actually happy with their behavior because it doesn’t actually satisfy them. Yet it keeps repeating over and over again.
Do you want to feed your fears or do you want to nurture love? You can’t do both.– Jachym Jerie
Their insecurities are driving their behavior. When the behavior fails to get them the result that they want, they feel really bad about themselves. Every single time, the behavior fails to deliver. This is dysfunctional and will only destroy their relationship and personal life.
There’s no way you can keep these behavioral patterns while living a fulfilling life and a relationship that is deeply satisfying for you and your spouse. It is simply not possible.
Now that we’re clear on what dysfunctional patterns in relationships are, let’s address how you can recognize them in your life.
How Do You Spot Those Patterns?
Seeing those patterns by yourself can be quite tricky. Here’s why:
Dysfunctional patterns are often wrapped up in a nice disguise. We usually have some kind of story that rationalizes this pattern.
Tamy just wants to feel beautiful and fit into the right pants. Doesn’t every woman want to feel beautiful?
John wants to sleep with his wife more because that’s how he expresses his love.
Do you see how those explanations make sense? It’s the story line we tell ourselves to not look at what those patterns are doing to us and our relationships. There’s often a kernel of truth to those stories.
So what are you supposed to do? You have to see beyond the stories. There are three ways to notice whether you are running a dysfunctional pattern or not. Here’s how you can truly understand the problem and see beyond the stories.
How Do You Spot Those Patterns?
Here are a few questions to help you pinpoint any dysfunction patterns in your marriage:
1. When are you feeling bad?
Most of the time, the dysfunctional pattern is fueled by not wanting to feel a certain way. John doesn’t want to feel unworthy. Tamy doesn’t want to feel unattractive and unsafe.
When your behavioral pattern backfires you’ll feel bad.
In John’s example that means he feels worthless when his wife withdraws.
In Tamys example she feels bad for overeating.
Why is John feeling worthless when his wife withdraws?
Why is Tamy feeling bad for overeating?
Why are you feeling bad when_____(fill in the blank)?
Please take your time with this question and stay open and honest about it. We often have defense mechanisms that prevent us from seeing those patterns because they’re perceived as a threat. More on that later.
2. Where is your energy spent?
Dysfunctional patterns take a lot of energy. You’ll be obsessing over how to get yourself slimmer, or how you can seduce your spouse more effectively.
Take note of what topics you’re consumed with the most. What activities are you doing to avoid certain situations? For example, you could be avoiding the mirror to not look at yourself. Or you could be avoiding topics with your spouse that need to be discussed.
The more we avoid emotions, the more they chase us.– Jachym Jerie
You either put in a lot of energy to cover up your insecurities, or you put a lot of energy into avoiding situations that will trigger insecurities. Either way, you’ll be stuck with the insecurity and not living a life that’s true to you.
3. What are you judging people for?
Dysfunctional patterns are blindspots. Therefore, we don’t see them ourselves. But there’s a way to spot them. Ask yourself:
- Whom am I judging in my life?
- Who triggers negative emotions and how do they do it?
- What behavior and emotions have I banned from my life?
Damian hates arrogant people. He can’t stand them. He perceived his father to be arrogant and swore to himself to never be like him. Whenever someone is arrogant, he gets really angry. Through our work, he realizes that whenever he gets insecure, he becomes arrogant. It’s his defense mechanism. He doesn’t want people to see his weakness, so he masks it over by trying to make other people feel bad.
This is a classic example of projecting our negative behavior onto others. Why couldn’t he spot this negative behavior in himself? It was a behavior that he made up his mind about: it was bad and he didn’t want to behave that way. His father was arrogant and he thought that he would never be like his father.
When you don’t embrace your shadow, the shadow controls you.– Jachym Jerie
Whenever we ban something from our life, there’s a high likelihood that this aspect of our psyche becomes suppressed. But it’s part of us. So what’s going to happen? It’ll seep out into our life without us noticing. We’ll be unconscious of it, because we don’t allow ourselves to act upon it or have it in our life.
The only way we can notice the behavior is by looking at other people. We’ll perceive in them what we don’t allow ourselves to be or to do.
In some cases, you won’t find a 1-1 match in the behavior, but there can be a match in the underlying energy that drives this behavior.
For example, I used to get really riled up whenever my mom told me what to do. It bothered me a lot because I’m a grown adult, yet I still get told like I don’t know what I’m doing.
Once I reflected on my mom’s behavior, I realized that I do something similar. I also boss Jachym around a lot. Of course our dynamic is very different from mother and daughter, but I am still coming from the energy of ‘I know how to do things better and you should listen to me’.
As you take notice of when you judge other people and the things other people do that really bother you, don’t focus solely on their behavior but also the energy that they are coming from. One way or another, there will be a resonance. And it’ll be pointing straight at a dysfunctional pattern within you that you find hard to accept.
Dysfunctional patterns thrive as long as you’re not conscious of them.– Jachym Jerie
The most crucial step to changing dysfunctional patterns in your relationship is to recognize them. Just this step can be quite painful though. Why is that?
We have a certain self-image and we’re identified with it. Anything that goes against that can be perceived as a threat to our identity.
I’m a good guy. I care for people. I’m empathetic and loving. I easily get along with people.
I can be very selfish. I care for myself first. Sometimes I’m a real ass. I only get along with people so easily because I don’t show up as myself fully. I get turned on by power, but I can’t know that because that’s not a good guy trait.
Do you think that someone who is identified with being a good guy will easily accept that he’s selfish? No. He’ll fight it with tooth and nail.
The truth is that we all have different qualities in our psyche. We can be: caring, loving, compassionate. AND we can also be: nasty, angry, hateful, resentful, power hungry etc.
The trick is to not identify with the positive ones while trying to avoid the ‘negative.’ It’ll always backfire. Once you’ve mustered the courage to really look at yourself and your life, you’ll see that you aren’t as flawless as you thought you were.
Why is this a good thing? You get emotional freedom. As long as you resist a part of you, there will be unconscious behavior that stems from this disconnect. Once you accept the full expression of who you are, those unconscious behaviors will drop away. Your shadows or blind-spots will no longer control your behavior and you’ll actually be in the driver’s seat to better your life and relationships.
The following two points are crucial and will build upon what comes up next. We recommend coming back to these foundational pieces over and over again.
Disidentify from your self-image
Any identification, whether with a positive or negative self-image is problematic. It makes you into a static entity. But you aren’t.
Why do we say that someone has a certain image of themselves? Because they do and so do you!
But hold on, where’s that self-image? It’s in your head. The image of yourself are your thoughts and stories about you. It includes your past, potential future, fears, desires, what you’re good at, who you like and dislike… the list goes on and on.
Whatever you perceive to be you is a self-image. The issue arises when you believe yourself to be those stories and perceptions.
- Take a moment and imagine yourself in a positive situation. You can include images, sound, sensations and symbols. Whatever works for you. We’re not asking you to do something you can’t do. During your day you have a lot of these kinds of thoughts.
- Ask yourself: is this imagined self, really me?
- Whatever your answer is, let the imagined me with the situation disappear and ask again: was this imagined self, really me?
What you’ll find is that it wasn’t you. Why? Because you remain, whether the imagination of you is present or not. If you remain, you can’t be what has disappeared.
Your self-image isn’t you. It’s an image with the label ‘me, I.’ You’re the one aware of the image. The more deeply and clearly you see this, the less identified you are with this self-image until it disappears.
This first foundational piece is really important. It’s the most crucial part of this entire article. However, there’s more that you can do, while you untangle yourself from your self-image, to help you disassemble your dysfunctional patterns in your marriage.
Say what?! You want me to embrace those nasty things? Hell no.
This is the usual response we all have. We believe by embracing all of us, we’ll be out of control. We’ll start cheating, lying, abusing, like never before. But that’s exactly the opposite of what happens.
When you embrace your ‘negative’ qualities, you get to integrate them within you. If you don’t embrace them, they control you. It’s that straight forward.
If you’ve taken a very honest look at yourself and your life, you’ve seen already how these negative qualities have impacted your life. It’s not a pretty sight when you realize that your positive intentions had a hidden agenda. It sucks. We know because we’ve done this work on ourselves.
If those negative qualities are already in your life even though you haven’t embraced them, how about you try a new approach?
When you embrace that you have the potential to lie, cheat, abuse, hate, resent and manipulate then you gain control over those facets of your psyche. You take them out of the dark and into the light of consciousness.
The more you see them, the more you gain the power to integrate them.
Now let’s move onto actually addressing the patterns.
Picking Apart Your Patterns
Now that we’ve covered the foundational pieces which are:
- Acceptance of all of you
Let’s actually look at the patterns in your life in a systematic manner.
Step 1: What’s driving those patterns?
Many dysfunctional patterns are just the surface of what’s happening. There are often layers hidden that drive the behavior.
Janice loves her husband dearly. She’s really afraid to lose him. She goes along with everything he suggests even though he wants to do things that go against her boundaries. Because she ignores herself, she gets hurt in the process. She starts to distrust her husband and distances herself.
On the surface Janice has an issue with boundaries. In some cases, the issue that presents itself is the issue. In other cases like this one, there’s a lot more to it.
Janice believes that she’s worthless. She disregards herself completely. Everything in her life reflects that belief: from the way her husband treats her, to how friends suddenly disappear, to how she sees her body. All of those things tell her one thing: I’m worthless.
If you don’t get to the bottom of the pattern, you take away the weed but not the root. If she doesn’t see this belief for what it is, she’ll keep re-enacting it in her life. Managing the symptoms will just shift the problem to a different area.
- What do I believe about myself?
- How do I feel in my relationships?
- When people mistreat me, what does that say about me?
- When I mistreat people what’s driving this behavior?
Those things can help give you an indication of what’s going on. However, we both had help to work through those darker areas in our life. We really recommend that you also seek professional help. If you want to have more personalized help on your specific situation, feel free to fill out the application form if you want to work with us.
Step 2: Map out the pattern
Once you’ve gotten to the core of the dysfunctional pattern, it’s time to map it out.
- Where’s it occuring in your life?
- How’s it manifesting itself?
- Where have your attempts failed to fix things?
You often find that this kind of dysfunctional pattern is like a virus. It literally can infest all parts of your life. The more you see how it’s taken root, the more you can counteract it.
Sometimes it’s enough to see the entirety of the pattern with its underlying beliefs. Seeing it yanks you out of it. However, other times you want to sit down and make sure you’re very clear on how it plays out in each area .
When you have this kind of awareness, you can then bring consciousness into those areas of your life and decide to change the habitual behavior you’ve adapted. Let’s go back to Janice:
She sat down and saw how everything she did was never good enough. At work, she sets deadlines she could never reach. She chronically overworked herself until she crashed. Her body was never slim enough. She even got to a point where she lost so much weight that it suddenly was too much.
Here’s how Janice addressed it:
She started to stop paying attention to the voice in her head that told her she’s fat. She made a conscious effort to reassert herself that she’s beautiful and found something she appreciated about her body everyday.
Everyday Janice had a little meeting with herself to see how she was feeling. She became very intentional with what she committed herself to and what she rejected. Rather than treating herself like a donkey, she put her well-being at the top of her list.
There were other things Janice did to implement the change. But be aware that she was only able to do that because she saw through the lie of ‘I’m worthless.’ She just ensured that the web of negativity got removed completely and replaced with positive behavior.
When you don’t see through your patterns, it can be a real uphill battle to implement change.
Step 3: Stay On Top Of Things
You’ve created destructive habits in your life that harm you and your partner. You have to ensure that you stay on course with the change you implemented. Your behavior always has a pay-off as well. When you feel down, you might just want to go back to eat some comfort food. Don’t do it if your dysfunctional pattern is over eating.
To weed out those patterns for good, it takes a commitment to love and empowerment. You don’t want to go back into the negativity because the potential to backslide is too big. It’s useful to look at those dysfunctional patterns like it’s an addiction.
You can’t get an alcoholic to drink only one shot. He’s an addict. You are either drinking or you’re not drinking. It’s the same with those patterns. You are either staying clear of the negative and destructive behavior or you aren’t. There’s no middle ground.
You’ve now learned the number one killer of relationships and the steps you can take to resolve dysfunctional patterns. I get it, it seems like a lot of work to improve your marriage right?
Think of it this way, what’s one person who you have to spend the rest of your life with, no matter what? That’s you. You have to be with yourself no matter what happens. That’s the common denominator of everything that you have experienced in life.
Sometimes, when we are faced with a marriage problem, it’s easy to look outside for a solution. But the greatest difference that you can ever make for you and your partner is to dive within.
So what is one thing that you can practically do today? Ask yourself the following questions:
1. When are you feeling bad?
2. Where is your energy spent?
3. What are you judging people for?
Yup, they’re self-reflective questions. Don’t back away from them! Remember, you’re stuck with you, always. So it is time to take a good look at what’s going on within. There’s no other way to say this:
The key to a fulfilling and happy life isn’t depending on your partner to make you happen or to fix your relationship problems for you.– Natasha Koo
It is to step up and take control of what’s running autopilot in your life and then change things around. You’re capable of undoing the dysfunctional patterns in your relationship and it starts with you.
Look within and face your fears.
Do the work and see your life change.
Get The Essential Guide
This 25-page FREE resource helps you to break the argument cycle. Stop fighting and have more connection and trust in your marriage again.