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Newsletter Dated: 7/6/2008 6:24:39 PM
Subject: Happiness Tips from Tina: What Is A Dysfunctional Relationship?
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Happiness Tip: What Is A Dysfunctional Relationship?
Unless you're completely out of touch with any media, written, audio or video, you have been bombarded with words like "dysfunctional relationship", "codependency" and "toxic family system". You may have noticed that there's a lot of information available about these relationships, but not too much about what to do about them. This month, I thought I'd give a brief overview of the various terms and what they mean, plus a guide about the difference between these relationships and healthy ones.
Dysfunctional Relationships are relationships that do not perform their appropriate function; that is, they do not emotionally support the participants, foster communication among them, appropriately challenge them, or prepare or fortify them for life in the larger world.
Codependency means that one or both people in a relationship are making the relationship more important than they are to themselves. A classic codependent is hopelessly entangled with a partner who is out of control through alcoholism, addiction or violent behavior; but the term has been more recently used to mean anyone who feel dependent, helpless and out of control in a relationship; or unable to leave an unsatisfying or abusive one.
Toxic Family Systems are relationships (beginning with childhood families, and carried into adulthood) that are mentally, emotionally or physically harmful to some or all of the participants. Codependent relationships can also be toxic relationships, although the term "toxic" is usually used to mean the more abusive varieties.
In short, all three of these terms refer to relationships that contain unhealthy interaction, and do not effectively enhance the lives of the people involved. People in these relationships are not taking responsibility for making their own lives or the relationship work.
The degree of dysfunction, codependency or toxicity in relationships can vary. Most of us get a little dependent, and therefore dysfunctional, from time to time -- especially when we're tired, stressed, or otherwise overloaded. What makes the difference between this normal, occasional human frailty and true clinical dysfunction is our ability to recognize, confront and correct dysfunction when it happens in our relationships.
The question to keep in mind is, What is not working, and how can we make it work? Most people, when faced with a relationship problem or disagreement, reflexively begin to look for a villain; that is, they want to know who's at fault. Responding to a problem by looking for someone to blame (even if it's yourself) is a dysfunctional response. The functional question is not, "Whose fault is it?", but "What can we do to solve the problem?".
When you try it, you'll see that refusing to focus on blaming anyone (yourself or your partner), and instead insisting on solving the problem, will make a huge difference in all your relationships. Families who sit down together, in a family meeting, where everyone, including small children, gets to discuss the problem from their point of view, and everyone works together to solve the problem, become functional rapidly.
Couples who can sit down together and discuss problems calmly, without blaming, criticizing and accusing, find that looking for a mutual solution to their problems increases their commitment, their intimacy and bonds them together. Nothing binds you in relationship more powerfully than the awareness that by working together, you can solve whatever problems arise.
No relationship will be perfect; and how to successfully interact your lover cannot be worked out in advance. Yes, you can learn basic communication techniques, build your self-esteem, and develop patterns for healthy, equal, balanced loving before you get together -- and all of these will make your relationship, when you do find it, much more successful. But, because you are unique, and so is your partner, what works for the two of you must be developed on-the-spot. The only way I know to do this is through experience, communication and negotiation.
If you understand that your relationship, to be successful, must be healthy and satisfying for both you and your partner, you will also understand that codependently putting your partners feelings, needs and wants before your own is as harmful as compulsively putting your wants, needs and feelings before your lover's.
Through focusing on solving issues and problems together, through honest and open communication, you can learn to achieve a balance. That is, you can work together to make sure both of you get your needs and wants met, and you can both care equally about your mutual satisfaction, health and happiness.
Any other definition of love tends to degenerate into dysfunction and codependency, and will become toxic to you and your lover. Finding out if solutions are mutually satisfactory is easy -- you ask each other how it feels and whether itís working. Beginning your relationship with this idea in mind, or renewing an existing relationship on this basis, is much easier and more pleasant than you may believe. I invite you to consciously move your focus from who's at fault to what will fix the problem, and to increase the mutuality and communication in your relationship, and watch whatever dysfunctional interaction you have, whether mild or severe, be significantly reduced. You can do this with relationships at home, with your parents, your children, your siblings, and even with friends and co-workers.
(C) 2008 Tina B. Tessina
adapted from: Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Squabbling About the Three Things That Can Destroy Your Marriage (Adams Media) ISBN# 978-1-59869-325-6
© Tina B.Tessina, 2008
If you want more, here are some related articles you can download from my website at http://tinatessina.com/monthly_column.html
Asking for What you Want
Attitude: From Negative to Gratitude
Coping with Critics
Fair Fight Guidelines
Getting Along With Each Other
Guidelines for Being Understood by Your Partner
How Not to Fight
How to be Irresistible to Your Mate
Itís a Dirty Job
Mirrors and Teachers
The Power of Politeness
Relating With Love
State of the Union Meeting
Stop Reacting and Start Relating
Your Primary Relationship
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The Commuter Marriage: Keep Your Relationship Close While You're Far Apart (Adams Media, June 2008) ISBN # 1-59869-432-4
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Wishing you joy,
Tina B. Tessina, PhD
RE: The nail in the fence
"The nail in the fence: healing wounds" is excellent advice!! I would like to try it on my son. He has so much anger built up inside him due to many different issues. I will let you know how it plays out. Thanks so much,
Thanks, Lori, and good luck with it.
Another great newsletter! You are helping so many people, including me with your books and newsletters. Thanks Tina.
Thank you, Madelyn, for letting me know itís useful. I love hearing from you.
Yours is absolutely one of the best articles and web sites! I enjoyed reading it. I am a Psy.D student and also a M.A.T.S. student and a counselor who emphasizes "emotional maturity" to my clients. Your web site is so understandable that I am going to recommend it to clients. I love that your site deals in acceptance of responsibility for self, physical, emotional, future and past events. It is difficult for me to help clients help themselves to change behavior patterns, especially when the thinking is geared towards the "blame game." It appears that some type of "aha" moment is necessary for clients to make a "life change," but as you state in your web site; it is about working through the feelings or emotions of the past. Thank you for placing such potent truth on the Internet. The information is very clear and decisive for others to understand.
Thank you, Morgan, for spreading the word and doing such important and good work. I know youíll like this monthís article.
Thank you. I've found your books very helpful in both my practice and my teaching. Vickie
Thanks, Vickie! Iím so glad you find them helpful.