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Healthy Relationships

Relationships are a large part of life. Determine which type of love relationship you have.

The A-Frame Dependency Relationship

This is the dependency relationship where two people lean on each other because they have not learned to be whole, single people by themselves. The dependency upon the other person sometimes feel good, but it is somewhat confining, and when one person wants to move or change or grow, it upsets the other person, because the other person is leaning upon him/her.

The Smothering Relationship

The smothering relationship is quite frequently seen in high school and teenage relationships. The vocabulary for this relationship is, ‘I cannot live without you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I will devote myself completely to making you happy. It feels so good to be so close to you.’ Many love-relationships start with this kind of a smothering relationship, but they may grow and change into something else because there is not enough space to grow when you are so close to the other person at all times. The smothering relationship tends to feel good for a while, but eventually you begin to feel trapped.

The Pedestal

The pedestal relationship is one of worshipping the other person and saying, ‘I love you for not what you are, but for what I think you are. I have an idealized image of you and I would like to have you live up to that image.’ It is very precarious being on top of the pedestal because there are so many expectations from the other person. As with all of these relationships, you can see that there are problems of communication. Here, because you are in love with the person’s idealized image, you are looking up to and trying to communicate with that image, instead of with the real person. There is a great deal of emotional distancing in this relationship, and it is difficult for the two people to become close because of the pedestal upon which one of them has been placed.

Master/ Slave

“I am the head of this family. I am the boss. I will make the decisions around here.” This relationship is not necessarily male/female with the male being the boss and head of the family. There are many females who are masters in the family and make all of the decisions. In most relationships one of the partners has a personality that is a little bit stronger than the other. This is not necessarily bad, but when the relationship becomes rigid and has no flexibility, and when one person is set up to make all of the decisions, then emotional distancing and inequality take place. The relationship that is very rigid in this posture tends to take a great deal of emotional energy to maintain one person as master and the other as slave. There is often a power struggle going on that interferes with the communication and intimacy of the relationship.

The Boarding House; Back–to-Back

These two people are linked together by the elbows with some sort of marriage contract or an agreement to live together. There is no communication in this relationship. The typical thing is for people to come home and sit down and watch TV while they are eating, and then he goes to his computer or watches a ballgame and she goes to her computer or out with a girlfriend. It is a loveless relationship, in the sense that there is no expression of love toward each other. When one person moves forward, changes or grows and matures, the other person is linked to that growth, and this makes it a confining relationship.

The Martyr Relationship

The martyr is the person who completely sacrifices himself/herself in trying to serve the other people in the family. This person is always doing things for other people and never takes time for self. The martyr is on hands and knees. However, it is important to understand that the martyr position is a very controlling position in the sense that when the person on hands and knees moves, the other person who has a foot on the martyr is thrown off balance. What emotion does the martyr use for gaining control? He/She controls through guilt. How can you be angry at the person who is doing everything for you, who is taking care of you completely? The martyr is very efficient at controlling people around him/her. And it is very difficult to live with a martyr because you feel so guilty that you are unable to express your own needs and to express your angry feelings.

The Healthy Love Relationship

These two people are whole and complete and have internal happiness within themselves. They are two upright people who are not leaning or tangled up with the other person. They are able to live their own lives. They have an abundance of life to share with the other person. So these two people choose to stay together because they are free to be two people living their lives and sharing their lives together. They can come close together and be like the smothering position; they can walk hand in hand as they might do in parenting their children; they can move apart and have their own careers and their own lives and their own friends. But they choose to stay together because of their love for each other rather than having or needing to stay together because of some unmet emotional needs. The healthy love relationship is a relationship that gives both people the space to grow and become themselves.

Information above adapted from Virginia Satir’s six types of love relationships.

Healthy Love vs. Addictive Love

Healthy love develops after we feel secure. Addictive love tries to create love even though we feel frightened and insecure.

Healthy love begins with loving ourselves, being the lover we think we need. Addictive love tries to avoid looking internally and always seeks to get love from that ‘special someone.’

Healthy love comes to us once we’ve given up the search. Addictive love is always sought after.

Healthy love comes from inside; it wants to give. Addictive love comes from outside; it wants to take.

Healthy love is based on our ability to love and trust ourselves and hence others. Addictive love seeks sex and romance outside because we feel empty inside and don’t trust others or ourselves.

Healthy love allows us to be vulnerable because we feel secure inside. Addictive love is based on a shaky foundation. We feel we must protect ourselves.

Healthy love is derived from a balance of masculine and feminine qualities within each person. Addictive love creates super-masculine and super-feminine qualities and encourages us to search for our missing half in another person.

Healthy love encourages us to feel we have the power to create our own world and be happy. Addictive love sees others as having power over us. We seek the perfect partner because of the power that person seems to bring us.

Healthy love sees the ideal lover as being the woman/man within. Addictive love searches for the ideal man/woman ‘out there.’

Healthy love teaches you to value your own company. Addictive love makes you feel uncomfortable with yourself and in need of someone else.

Healthy love is unique. There is no ‘ideal lover’ that I seek. Addictive love is stereotyped. There is always a certain type to which we are attracted.

Healthy love is gentle and comfortable. Addictive Love is tense and combative.

Healthy love encourages us to be ourselves, to be honest from the beginning with who we are, including our faults. Addictive love encourages secrets. We want to look good and put on an attractive mask.

Healthy love flows out. Addictive love caves in.

Healthy love creates a deeper sense of ourselves, the longer we are in love. Addictive love creates a loss of self the longer we are together.

Healthy love is like rowing across a gently lake. Addictive love is like being swept away down a raging river.

Healthy love is satisfied with the partner we have. Addictive love is always looking for more and better.

Healthy love is based on the belief that we want to get together. Addictive love is based on the belief that we have to be together.

Healthy love teaches that we can only make ourselves happy. Addictive love expected the other person to make us happy and demands that we try to make them happy.

Healthy love teaches us that things get better as we learn to love ourselves more. Addictive love is forever trying to improve the other person.

Healthy love creates life. Addictive love creates melodramas.

On Verbal Abuse

Definitions of battering and abuse can be confusing. Many researchers have used physical violence resulting in bodily injury as a primary definition. Yet it is clear that for many battered women, psychological and emotional abuse are at least as detrimental as physical abuse.

In her book, “The Battered Woman,” Lenore E. Walker talks about a battered woman she interviewed.
“One woman described life-threatening physical assaults one of which resulted in broken vertebrae in her neck. She was in physical pain for months following this beating. However, when asked to describe the most painful battering incident, she said it was when her husband commanded her to get on her knees and make sounds like an animal. This psychological degradation was far more humiliating and painful than the physical abuse she suffered. Battered women repeatedly cite psychological humiliation and isolation as their worst battering experiences, whether or not they have ever been physically abused.”
Emotional abuse is sometimes harder than physical abuse to define and recognize. Almost everyone does it at some time or other and many couples develop a habit of hurling insults at each other. It’s often hard to determine who did what to whom first, especially if the injury is delivered in a subtle way.

How many of these things has your partner done to you?
  • Ignored your feelings
  • Ridiculed or insulted women/men as a group
  • Ridiculed or insulted your most valued belief, your religion, race, heritage or class
  • Withheld approval, appreciation or affection as punishment
  • Continually criticized you, called you names, shouted at you
  • Humiliated you in private or public
  • Refused to socialize with you
  • Kept you from working, controlled your money and made all the decisions
  • Refused to work or share money
  • Took car keys or money away
  • Regularly threatened to leave or told you to leave
  • Threatened to hurt you or your family
  • Punished or deprived the children when he/she was angry at you
  • Threatened to kidnap the children if you left him/her
  • Abused, tortured, killed pets to hurt you
  • Told you about his/her affairs
  • Harassed you about affairs he/she imagined you were having
  • Manipulated you with lies and contradictions
  • Destroyed furniture, punched holes in walls, broke appliances
  • Wielded a gun in a threatening way
If there are things you were subjected to that don’t fit into any of the items above, write them down.

Are You in a Possessive Relationship?

Adapted from Teen Psychic by Julie Tallard Johnson (Inner Traditions, 2003)

It’s easy to confuse possessive love with true love, but possessive love can harm and undermine you, depleting your energy. The following statements are usually indicative of a possessive relationship.
  • The other person needs to have a say in everything, or most everything, that you do.
  • He or she does not give you time to think for yourself and demands immediate decisions.
  • You find you are frequently unsure, and you let the other person make up your mind for you.
  • You spend most, if not all, of your time with this person.
  • He or she does not like your friends.
  • He or she threatens to leave you if you exert any independence.
  • He or she is jealous of your family and/or friends.
  • Whenever this person is around, you give your power over to him or her.
  • You are losing energy and enthusiasm you had for past interests.
  • You find you do things with this person that you said you didn’t want to do.
The more of these statements you answered “true,” the more possessive and potentially dangerous is the relationship. But even if you only recognize one of these as true for you, you may be in a possessive relationship. As long as you are willing to be in this kind of relationship, you will stifle your true nature and true love will elude you. Even true love found in friendships and family relationships is non-possessive and empowering.

How to Leave an Abusive Relationship

Admit that you are being abused. Is there any unwanted physical force, psychological abuse, sexual abuse or material destruction in the relationship? Admitting you are a victim means holding your abuser fully accountable for his/her behavior. Admitting you are abused means admitting that the man/woman you love, the same man/woman who says he/she loves you, has a choice to use violence to control you. Your choice is either staying or leaving.

Start telling people about the violence. It is common to keep abuse a secret. Telling people helps to end the isolation and gain empowerment and support. Be careful about whom you tell. Tell a trusted friend, a victim services counselor or a shelter counselor.

Find a safe space. There are places to go. You might stay with a friend or relative, move to another city or state, stay in a shelter or research subsidized housing in the area you want to live. Try everything and utilize every resource. Start thinking in terms of the goal of leaving. Realize that you have options. Explore those options.

Develop a “mental map.” Plan to escape before the battering occurs. Develop a plan in your mind and rehearse it. Remember, you want to get out before your abuser harms you again. Where can you go? Who can help you? How can you get out of your home or apartment safely?

Pack a bag. You will need clothes, money, spare keys, address book, towel and toothbrush. You need to have things with you so you don’t feel the need to return. You might include copies of the lease, mortgage, insurance, car registration, legal documents, medical records and/or passport. This packed bag should be ready at all times. You might keep it at a friend or relative’s house.

Get a post office box. The idea of a post office box is to keep important papers out of you abuser’s hands. Be sure to check out the procedure your post office uses to rent boxes. Sometimes, the process entails sending documentation to your current address, which may be risky. Post office boxes are useful because you can get your mail without anyone knowing where you live.

Open your own bank account. It may be critical during the initial stages of leaving to get your own account so you will not be left financially dependent. At the very least deposit a minimum amount for emergencies. You don’t want to be left penniless so that you are tempted to return.

Leave. The violence will not stop. If he/she abused you once, he/she will abuse you again. It may be worse the next time. Trying to change him/her will not stop the violence. Changing yourself will not stop the violence. You are not responsible for the violence. However, you do have a choice. You can leave.

If you must go back and collect your things, take the police with you. The police will stand by while you take the rest of your possessions.

Source: Island and Lettellier, 1992, Women Who Love Too Much, Robin Norwood

Call For Help

Genesis House, Family and Friends of Battered Women, 24-hour hotline: 214-946-4357