Is your relationship dysfunctional?



When the word “partner” was introduced into society to replace the term “spouse”, it disturbed me. In my mind it was a word that diminished the role of commitment in relationships, relegating marriage to an institution of convenience or casualness.

That being said, there could be no better word to describe a life mate than a partner.


A partnership, by definition, is created through firstly a keen insight to one’s personal deficiencies, which is then supplemented by the strengths of the partner. The union we call partnership operates in ways that neither party could do alone.


The key to a successful partnership is, first and foremost, absolute clarity as to the goals towards which the partnership is striving. In a similar vein, clarity of vision is crucial in building meaningful and lasting relationships.


Although not an ideal state of affairs, is not uncommon for every relationship, at some point in time, to struggle through dysfunction. The danger is the slippery slope from temporary dysfunction to permanent toxicity. This risk is exacerbated when a couple’s communication is poor, common goals are unclear and respective roles misunderstood.


Relationships often start egocentrically; being only as valuable as the benefits that each party accrues. Each “partner” looks expectantly at each other to fulfil their own needs.  Even when they say “I love you”, their intent is one of self-love; “I love how you make me feel”, i.e. I love myself.  (When someone says they love chicken, what they mean is that they love eating chicken. If you truly loved chicken you would feed and nurture it, not kill it and eat it.)


As the relationship develops, it can be elevated from a self-serving experience to a genuine partnership. The parties work together both for each other’s benefit, but ultimately for the sake of the relationship. The behaviour of each individual becomes an investment in the partnership, which benefits the overall value of the partnership.

In the long run everyone benefits from a flourishing partnership, but the goal is the success of the relationship which will, in turn, bring them both success and happiness.


Dysfunction begins in when either or both of the partners lose focus on the partnership. They start looking at their personal needs and desires, ignoring the core needs of the relationship. When they feel that their needs are not being serviced, it leads to disappointment, anger and resentment.


Signs of dysfunction

  • You keep a tally of everything “you’ve done”. This list of then referenced as proof during the next argument. It becomes a competition of who has “done” more.
  • You consider yourself a martyr. Every deed you do is a sacrifice on the altar of self-righteousness. “I guess I’ll have to do it”.
  • You expect your partner to know what you’ve done without explicitly telling them
  • You expect your partner to know how you feel without explicitly telling them
  • You retain an unrealistic optimism that perhaps today your partner will spontaneously be different
  • You resent your partner for not appreciating all of the above


In working towards a functional relationship clear communication is definitely critical, but not sufficient. At times the partnership needs a realignment of goals and values.



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