Posted by: Asa Don Brown on January 14, 2013 2:27 pm

Clinicians rarely have couples enter their offices proclaiming an overwhelming fondness, admiration, and unconditional love for one another  “In Western cultures, more than 90 percent of people marry by age 50.  Healthy marriages are good for couples’ mental and physical health.  They are also good for children; growing up in a happy home protects children from mental, physical, educational and social problems.” (APA, Online, 2012)

Why are healthy marriages good? If you are in a healthy marriage, you are experiencing positive feedback, unconditional acceptance, unconditional love, unconditional approval, and the admiration of another.  You are benefiting from the positivity of that relationship.

In unhealthy marriages, you may be experiencing marital strife, conflicts, and continuous disagreements. While unhealthy marriages are not irreparable, they maybe on pathways of irreversible damage.  It is vitally important that if someone has entered an unhealthy stage in their marriage that they seek professional help to resolve their relationship conflicts.

When an unhealthy marriage reaches a stage of abuse, neglect or maltreatment; they have reached a stage of cruelty or violence that breaches the couple’s core foundation of safety.  While the initial foundations of healthy and unhealthy marriages commonly parallel; there is a divergence that occurs within the confines of an unhealthy marriage.

For relationships that have lasted an extended period of time, one person within that relationship might begin to feel as though their level of intimacy and cohesiveness has been lost.  For a number of relationships, a partner or both may have a belief that their relationship is symbiotic.   Symbiotic relationships are casted by an idealistic perspective that their every thought, expression, belief system, feelings, and personal desires are mutually the same.   Whereas, the truth is, that the relationship has evolved into a more parasitic form rather than symbiotic.  Parasitic relationships are based on the need perspective.  If a person is without their partner, their ability to survive and thrive diminishes. Neither the symbiotic or the parasitic relationship are healthy perspectives of a relationship.  It is always important to remember that no marriage is perfect, but that in an unhealthy marriage dysfunction is the norm.

Indications that you have reached a symbiotic or parasitic relationship:

  • “You get frustrated or irritated when your partner can’t read your thoughts.
  • You are often disappointed in your partner because he or she doesn’t do things right.
  • You use criticism as a tool to get your partner to be more like you.
  • You are argumentative and dogmatic because there is only one way to think.
  • You use guilt or shame in an attempt to get your partner to do things your way.
  • You say your partner is like you when he or she does something you like.” (Hendrix & Hunt, p. 65, 2004)

Relationship dysfunction can be caused by many variables.  The most common causation of  dysfunction occurs when there are breaches within the relationship.  For many, a partner stops fulfilling a function or role perviously expected.  If a partner has been sexually driven and becomes perceivably cold; this may ignite high levels of frustration.  For some relationships, financial or familial challenges may be igniter.  For other relationships, it maybe something less subtle or unspoken.  Either way, the relationship has reached an impasse.

Sexual frustrations are one of the leading causes of relationship dysfunction.  They have been known to lead some down paths seeking to fulfill their physical and sexual needs.  Others have lead individuals down paths of emotional and physical separation.  For couples, while it is less common to have both mates feeling sexually frustrated; it is more common to have one mate that feels he or she has been sexually restrained within the relationship.

As clinicians, we frequently encounter dysfunctional relationships.  Whether a couple has been together for 50 years or 50 minutes; it is not uncommon for a couple to meet at an impasse.  It is at this impasse, that a couple must decide to either continue moving forward on the same path they have come to know or to choose an entirely different route with their lives.

The keys to establishing and maintaining a healthy relationship are humility, forgiveness, respect, unconditional acceptance, unconditional approval, and unconditional love.  For many couples, they follow the same pathway that their own parents have previously traveled.  If one mate goes to bed when angry, he or she may have witnessed his or her mother or father going to bed when angry.  If someone bursts out in tears, he or she may have witnessed a parental figure displaying similar emotions.  Couples often  emulate their parental figures, with seldom deviations from their previously ingrained habits, beliefs, and attitudes.  While it is difficult to change one’s firmly fixed perceptions and attitudes, it is not impossible to gain a new way of thinking, acting, and reacting.


  • Never go to bed with anger…. Always forgive or agree to disagree, but never go to bed with anger. Festering anger will become worse and more intense the longer it remains neglected.
  • Always love yourself, because if you do not know how to love yourself, you will not be capable of knowing how to love another.
  • Always love yourself, because if you do not; you will put up with the most egregious nature of another.
  • “If you don’t think you’re worth loving, you can’t accept the love your partner has to offer you.” (Hendrix & Hunt, p. 118 , 2004)
  • Active listening is essential for creating a mutually respectful relationship.  Relationships are often plagued with inactive listening.
  • It is vitally important to avoid placing blame or shame into your conversations.  Blame and shame prohibits constructive conversations from occurring.
  • “When your partner lets you know what he or she genuinely thinks and feels, and when your questions about him or her are answered truthfully and without reserve, this inspires openness.” (Block, p. 90, 2003)
  • Try to remind your partner daily of your love, admiration, and desire to be with him or her.
  • For every negative criticism, add a positively constructive remark.
  • Absolute, unconditional forgiveness is key to moving a relationship forward. If we completely forgive, there should remain no lingering conditions or sediments.
  • Avoid ignoring or taking your partner for granted.
  • “When you are involved in an unsatisfying situation in your life, you cannot ignore it; you must do something.”  (Glasser & Glasser, p.116, 2000) Do not avoid discussing underlying problems, struggles, anger, confusion, stress or frustration in a relationship.  It is of crucial importance that all matters are discussed sooner than later.
  • Do not forget to date your partner.  Always strive to keep the candles in your relationship lit.

Relationships are easier than they appear.  Do not over think your relationship or stress out about being a perfect mate.  On the other hand, relationships are more an art-form than they are job.  We should never see our relationship as complicated, work, or a drudgery.  Rather, we should approach our relationship with the same intense and passionate fervor we had the day we initial engaged our partner.  Be insistent on employing a healthy pursuit of your relationship.

Author:   Dr. Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C., N.C.C.M.



American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, D.C.: Author

American Psychological Association (2012) Divorce.  Retrieved January 4, 2012 from

Block, J. D. (2003) Naked intimacy, How to increase true openness in your relationship. New York, NY:  The McGraw-Hill

Glasser, W. & Glasser, C. (2000) Getting together and staying together, Solving the mystery of marriage. New York, NY: HarperCollins

Hendrix, H. & Hunt, H. L. (2004) Receiving love, Transform your relationship by letting yourself be loved. New York, NY: Atria Books

Reiser, P. (1994) Couplehood. New York, NY: Bantam Books

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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