What is a broken relationship?
You might think a broken relationship is what happens when one partner cheats, is a serial spendthrift, or has a serious drug problem. But you’d be wrong, say experts. Those issues tend to be symptoms.
In a broken relationship, “you don’t get along more than you do get along, and your overall satisfaction with the relationship is mostly low, below 50 percent,” says Rachel Sussman, a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, relationship expert, and the author of The Breakup Bible: The Women’s Guide to Healing from a Breakup or Divorce. “That goes on and on for a long time.”
It can also be different for everyone. Sussman says she’s seen couples bounce back from infidelity with a stronger bond. The same is true for someone with a drug or alcohol problem (though that can be trickier).
But for the most part, it’s rarely one thing that torpedoes a relationship. “It’s usually a variety of issues that go on for a long time, where you lose hope,” she says.
That said, relationships on the verge of collapse usually have some tell-tale signs. And while many relationships are salvageable, some aren’t – and yes, therapists can pretty much tell both things from the get-go.
Here is everything you need to know about a relationship that needs repair, including how to go about it.
Signs of a broken relationship
Therapists don’t always use the term “broken” to describe a relationship in need of repair. Instead, they use “dysfunctional relationship dynamics,” says Amy McManus, a licensed marriage and family therapist.
“A dysfunctional relationship dynamic is a way that a couple has of communicating and relating that isn’t working to create an emotionally safe and supportive connection,” she says. “It’s often easy to see. One or both partners is unhappy, angry and frustrated. Usually, both partners feel like the other one doesn’t hear or understand them.”
So what clues a couples’ counsellor into the fact that your dynamic no longer seems to be working?
You’re not talking to one another
“Communication is the number one issue,” says Laura Louis, a psychologist and couples therapist. “Sometimes it’s a feeling of, ‘Did you hear what I said? Or does what I say even matter? Or do I matter?’” When it gets to the point where you’re not feeling heard, understood, or validated, disconnection can take place, says Louis.