Common relationship dynamics


Feeling like you can’t achieve the right balance of closeness or distance in the relationship

This dynamic is seen more readily in marital or intimate relationships but can show up in friendships also. It’s when one person requires more contact and attention than the other person is comfortable with.

It’s no trivial matter when you have one person feeling terribly lonely in a relationship with the other person often away for work or off playing golf or attending to some other purpose which leaves no time, or not enough time, for the friendship or relationship to grow and become stable.

There could be many factors on a wide spectrum for this pattern. At one end you could have something like the distancing person is simply more comfortable if the relationship is intermittent and they would feel extremely uncomfortable if they were forced to be close for too long; to down the other end of the spectrum where there has been past trauma for one of the partners such as sexual abuse which can leave a person needing to keep a safe distance and feel they have control over the level of closeness.

It’s important to recognise that both people in this dynamic are suffering. The one who is feeling neglected and the one who puts barriers in the way to keep the other person at a distance.

This dynamic needs professional counselling assistance and understanding so that each person can learn to handle a little anxiety with closeness/distance and it’s not all one way.

Neither person is right or wrong. It will also be related to the patterns of connection that each person has learnt from an early age from their caregivers both mother and father.

These are four of the most common relationship difficulties that I see in my work and I hope outlining them provides some clarity.

If you would like further support with any of these issues, you may find the right support on the links page or you are welcome to contact me for a consultation.

This page also supports the Relationships section of the SHIFT-Depression®Inventory which you can complete online here.

Once you’ve completed the Inventory and have your score for the Relationships area you will have more idea how much these issues matter for you.

Common relationship dynamics


Feeling betrayed by someone you trusted

Whether this has eventuated out of a relationship where you freely and mistakenly gave your trust to someone who was untrustworthy to begin with, or whether you did have a close and trustworthy relationship and it has been damaged by a betrayal, the result is still a very painful breach of trust.

From seemingly simple things like an acquaintance giving away your private information to another person without asking you whether you would consent to this or not; through to major breaches of trust with conscious lying, secretiveness and manipulation. They are degrees of the same thing. Trust has been damaged or broken. Sometimes the other person doesn’t realise that they have done something offensive and may even think they have been helpful, such as with giving away your phone number or other personal information to someone because they think it’s helpful.

But when something happens that you had no opportunity to consent to or decisions are made which impact on you without your input; it is a breach of trust and in many cases an abuse of power. Then again, maybe the other person has deliberately withheld information from you or taken action which will impact you without involving you in the decision making because they thought if they did you would disagree and so they went ahead intentionally so as to thwart you. That is a definite abuse of power.

The ‘affair’ is the often quoted example of a breach of trust but there are many, many other ways to breach trust in relationships whether they are friendships, colleagues at work, family or intimate partnerships. Gossiping, or being a bystander to gossip when you know the person involved is another example.

Trust is something that is earned based on how the person treats or respects the other person and is not an automatic privilege.

Depending upon the relationship, you may decide to ‘cut off’ from a person who has shown they are disrespectful of you and untrustworthy.

If the betrayal has happened within a committed personal relationship, you may need to seek some professional guidance to assess whether or not it is possible to rebuild trust over time and stay in the relationship.

Unfortunately, many people stay in relationships with people they don’t trust and without getting professional assistance to rebuild the trust, this eventually can result in becoming depressed.

Common relationship dynamics


Feeling overwhelmed and responsible for everything

This relationship dynamic often happens to women with children who’ve become responsible for running the house-hold (even when they’re in paid external work as well).

So it’s understandable how this dynamic can occur but once it becomes entrenched it leads to lots of anger and resentment because you feel overburdened with more than your fair share of everything and also feel unsupported.

Their partners don’t feel great either even though they seem to be getting off lightly and acting more like one of the children. The partners of overfunctioning women can also feel resentful and distance themselves making matters worse until they are clearly fall into the underfunctioning role. The underfunctioner and overfunctioner are terms coined by Harriet Lerner the author of “The Dance of Intimacy” which is a helpful read if you find you’re in this pattern.

Often things develop in the direction that the overfunctioning partner starts to nag and berate the underfunctioning partner and tell them what chores or jobs they ought to be doing. Much like children sometimes need to be nagged and cajoled into cleaning their room and doing household chores etc.

Anyway, it’s a no win all around and plays havoc with a marital relationship and especially with the sexual side of things which can become non existent.

The partner responds just like an adolescent will and tries to block you taking an authority position by becoming more passive.

Instead, offer them a choice between two things that need to be done so that they feel they can engage with some level of agency.

This overfunctioning/underfunctioning dynamic is a common problem in families and is frequently the very thing that spells death to the sexual relationship with the underfunctioning partner sometimes using this as an excuse to start a secret life with someone else on the side or start going away for work.

Common relationship dynamics

Control or Power issues

Perhaps you feel you don’t have enough say over what happens in your relationship. Perhaps the other person has decided for one reason or another, that they’re in charge. They make the decisions etc and your opinion doesn’t count.

If this is the case it is important for you to first assess the situation fully before attempting any changes because in some cases, often in family or domestic situations, where they dynamics are hidden and private, a bullying person can get away with retaliating badly or even violently if you stand up to them or attempt to change the status quo.

If you think it is unsafe, it’d be beneficial for you to find a domestic violence counsellor to help you. Go to the links page for domestic violence services and someone you can call now.

If you’ve assessed that you’re safe, you still need to be prepared for some backlash. Controlling people don’t like it when you try to change things and they’re not getting things their way all the time. So prepare by getting support from a good friend or family member so that you have some one to talk to and support you through making changes. If it’s a work situation, there is your HR department to go to or manager (if it’s not the manager who is the bully). You can get help in work situations and maybe even go to the employee assistance program for free counselling (in Australia).

Maybe the controlling person is a friend and in this case, as with all situations, you may have to consider losing the friend/relationship or changing your job, to get away from the controlling person. Controlling people can make you very miserable.

It’s hard to list here all the different and various situations that can happen with a controlling person and giving you superficial advice isn’t the best way forward. Basically, learning to change the situation and become more assertive can be done but it’s much easier to learn by trial and error on a new person or relationship than trying to change one that has settled into a pattern where you feel like the doormat and the other person rules. It can be done but you really need strategies designed especially for you and the support of a professional counsellor or psychologist.

There are also some good self-help books around if you choose to go it alone.