Marital First Aid Kit
By Bryce Kaye
The Four Most Toxic Syndromes
The following syndromes are the most lethal to a relationship because they severely fracture trust and respect, the foundation upon which a good relationship is based. If any of these toxic syndromes are occurring, the odds of making improvements to your relationship are slim if you try to work at it unassisted between yourselves. This is because the most affected party (who is acting out the toxic behavior) will not be able to provide enough safety and stability for cooperative work in isolation. It doesnít mean that itís a bad idea to meet together with a counselor. In fact, thatís a very good starting place. However, counseling and subsequent progress will eventually require focusing on the most affected individualís problem as their own. That person will almost always initially resist taking responsibility for their toxic behavior. Thatís why a session or two as a couple is a good way to start off without threatening them too much. Eventually, the counselor will need to confront the most affected individual to accept a different kind of intervention. Most often, this involves individual counseling and/or self-help or therapy groups, not communications oriented marital therapy. Such an intervention, even by a trained counselor, is often not accepted by the most affected party. However, it still stands the best chance of success compared to other alternatives.
If your relationship involves one or more of the following toxic syndromes, it is best to avoid more deliberate work on your relationship without professional help. In fact, lay attempts to confront the other party may dangerously backfire. A professional counselor can provide a more safe setting for an intervention. After both you and your partner are more stable as individuals, then more meaningful work can be done as a couple.
The four most toxic syndromes are as follows:
Drug Affected: Either partner is using frequent alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, or other mood altering chemical.
Third Party Contamination: Either partner is keeping contact with another person with whom they have previously had a sexual/emotional bond.
Threat of Physical Violence: Either partner has demonstrated through their past behavior or by verbal threat that they may physically assault or restrict movement of the other.
Intentional Deception: Either party intentionally tries to lie or deceive the other in order to avoid exposing broken agreements or irresponsible behavior.
Less Toxic Syndromes
Role-Bound, Emotional Starvation Syndrome: Both parties have evolved to interact with each other like business managers, going about the business of managing everyday life but without mutual play or sentimental affirmation of each other. Special time is not allocated for intimate talking. No significant effort is made to share intimate time away from parenting roles. Each party feels "taken for granted." Arguments flare up about small control issues or events that are interpreted as indicating a lack of appreciation of each other.
Pursuer - Evader Syndrome: One party is more comfortable with the expression of intense feelings. The other party dreads intensity, especially heated conflict. The person who dreads intensity finds ways to emotionally withdraw by finding responsibilities to take up their time. The other person sees their partner withdrawing and reacts by aggressively pursuing contact. They often intrude by expressing their resentments in a derogatory manner. The pursuer/intruder may also openly interpret the withdrawing partyís feelings and motives. The withdrawing party reacts by withdrawing further. The pursuer feels like they are being driven "crazy."
Initiator - Dependent Syndrome: One party (the initiator) has somehow wound up with all the responsibility for planning the fun part of the relationship. The dependent party may be very responsible in their job role. However, when it comes to family or relationship activity, they look to the initiator for ideas. The dependent party is "easy" and ready to agree. The initiator feels as if they have another child for a partner. They miss the excitement of another perspective besides their own and they feel lonely although they may cover it over with anger.
Delinquent Helper Syndrome: One party (the "task-master") has somehow wound up with all of the responsibility for overseeing the household chores. The other party often doesnít "help". The task-master frequently reminds the delinquent helper what needs to be done. The delinquent helper often forgets if theyíre not frequently reminded.
Non-productive Conflict: The couple starts a conflict over a specific issue but soon escalates to general blaming behavior. Past misdeeds are raised up in an attempt to invalidate the other. Nothing gets accomplished and the couple retreats from one another with much hostility. This syndrome does not refer to conflict which threatens violence or actually becomes violent.
"Sneaky" Spending Behavior: One party is trying to reduce spending to live within a realistic budget, the other party is often unmindful of what they spend. The less mindful person may not be forthcoming about what they buy.
Conflicting Levels of Sexual Interest: One party wants it more, the other party wants it less. This does not refer to syndromes in which there is emotional conflict or emotional alienation affecting sexual interest. Rather, this is merely referring to different levels of sexual drive.
Non-violent Raging Behavior: In a conflict situation, one part is more likely to yell and scream before retreating in a "huff." In some couples, the rager may disapprove of their own behavior but feel helpless to prevent it. They may try to avoid conflict situations altogether.