The truth is that if your relationship is in trouble, it's probably because you set it up that way. Read that sentence again: your relationship is in trouble because you set it up that way. And let me be real clear, I'm not saying that you set it up that way because you were in a bad mood once in a while. You didn't set it up that way because of something really outrageous you did one time five months or five years ago. You set it up that way by actively, consistently, and efficiently designing, programming, and choreographing your entire lifestyle to generate and then support a bad relationship. You have chosen to live in a way in which no other result could occur.
It is not possible for you to have a seriously defective long-term relationship unless you have generated and adopted a lifestyle to sustain it. Every single person in every walk of life has a lifestyle that supports who and what he or she is. If you are a healthy, vibrant, efficient, and productive person who is in touch with your core of consciousness, then I know, without question, that you have a lifestyle that supports that manner of living. If you are emotionally pained and relationally troubled person who has lost touch with your core of consciousness, I know that you have a lifestyle that supports that too. You cannot have a bad relationship unless your lifestyle is characterized by stress, pressure, distraction, and a harried and chaotic existence. Moreover, if you are living in a dysfunctional relationship with another person, it's because you have a dysfunctional relationship with yourself.
I'm not blaming you; I'm just telling you how it is. A bad relationship cannot exist if it is not fed and nurtured in some way. If you think I am wrong, just look out your window. If you see weeds in your yard or in the field next door, they didn't just happen. Some way, somehow that weed had to get started. And what's more, it had to be fed and nurtured in some way. It didn't grow in concrete; somehow the environment had to support its very existence or it could not be.
I'm not saying you necessarily chose any environment or lifestyle consciously, and I'm not saying that you generated your dysfunctional relationship on purpose. But I'm telling you that the reality of your relationship along with your overall lifestyle and your relationship with yourself are 100 percent inextricably intertwined. If you have not designed and carried out your life to create or allow distance instead of intimacy, combativeness instead of cooperation, blame and rejection instead of accountability and acceptance, you cannot maintain the erosion and pain that you are now experiencing. Problems don't flourish in isolation; They have to have help and nurturance.
As an example, simply compare the lifestyle of someone who is chronically and morbidly overweight with the lifestyle of someone who is fit, energetic, and of normal weight. I will promise you that both of these people have designed their worlds to sustain what they have become. The overweight person will use food differently. You will find that he or she lives to eat, while a person of normal weight eats to live. This is a painful truth, but it is the truth. When it comes to your relationship, you have chosen to live patterns of thought, feeling and behavior that have generated something that is not giving you what you want. You are living to suffer instead of loving to live. That has to change, and it has to change first before anything else will begin to fall into place.
I have no doubt that many of you at this very moment are saying, "Wait a second, Dr. Phil. All your talk about getting me straight is just great, but you have no idea what a jerk my partner can be. You have no idea what manner of hell my partner brings into my life. I'm fine about making my life better, but what about my partner? Why all this total focus on me? I'm just one-half of this deal!"
Trust me, I do know what you may well be living with, and I promise you, your partner will get his or her turn in the barrel. But in all likelihood, your partner isn't sitting right beside you reading this. You're the only one reading it. My only input, my only influence, is with you, so that is who I am focusing on, and if you are smart you will do the same. But I do know it takes two to tango, and if you are able to change yourself, if you are able to create a different lifestyle and environment in which your relationship takes place, if you are able to regain your own power and reclaim your right to dignity and respect, then your partner is going to be seriously affected.
You can't control your partner. You can't make changes for your partner. You can't tell your partner what to do. But you can inspire your partner. You can give your partner a whole new set of behaviors and new set of stimuli to respond to. If you drop out of the destructive mind-set and vicious circle of mutually frustrating interactions that are causing your relationship to implode, if you drop out of the fight and start living a new way, it's going to be real difficult for your partner to continue spewing and seeking venom. You can stop sabotaging yourself and your relationship, and you can start inspiring the kind of reactions you want from your partner. In the face of such constructive input, he or she can't fight alone, argue alone, or continue to be offended. Your partner can pout for a while, perhaps withdraw and be suspicious for a while, but eventually, he or she is going to feel pretty stupid sitting over in the corner while you seem to be getting so very much happier and so much more optimistic and at peace with yourself.
Besides, what's the alternative — to allow your current lifestyle to persist, a lifestyle that with each passing day broadens the gap between you and your hopes and dreams? This isn't brain-surgery or quantum physics here — what you are doing, how you are living, is not working. Plain and simple, it is not working. If you do not push yourself to find out what it is in your lifestyle that isn't working, what it is about your lifestyle that has created and supports this negative relationship, you will continue to suffer. You will continue to work on the wrong things that have nothing to do with the status of your relationship at the expense of that which most certainly determines its success or failure. You will try to believe that it's OK to forget some of your dreams, telling yourself that at least you are "secure" and "comfortable." You'll find yourself relying more and more upon the language of losers, telling yourself that you know you "should" do something about your plight and that you'd like to change but that you just aren't sure where to start. When you choose the behavior, you choose the consequences, so you must start choosing differently right here, right now.
If you are going to rescue your relationship, the first lifeline we have to throw you is to you, so that you can pull yourself out of your emotional swamp. By changing how you treat yourself, you alter the most important element of the entire equation. It means altering the environment in which your relationship exists and changing the priorities that dictate your time and energy. You must re-design the backdrop or context in which your relationship occurs. Until you begin to live with dignity, respect, and emotional integrity, you will not have that quality and level of interaction with anyone else. As I like to say, you cannot give away what you do not have. If you don't have a pure and healthy love and regard for yourself, how can you possibly give that to anyone else? And if you can't give it to anyone else, the how can you possibly expect to have it reciprocated?
Modified excerpt from Relationship Rescue: A Seven-Step Strategy for Reconnecting With Your Partner by Phillip C. McGraw, PhD (Hyperion).
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