Today our expert guest is Thomas G. Fiffer, the Senior Editor of Ethics at The Good Men Project, where his articles have received more than five million views (and articles he’s edited have received more than 15 million views). He is a professional writer, speaker, and storyteller with a focus on diagnosing and healing dysfunctional relationships.

Thomas is also a frequent contributor to Weston Magazine, a professional book editor and ghostwriter, and the author of two books on relationships – Why It Can’t Work: Detaching From Dysfunctional Relationships to Make Room for True Love and What Is Love? A Guide for the Perplexed to Matters of the Heart.

Thomas has an impressive writing career, pursuing his dream to create works as impactful as the literature he voraciously consumed as a child. However, there was also a time when Thomas put his dreams on hold.

He got a job in publishing out of college, fearing that he would not be able to make a career out of writing but still wanting to remain close to it – and, for Thomas, this was a frustrating business.

Thomas transitioned to a database publishing company responsible for creating directories of contact information for leaders. He planned to do it for a few years, learn the business side of the industry, make some money, and then get out… but he ended up working there for 20 years.

And after 20 years, as the whole publishing industry started to decline, he was let go. This was the perfect opportunity to pursue his dreams of writing, and it just so happened that an editorial position at The Good Men Project opened up, where he had been contributing for about a year.

This is also when Thomas started finding his niche in the relationship space, mining his own experiences in a dysfunctional relationship to help others. He started to solidify his voice with a blog post titled “Situational Dysfunction,” in which he touches on the nagging, subconscious feeling that something is just “off” in a relationship.

So what makes a relationship dysfunctional?

Dysfunctional relationships are characterized by fighting, dismissal, emotional withholding, abuse, or other unhealthy dynamics. Things like this happen occasionally in many relationships, and that’s fine – but when there is a consistent pattern of dysfunction, that is a problem.

And what can you do when you become aware of a dysfunctional relationship?

  • First, try to evaluate your own contribution to the dynamic. Are you triggering it in some way? Are any of your actions, even unwittingly or unknowingly, setting off this cycle of abuse? Are you triggering that conflict (knowingly or unknowingly) because you get something out of it? To break the cycle, you have to understand what’s triggering it.
  • We can’t necessarily diagnose or solve a problem immediately after a conflict because our brains get flooded or overloaded, and we are incapable of handling the situation in any logical way. You cannot engage in a conflict when someone feels flooded because it will play out the same way over and over again.
  • You need to put your own oxygen mask on first; start looking at and fixing your own healthy behaviors first, as opposed to trying to fix (or blame) your partner. Your partner will either start to gravitate towards this healthier way of engaging, or they won’t – if they can’t (or won’t) overcome the pattern of dysfunction, you will have to make a decision about whether you want to stay in that or leave.

The Biggest Helping: Today’s Most Important Takeaway

“Make conscious choices.”

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